Weekly Interview: Christine Barbe

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 10-10-2014

Credit: Coquerel Family Estates.

Credit: Coquerel Family Estates.

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Christine Barbe, the owner and winemaker of Toquade Wines and the winemaker at Coquerel Family Estates.

Christine was born and raised in Bordeaux. And even though her family worked in the wine industry, Christine says she was never interested in following the family career path. But still – can it really be attributed to pure chance? – her studies undoubtedly prepared her well for the wine career that was to come. She graduated with a degree in biochemistry without knowing what to do with it. It led to a seamless transition to a PhD program in Enology and Viticulture at the Bordeaux Institute of Enology.

While she was a doctoral student, Christine had the fortune of applying her studies to help make wine at Château Carbonnieux and La Louvière in Pessac-Léognan. This is when she fell in love with Sauvignon Blanc. Or, as Christine would say, this is when she developed a certain toquade for Sauvignon Blanc (hence Toquade Wines).

In 1996, Christine graduated with the PhD and she came to California. She explained that in Bordeaux, it is very difficult for female winemakers outside of well-established Bordelais families to advance in the wine industry. And in comparison, in California, “you can do whatever you want.” Not only are jobs more accessible to qualified people, winemakers have the freedom to experiment – something which might be sneered at in Bordeaux as untraditional.

After some time at Gallo, Robert Mondavi, and Trinchero, Christine became the winemaker at Coquerel Family Estates in 2010.

Chatting with Christine was a joy. She retains a thick French accent, and her answers to my questions – sometimes succinct, sometimes stream-of-consciousness – revealed plenty of savoir faire.

Check out our interview with Christine below the fold.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?

Bring the fruit to the bottle.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

2010 Coquerel “La Petite Sirah” and 2013 Château de Pampelonne Côtes de Provence Rosé.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?

Genevieve Janssen she was my boss when I was working at Robert Mondavi in 2000. Through her, I learned a lot about vineyard terroir of the Napa Valley.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

Stephane Vivier at Vivier Wines — nice Pinot. Philippe Langner at Hesperian Wines — nice Cabernet Sauvignon. And Camille Benitah, who makes Merus and ALTVS — top Cabernet Sauvignons.

How do you spend your days off?

I do not have days off right now as it is harvest season. And when it is not harvest, I spend some of my free time making my own wine, Toquade. So when I have time I like to hike and grow my vegetables.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

Grand Corbin d’Espagne 1985.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve: 1997 and 1998.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

Toquade Sauvignon blanc 2011 and Anatomy Cabernet Sauvignon 2011.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Being patient. A lot of work goes into making wine before you can bottle.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?

Burgundy.

Is beer ever better than wine?

I do not drink beer.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I like bunnies.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

R&D, since I was trained as a researcher. I have a PhD in Enology.

How do you define success?

Finding happiness in what you do.

In your ideal world, what will you be doing in ten years?

I will be better what I am doing now.

Comments (1)

  1. Merci! One of my favorite winemakers as well… :-)