Saturday, November 4, 2023

How One French Family Turned a Medieval Chateau into a Wine Empire

By Donna Wichelman 

In this fifth and final blog in the series on the châteaus of France, I provide one more way the French have reinvented their châteaus. As you will recall from the beginning of this blog series, many of France’s forty-five thousand châteaus have seen various transformations over the last millennium. While many have been restored and are national historical monuments, others have been repurposed as hotels, restaurants, cultural centers, and music venues. 

During a recent research trip to France in October, a friend took me to a winery with forty-four hectares (more than one hundred and eight acres) of vineyards surrounding a magnificent château. I was in awe as we drove by acres and acres of vineyard and through the ornamental wrought iron gate.

Château Saint-Georges Côte Pavie sits almost two miles (three kilometers) from the medieval village of St. Emilion in the Bordeaux region of France—a geographical area well-known for its exceptional wines. It’s impossible not to be astounded by the many “Châteaux” or wineries in the Bordeau region—7,000 of them with 57 appellations (designations), 87% of which are red blend made primarily from Merlot, Cabernet Francs, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Many have been in the same family for hundreds of years; some have turned an actual château into their administrative offices. Château Saint-Georges Côte Pavie is one of them.

Château Saint-Georges Côte Pavie: Donna's Gallery, October 2023

Château Saint-Georges's Hectares of Vineyards: Donna's Gallery, October 2023

Medieval Village of St. Emilion, France: Donna's Galley, 2023

Château Saint-Georges’s luxurious property has a long history dating back to the third century when excavations in the nineteenth century exposed a sarcophagus and Gallo-Roman pieces on the south side of the property. Beautiful mosaics also uncovered at the site proved a Gallo-Roman villa existed in the third to fourth century, overlooking a vineyard, which was owned by Latin poet Ausone. Perhaps Ausone understood what vintners would discover more than a millennium later—that the land contained all the elements—the terroir—necessary to produce some of the best wines in the world.

The château and parish of Saint Georges was constructed in the Middle Ages and established as a Barony under Henri IV. In 1602, Henri sold the property to Jean Barbot, a lawyer at the Parliament of Bordeaux, who bought it for 1,500 pounds.
In 1770, Mademoiselle de Rabar bought the estate as a dowry to Sir Bouchereau, the King’s councilor. Sir Bouchereau commissioned Louis XVI’s renowned architect, Victor Louis, in 1772 to give the château a face-lift. Having designed the Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux and the galleries of Palais Royal in Paris, the château took on the elegance of its regal presence with its four towers reminiscent of its feudal past and a neoclassical façade.

Friend Catherine Gaiotto near Château Saint-Georges's Ornamental Wrought Iron Gate: Donna's Gallery, October 2023

Two of Château Saint-Georges's Four Feudal Towers: Donna's Gallery, October 2023

Then, the French Revolution threw France into turmoil. Estates like Saint-Georges belonging to the nobility were seized and turned into national property. Peasants who now owned land and had seen their standard of living increase along with access to education demanded to be rid of the last vestiges of feudalism and receive their full rights as landowners. The revolution changed the cultural landscape and gave people greater latitude for personal freedoms.

Thus, Château Saint-Georges passed from hand to hand during the nineteenth century until Mr. Petrus Desbois bought it in 1891 as a summer residence. By then, the estate and its vineyards were in ruins. But Desbois determined to save it from a Phylloxera invasion—a disease that had affected most vineyards in Bordeaux.

Mr. Desbois replanted the entire estate, regenerating the vineyard by grafting French plants over American roots. His son of the same name took on the estate in 1926, and Château Saint-Georges Côte Pavie has been in the family ever since, continuing the traditions of a hundred fifty years of wine-making—a Bordeaux blend of primarily Merlot, then Cabernet Francs, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cellars of ChâteauSaint-Georges: Donna's Gallery, October 2023

Château Saint-Georges's Label: Donna's Gallery, October 2023

Bottle of 2015 Château Saint-Georges's Distinctive Red Blend: Donna's Gallery, October 2023

In 2013, Philippe Janoueix became a major stakeholder, joining the Desbois family in maintaining its traditions. Mr. Janoueix is currently working with local businesses to renovate the facade, vestibule, outer walls, grape pickers’ houses, and watch towers—once more refreshing this centuries-old castle and estate winery, not unlike a remodel project you or I would do on our own modest châteaus.

Renovation Project of Château Saint-Georges Front Steps: Donna's Gallery, October 2023

Donna's Husband, Son-in-law, and Friend Dean, Rebuilding our Deck During COVID, Summer 2020

Now for a sneak preview of Donna's blogs to come in 2023 and 2024: Many of you know my next writing project is a slip-time or dual-timeline novel with protagonists experiencing circumstances during the Nazi occupation of France in World War II and contemporary America and France. Stay tuned for more information in November. 

Donna worked as a communications professional before turning to full-time writing. Her short stories, essays, and articles have appeared in various inspirational publications. She also has two indie-published Christian contemporary suspense novels in her Waldensian Series Light Out of Darkness and Undaunted Valor.

Weaving history and faith into stories of intrigue and redemption grew out of her love of history and English literature as a young adult while attending the United World College of the Atlantic--an international college in Wales, U.K. She loves to explore peoples and cultures of the world and enjoys developing plots that show how God's love abounds even in the profoundly difficult circumstances of our lives. Her stories reflect the hunger in all of us for love, forgiveness, and redemption in a world that often withholds second chances. You can find out more about Donna Wichelman at

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post today. I'm glad to read that this piece of history is being brought into the present with people who care about the preservation of its history.