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The French Queen of Wine

Lush purple grapes on a row of vines ripening in th esun

If you look at a list of the most expensive wines in the world you’ll see it stuffed with beauties from France. Look closer and you’ll see one name pop up over and over—Leroy. You think to yourself, I don’t know who this Msr. Leroy is but he must be quite the winemaker.

Surprise! It’s not Monsieur Leroy, it’s Madame: Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy. Another surprise: she’s in her 9th decade and still at the top of her game. You might not have heard of her but she’s famous among the cognoscenti, and for good reason.

Four Generations

Lalou Bize-Leroy is the fourth generation of her family to run Maison Leroy, founded by her great-grandfather in 1868. She was perhaps destined for a life in wine after her father Henri placed a few drops of Burgundy on the lips of his newborn daughter.

Henri ran the family wine business until 1955, when he decided to turn over the reins to Lalou so he could focus on brandy. She was just 23 at the time and struggled to establish herself in a man’s world, because who wanted to take orders from this petite young woman? But Lalou’s determination, passion, and – especially – her remarkable palate carried her through.

By 1974 she was not only running Maison Leroy but was also co-director of the legendary Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, of which her family is half-owner. She pushed the winery to stop using pesticides and go organic instead. This raised its already-high quality to stratospheric levels and today many consider Romanée-Conti the greatest winery in the world.

Biodynamic and remarkable

After a management dispute in 1992, Lalou left Romanée-Conti to focus on making her own wines. Now free to make them exactly as she wished, she adopted controversial biodynamic principles, a kind “organic plus” approach with a bit of mysticism thrown in. The results have been nothing short of remarkable.

Burgundy lovers get misty-eyed when they talk about her wines and are willing to pay astounding sums for a bottle. That’s why eight of the 20 most expensive wines in the world are from Leroy. Eight! By contrast, only two are from Romanée-Conti.

For someone who produces such brilliant wines, Lalou doesn’t believe in the idea of winemaking. Instead, she considers herself a guardian, whose job it is to observe the grapes and follow their guidance. Asked once how she manages to get so much intensity and energy from her wines, she replied, “It’s simple, I love my vines more than most people do.”

That love shows in her wines. And while few of us will ever have the privilege of tasting one, we can certainly appreciate the passion of Madame Bize-Leroy, the queen of wine.

Keith Van Sickle splits his time between Silicon Valley and Provence.  He is the author of One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence and Are We French Yet? Keith & Val’s Adventures in ProvenceRead more at Life in Provence.

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