Apart from organized crime, there is no business in which family counts for more than it does in the wine trade. If any family proves this, it is the Lurtons of Bordeaux. The Lurtonsfour in the elder generation, more than 20 in the youngernow run everything from renowned châteaus (Cheval Blanc, Brane-Cantenac) to regional farmers' unions. And their influence doesn't stop at Bordeaux's borders. The younger generation makes wine around the world, from Argentina to Australia. Gonzague Lurton attributes the family's rise and sprawl, half jokingly, to religion. "We're very strong believers, very strong Catholics," he says. "The original Lurtons were from Berry, in Central France, and the story is that the Church sent them southwest to Bordeaux, which was full of Protestants, so they could make lots of little Catholics."
This is not an old dynasty; it has emerged in less than half a century. Léonce Récapet, who lived from 1858 to 1943, made the family's original fortune with a substantial distillery in the little town of Branne, 20 miles east of the city of Bordeaux in Entre-Deux-Mers. Some of his descendants still live and make wine in the grand old houses he bought in this peaceful backwater; Marc Lurton, a great-grandson, says they are confident that with sufficient investment, the classic limestone soil of Entre-Deux-Mers will one day turn the good wines they're currently producing into great ones.
In addition to buying local land and vineyards, Récapet invested farther afield, in the famous wine estates whose vineyards lie downriver from the city of Bordeaux, on the gravel banks of the Médoc region. In 1922, he bought Château Brane-Cantenac, a 210-acre estate in the village of Margaux, which was ranked as a second growth, plus a share in the neighboring estate, the first-growth Château Margaux. (The 1855 classification rated the wines of the Médoc as crus classés, or classed growths, ranging from first to fifth. The first growths, or premiers crus, of which there are five, are the most prestigious; top wines from some other districts are labeled premier grand cru classé. Second growths are almost as sought-after.)