What It's Like to Run a Winery with Your Mother
The mother-daughter duo behind Château Margaux talked to Food & Wine about the benefits of keeping business all in the family.
Alexandra Petit-Mentzelopoulos grew up taking trips to Château Margaux, her mother Corinne Mentzelopoulos’ winery. Corinne inherited the winery in her late twenties after her father passed away just three years after he purchased it. Alexandra’s grandfather was a successful businessman—he didn’t know much about wine—but it fell to his daughter to take on the care of Château Margaux. Corinne is now the winery’s CEO, and she works closely with Alexandra, who has been at home in vineyards since childhood.
“When we were kids, my mother brought us to the harvest. We were tasting wine when we were young,” Alexandra recalls of her early memories at the winery. “You could skip school back then. I think that’s what gave me a love of Margaux.”
When it came time to pick her career path, Alexandra “did her own thing,” studying business and art history at school. Corinne says that she never put any pressure on her daughter to join the family business, worrying that she would feel pressured, but as it turned out, Alexandra naturally gravitated toward Château Margaux. She says the winery is “in her blood,” so joining the family businesses was an obvious choice. She now serves as the winery’s deputy general manager.
Alexandra, who lives in London, is the third generation of her family to work at the winery. She says that working with her mother is great, except that she has to be very careful to separate to their business relationship from their personal one. Though the pair don’t work together on a day-to-day basis Corinne is always the person she calls when she has a new idea for the business, or when she thinks she’s made a mistake.
“I can speak to my 'boss' about anything—my ideas but also my doubts and even sometimes my mistakes,” Alexandra says.
Though one might assume working under a parent might be a pressure cooker of expectations, disappointments and personal hang-ups, Alexandra and her mother have found that their bond has only strengthened as they navigate their business partnership.
Corinne says that working with her daughter is “amazingly comfortable and rewarding,” adding that the two of them are “able to share everything with total transparence and trust.” She’s also in the unique position of watching her daughter grow in her career first-hand.
“There also is something fascinating in watching Alexandra adapt her intelligence and natural curiosity to all the different sides of running such an estate. I envy her youth and energy, but it's such a relief to know Château Margaux will be in good hands,” she says.
Corinne (along with the winery’s longtime general manager Paul Pontallier, who died in March of 2016) trained her daughter. Corinne offered her daughter support and criticism—“It’s easier to hear it from your mother,” Alexandra remarks—but the most important thing she feels her mother offers as a boss and business partner is a safe place where she can "share ideas without fear and challenge each other.”
About eight months ago, Alexandra opened her own wine bar and restaurant called Clarette (which lists Château Margaux on the wine list, of course), a venture her mother wholeheartedly supported.
“Opening this place on my own and doing it alone, from scratch, gave me more confidence to work at Château Margaux,” says Alexandra. It’s been a longtime ambition of hers to open her own restaurant, and she describes herself as someone who thinks “there’s nothing better” than “good food for friends and family.”
Meanwhile, Château Margaux recently released the first limited edition bottle in the winery’s more than 500 year history, partially as a tribute to Paul Pontallier. According to Corinne, the 2015 vintage is “very perfumed, expressive and complex,” and represents the winery’s elegance.
With Clarette to oversee in London and the winery to manage in France, Alexandra is well on her way to becoming a thriving businesswoman in her own right. She has her mother to thank for imparting her with so many of the skills she needed to arrive where she's at now. For this mother-daughter duo, there is little you can’t achieve with family by your side.