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Green Queen: Alexandra de Vazeilles

In a new series, Billionaire speaks to female entrepreneurs leading the way in sustainability. This week, Alexandra de Vazeilles.

After a global corporate career, Countess Alexandra de Vazeilles embraced her life-long passion for wine. As the owner of Château des Bachelards since 2014, she is leading the charge in biodynamic winery in Beaujolais.

How does it feel to be a woman in wine in Beaujolais?

I am so proud to be a woman. By nature, women make life happen, feed their families and the world. We take better care of the earth and soils: intimately, we know that it is an asset and that like any asset it erodes. Women nurture: this is probably why the future is bright for women in agriculture at large and in wine in particular.

The wine industry is like any other industry with a sort of bell curve when it comes to resisting change and I have to admit, there has been no real change over the past decade unfortunately. Historically agriculture and wine were led by men, who orientated towards the use of chemical products of all kinds in order to boost yields and decrease handwork. This started 70 years ago but is now being banned as our planet and our health is at stake. For the past millions of years, men and women fed themselves naturally: the chemical industry didn’t exist. Understanding there needs to be an urgent change in paradigm is the real change!

At Château des Bachelards you apply organic farming principles.

I am 60 and never used any pesticides nor chemical products to grow vegetables, fruits or my Bachelards wine. Organic farming does exist today thanks to consumers: unfortunately, there is still a way to go as both farmers and government are against it. Going forward, considering what surrounds us as a living ecosystem, we will eat less meat and more vegetables: historically, in gastronomy, vegetables accompany meat or fish. Today, they are increasingly becoming the main course. In 2014, we created a red wine ideally served with vegetables: it is called le vin de la cuisine légumière; its tannins are thin and complement vegetables with harmony.

How important is it to know the land, the vines, the climate intimately in the process?

Château des Bachelards in Fleurie is a pioneer as it is both certified - organic and biodynamic. Our soils are chemical free since 2007 and that impacts greatly the style of the wine. You need a strong vision to make biodynamic wine as it takes at least 10 years to 'clean' a soil. At Château des Bachelards we know it will be a lifelong search to find and fine tune our biotope: it is a humbling process. Embracing the wine industry, you are never alone as you inherit a tradition: I do thank the Benedictine monks in the 12th century for creating Bachelards and my current team for their positive energy, hard work and commitment to our search for excellence.

What role will sustainability play in the future of the domain and the wine industry? 

Sustainability has a cost: it increases production costs significantly!  For example, you need to employ 1 person for two hectares of vineyard in average. When you work with pesticides  (what I call ‘Bayer Monsanto AOC'!) you need one person to look after 40 hectares! Most wines below €20 a bottle cut corners: they have an environmental cost. We take our responsibilities and thriving to deliver the best wines: Château des Bachelards, today, is known as the Fleurie Queen.

You love cooking, are a chef yourself and surround yourself with multi-awarded chefs and hedonists. What kind of cuisine do you want to put forward? 

A bottle with nothing in one’s plate is like an orphan! For me, it is always time for food and wine: they go hand in hand, food and wine pairing is life! I cook according to the seasons, follow what I want in the moment. I do love to company of chefs and invite many of them over: together we have fun. I organize diners with chefs - whether Michelin-starred or young talents -  award-winning sommeliers and pastry chefs: sharing is the essence of life for me.