Hearing the name Château Margaux, any true wine lover would recall the grand image of French Bordeaux’s Premier Cru and historical wine estate. Established in the 16th century, Château Margaux represents the very best of the French winemaking tradition, producing spectacular wines year after year.
Alexandra Petit-Mentzelopoulos, the Deputy General Manager at Château Margaux and the daughter of CEO Corinne Mentzelopoulos, spoke to us about the meaning of centuries-long tradition at the winery, introduced us to the recent architectural developments at the estate, and told her personal story of falling in love with Château Margaux.
Centuries of tradition
Despite spending most of her childhood in Paris, Alexandra and her siblings have been visiting the estate in the winemaking region of Médoc every harvest. “We loved being there, and we loved the harvest. We were trying to help, even if now I realize that we were not helping at all,” – she laughs.
Alexandra’s career at the château did not start until she graduated with a degree in management, then followed by a Master’s diploma in Fine and Decorative Arts in London. However, Château Margaux has always held a special place in her heart.
Stepping into a senior managing position at the winery, Alexandra has been determined to preserve the long tradition of winemaking at the estate. “Margaux is bigger than us. We have to work for Margaux because it will stay there forever, it is what we will pass on from generation to generation. Margaux will always stay,” – she explains.
Her mother, Corinne Mentzelopoulos, has been in charge of the estate for four decades, taking over the chateau at a very young age and working to support the impeccable reputation of the winery on an international scale.
“For us – my mother and brother, both of whom work at the company – it is about keeping the tradition. The three of us want to preserve the Margaux way, always go further in the excellence and the quality of our wines,” – Alexandra concludes.
I was being taught the magic of Margaux by going there nearly since the time I was born.
The architecture of Château Margaux
In recent years, the estate updated its classical image with an addition of the new project, including a new cellar developed by architect Norman Foster, which tied the design of the original 19th-century building with modernized spaces at the winery.
Alexandra explains that the new cellar provides the estate with more vaults and space for the vinification process. “We have more fermentation tanks (with different sizes) than before. It allows us to work with much more precision when we vinify the batches from different parcels. That was the key goal of building a new cellar.”
The grand architectural tradition reflected in the buildings of Château Margaux has inspired the winery’s famous 2015 vintage design, developed by Alexandra personally in collaboration with a creative agency.
While the bottle design was planned to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the architecture of Château Margaux, it would be impossible to do if the vintage had not been extraordinary. According to Alexandra, it is an important part of the company’s tradition – to only put outstanding wines in specially designed bottles. “And 2015 was a good vintage. It was an exceptional one. It exceeded our hopes,” – she says.
“The idea was to put the Château more forward but to still show our new cellar. The bottle captures that, with the silhouette of the château being at the front in gold, surrounded by the outline of the new cellar in a lighter and softer shade.”
Alexandra recalls that this was also her first major project at the winery, which coincided with her being appointed to the position of Deputy General Manager. “It was a big project, my first big project. And it was a success,” – she adds.
Sustainable development as priority
She goes on to say that, like for many winemakers today, sustainability has been at the top of the agenda of Château Margaux for the past years. Last year, the company hired a full-time senior sustainability manager, Aurélie Dutreux.
“Aurélie improves sustainability on every level at the estate, not only reducing carbon dioxide emissions, which is clearly very important, but also working on the diversity of ways to reduce waste,” – Alexandra explains. Some of these ways, according to her, include resource recovery, sorting, and composting.
She adds that the chateau works closely with the National Forests Office (ONF) in France, which focuses on expanding biodiversity in the forests and planting new trees. The company has also made changes in its modes of transportation, reducing the use of airplanes and switching to boats as a means of long-distance transportation.
The company has also adopted changes in its electricity and gas consumption to decrease the environmental impact of production.
“Of course, I can say it’s all very easy, but with so many big things and tiny things, it is an everyday challenge,” – Alexandra comments. However, to her and her family, the effort is worth the result.
A piece of Château Margaux in London
In 2017, Alexandra brought her passion for the Margaux wines to London, opening a French restaurant, Clarette, at the heart of the city. “I always wanted to do my own project. I joined Margaux when I was very young but, after a few years, I was thinking that I should also do my own business,” – she recalls.
“You get to create your own company from scratch, from nothing at all. Margaux was already there.”
Clarette offers a creative wine list that is not just focused on French wines but also includes original options from wine regions across the world. “But a lot of people come here for the Margaux wines because they love them,” – Alexandra adds.
The restaurant also brings her closer to her customers, she explains. Every time she comes to Clarette, there is a guest that wants to meet her.
“I think it's very important, especially in a restaurant – to be there and to meet your customers and like this, you have the feedback”, – she says.