Kathleen Van den Berghe, originally from Belgium, began her career as an engineer. She traveled the world working for McKinsey & Company but traded the globe-trotting life for a slower pace once. She married and had her first child Sofie. After spending some years searching for a “regular office job,” she quickly discovered this was not the life for her either.
“In 2009, we went to visit friends who had a wonderful house in Tuscany, overlooking the vineyards and olive groves. It inspired us to look for a holiday home with a vineyard in France. We wanted a vineyard with black grapes, for red wine, not too far from Belgium and not too far south, because we don’t like the excessive heat of the south. And we wanted a direct view on the vineyards. I contacted several agents in various regions.”
They visited several vineyard areas with different agents, looking for houses and plots of vineyards, in Burgundy, Beaujolais, and Loire. Burgundy was not super pretty and very expensive. Beaujolais was exciting but quite far south. On the last day, they were in the Loire Valley, which is where they found Château de Minière.
Located close to the French city of Tours, and near to the Loire river, which is the last wild river of Europe and very exceptional. “The whole Loire Valley is Unesco world heritage, and is indeed very unique and very attractive.” Which is why Kathleen decided this was the place to set up her new life.
“As soon as we visited Chateau de Miniere, we immediately fell in love with the property, it has enormous charm, a very old building (in white limestone), with a farm attached to it, in the middle of a very nice park (English garden style), with very old trees, a little chapel, all this surrounded by a wall. This property is located in the middle of the vineyard area of the Bourgueil appellation. So lots of charm in an excellent location, and it came with 18 acres of vineyard. Additionally, the estate was called “Chateau de Miniere”, while my husband has worked (and still works) in the Mining industry for more than 20 years.”
Chateau de Miniere has been led by women for over 200 years and would be led now by Kathleen and her husband. The dream became a reality in 2010, Kathleen has managed Chateau de Miniere full-time, and states, “it is 3 full-time jobs in one.”
An American visitor told her this week: “you are living my dream,” which is a comment she often hears. “I know it sounds and looks like a dream, but it is also tough work. But in a nice environment with a nice product to sell, so it is also pleasant.”
Four vintages later, they are now preparing the 2014 vintage. Kathleen tells us “ winemaking teaches you patience because it takes a long time to make wine, and you only get one chance a year, so if you fail or if you want to change something, you have to wait another year. The process is also very risky, depending on weather, on other people, on machinery, and of course on clients who want to buy the wine. From growing the grapes through 4 seasons, over-harvesting, making the wine, putting it in barrel, bottling, labeling, selling, shipping, …”
“In the process, we have also developed a significant tourism activity, under the slogan “a complete wine experience,” because we want to offer more than just tasting the wines and selling the bottles. We want visitors to see and feel the winemaking, from the vines to the bottles, experience it with food, stay on the estate to feel the rhythm of a wine estate, etc. We offer activities on the estate but also activities around the estate with local partners, such as boat tour, hiking and biking, wine and food pairing, cooking classes, etc.”
The terroir was one of the many arguments of why they decided to buy the estate. “We only have one grape variety, cabernet franc, as is typical in Bourgueil. So the difference comes from the soil, the location of the vineyard, and from the age of the vines. And we are delighted with our vineyards. Our vineyard is on average very old, 50 years, meaning we have a large share of old and very old vines. This is the consequence of the historically under-invested vineyard, which is now an advantage, at least for us, as we are not looking for quantity but quality.”
“We have a large plot of vineyard on the “Coteaux de Bourgueil,” the south-facing slopes, which have limestone soil and which are protected by the vast forest to the north.
On those plots we also have our old vines (Vieilles Vignes) and our very old vines, around 100-years old (Vignes centenaries), so we are very happy with the potential of these vineyards.
Besides the coteaux, we have a large variety of types of soils, from clay-limestone to sand and gravel (closer to the Loire)”
“First of all our winery is organic, which means we make wine with grapes, with as little to no additives as possible, both in the vineyard and the winery. This means that we need ripe grapes to start with, to make fruity wines. Our wines are feminine, meaning delicate and subtle, even though the team in the vineyard and the winery is entirely male, they have a very definite feminine touch. We don’t over-extract the wines; we go for ripe, supple tannins.
We also make grape juice, which is pure pressed ripe grapes, very sweet, but all-natural.
And we have also developed two sparkling wines, a rosé and a red naturally sparkling wine. These are very delicate wines, with no second fermentation and no additives (contrary to champagne with added sugar and yeast), so there are only grapes in the bottle. This requires a very subtle method”.
Chateau de Miniere under Kathleen’s management has gone on to win several awards including gold at the Concours des Vignerons Independants for our Château de Minière 2010, International Wine Challenge for our Bulles de Minière rosé and at the Decanter World Wine Awards for the Vignes Centenaires de Minière 2011.
I would say (and I do say) to these people: come to Château de Minière, spend some time with me, bring your business plan, and we will talk about it, and by the end of your stay, you will have changed your mind.
It happened once, and that person did say at the end: “it doesn’t make sense to run a winery, the financials don’t work out” And it is true, it is challenging to make it work financially, you really need to be very successful commercially, and even then it is not easy. And it will never make your rich, let apart a few exceptions (either in the high end or in the “commercial” wine range) So, don’t do it to get rich, do it to change your career.
But don’t consider it a nice “end of career” as some people also sometimes dream about. It is not at all an easy life, and it is hard work, lots of administration, lots of stress, lots of decisions to take, lots of money to invest before the sales happen, …
I want to highlight that we are open every day of the year, from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, 7/7 days.
That we welcome in several languages: French, English, German and Dutch.
And that we are very centrally located in France and Europe, only a 1hr train ride from Paris to Tours, only 2,5h drive from Paris And Loire valley is a great region for a short trip, which should include a visit to our winery!
Written by our Paris Network Developer, Krystal Kenney
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