n the late 1980's Domaine François Gros was going downhill. Due to illness quality suffered badly and most of the wine was sold off in bulk. It was under these circumstances that Anne Gros took on the family domaine. Today she is one of the major players in Burgundy and recently she has branched out into the Minervois in the south of France.
– I decided to give it a try, just like revenge, Anne Gros says about taking on the domaine. In a way my father was pretty sure that the estate would be sold, because I was a girl. But... voila!
Today Domaine Anne Gros covers 6.5 hectares in and around Vosne-Romanée where she is located. She has three grand crus – Richebourg, Echezeaux and Clos de Vougeot – but no premier crus. On village level there is Vosne-Romanée, Les Barreaux, and Chambolle-Musigny, La Combe d'Orveau, and then there is both Bourgogne and Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits in red and white.
– Going into wine was an obvious choice for me, continues Anne Gros. But it was obvious because I felt I had an obligation. I have no brothers or sisters and my father was very ill. So during ten years the quality of the estate went down.
– It wasn't a difficult decision, but it was difficult working with a man who always would criticise what you did, without doing anything himself because he was too tired.
When Anne Gros succeeded her father in 1988 the domaine covered three hectares. Since then it has grown to cover 6.5 hectares. The Bourgogne blanc was added in 1996, Anne Gros' first go at white wines. Four years later came the Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits and in 2007 the grand cru of Echezeaux. The 0.76 hectares of Echezeaux, all located in the lieu-dit of Les Loachausses, was returning after a 25 year lease to Domaine Gros Frère et Sœur.
– This was a bit difficult, Anne Gros says. I had been observing it for three years before it was returned. I changed the pruning, from Royat to Guyot. My cousin was working very differently from me.
– The challenge with this wine is to have it less ripe, because it is going very quickly and it is very sensitive to botrytis. The results in 2008 were better than in 2007, so I'm getting there. I have a certain idea of what it could be, and I will try everything in order to achieve that. The vines need time.
Today Domaine Anne Gros involves much of what can be found in organic or biodynamic winegrowing. But she is not interested in any kind of certification. That, she feels, would give her less freedom in her work.
– I have been working like this for the past 15 years. But when I began, during the first five years, I used weed killers because I was working three hectares all alone. I was busy learning how to drive the tractor. I had to deal with all the basic things. Today, thanks to the way I work, the soil is much better drained and thanks to that I can go out in the vineyards sooner when it has been raining.
– Then when I could afford to employ someone I also changed the way I was working. The first years I would buy things when I could. I had no money. One year it was the press. One year the tractor. Now I have a winery that is equipped the way I want. The last big investment was the construction of the winery itself in 1999, with cooling system etc. Before that I was working in another place and I would carry the wine back here, and then I would store it in another cellar. Now everything is done at the same place. I have two cellars, with different temperatures. One warmer for the fermentation of the whites in barrels. And one cooler for the reds.
Anne Gros feels that it has become easier being a woman in the world of wine. But there are still difficulties. With the wine market being dominated by men it can be hard for women to make themselves heard.
– Marketing is easy, but beyond that..., sighs Anne Gros.
– I didn't have any problems with the people around me when I first started out. I was curious, and I think they thought I was a bit funny. But it's easier now. And we also have this group, the FEVB – Femmes et Vins de Bourgogne (Women and wine of Burgundy).
The organisation was initiated in 2000 by Anne Parent in Pommard and includes 34 members on different Burgundy domaines.
– The purpose is to create a connection between the young generation and the old dinosaurs like me, says Anne Gros.
The FEVB arranges various events, both conferences for the members and efforts to promote the region and the domains.
Anne Gros recently moved into the Minervois for another vinous venture – a twelve hectare estate in the small hamlet of Cazelles, 40 kilometres west of Béziers.
– Initially it was a desire to work with someone, Anne Gros smiles. I have known Jean Paul for 20 years. He's the father of my children. But we have never worked together, so this was the opportunity for us to have a fourth child.
The man in question is Anne's husband Jean Paul Tollot, of Domaine Tollot-Beaut fame. They started out looking for a suitable place in Provence, but ended up in Cazelles more or less by accident. They then thought about it for three years, but ended up feeling that they would regret it if they didn't give it a try.
Making wine in the Minervois meant working with new grape varieties and working with blends instead of one single grape variety as is the case in Burgundy. They make three wines, one vin de table and two AOC Minervois, all are blends using some or all of cinsault, syrah, carignan and grenache.
– I know pinot noir. I have a feeling for when it is time to pick. I taste the skins. I taste the juice. I taste the pips.
She just laughs when she talks about her first encounters with the grape varieties of the Minervois. All of a sudden the knowledge she had gained in Burgundy wasn't enough.
– I made a mistake with the Grenache. I decided to pick, but it wasn't at the right time. But then it was too late to do anything about it. I must learn. The wine became too sweet.
– One of the interesting things about this is that it is an opportunity to learn. When I took over the family estate I didn't have the time. All I did was a training period in Champagne for pruning. I did a month in the Beaujolais and one in Australia.
© 2009 Ola Bergman