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Château de Minière Blends History and Sustainability in France’s Loire Valley

November 24, 2021

“I make wine for people who just want to appreciate wine,” Château de Minière founder Kathleen Van den Berghe muses. “I don’t want to make it too technical.” 

Van den Berghe sees wine as something to be simply enjoyed, but while her approach to drinking wine is decidedly non-technical, her path to making it is a bit less straightforward. In 2010, Belgian-born Van den Berghe took over the Château de Minière winery, a sprawling vineyard in the French countryside complete with an ancient castle and a few centuries’ worth of history. 

The vineyard is located in the center of the Bourgueil terroir in the Loire Valley, one of the most respected and storied winemaking regions in the world. It’s not exactly a place where outsiders come to set up shop, expecting to jump in and start making their own wine, but Van den Berghe knew from the start that she had something unique to offer. “For me, diversity in wine makes it interesting. The more diversity, the better for the clients, the better for everybody — we should not all try to do the same thing. It’s boring if we all try to do the same thing.” 

Reinventing Château de Minière

When Van den Berghe first discovered the then-bankrupt Château de Minière vineyard more than ten years ago, the name made it seem like fate. Literally, Château de Minière translates to “castle of mining” — a particularly close-to-home surprise, since her husband has worked as a mining expert for over 30 years. “Serendipity, that’s what I call it,” Van den Berghe laughs. “Meant to be.” 

Some of Château de Minière’s buildings date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, and while it doesn’t have archives as meticulous as some of the more famous wineries in the region, Van den Berghe was able to verify that wine has been produced on the property for more than two centuries. 

Van den Berghe herself was not a winemaker, but she came in with a different type of experience that was nearly as invaluable: a long career first as a chemical engineer, then as a consultant, both male-dominated fields. While things are a bit more equal today than in decades past, the winemaking world in France is also still a predominantly male industry: about two decades ago women accounted for just 14% of winemakers, and today that number has risen to just about 33%. “Maybe I’m just attracted to male-dominated careers — I have no idea,” she laughs. “I’m used to it, so it doesn’t stress me. I can handle it. I follow my own track. I do what I want to do and don’t bother so much with what people say or think about me.” 

In an equally serendipitous way, soon after buying the Château de Minière grounds, Van den Berghe learned that the property and its winemaking operations have been run by women for much of the duration of its history. She says that felt nice to learn, almost like fate, and that she felt some camaraderie with the property’s past occupants despite the things that set her apart from the rest of the current vintners in the region. “The fact that I was a woman, the fact that I was Belgian in France, not from a traditional wine environment — I was always seen as an investor, even though I’m extremely hands-on and I do a lot,” she remembers of those first few years. 

While Van den Berghe may be a part of a small population of female winemakers in France, she upholds the long tradition of female winemakers at Château de Minière who run the operations on their own terms, without much external input. “I redid the whole business from scratch and it was me who did it, because there was no one else to do it.” 

An Organic Approach to Winemaking

Once it was time for the vineyard to actually start producing wine again, Van den Berghe knew she wanted to put the environment at the forefront of the process. “I started [farming organically] from the beginning, ten years ago, because honestly I couldn’t see it any other way,” she explains. “Spraying chemicals doesn’t seem okay. So from day one, we started organic.”

At the time, organic farming was not the norm in the wine world. “Far from it,” Van den Berghe laughs. “Traditional farmers think it looks unclean, because the grass is higher and a bit more wild, so [they] say it looks messy,” she muses. “But for me, it’s a conscious choice, and an important one.” 

Van den Berghe frequently says that the actual organic farming process is only a small part of the environmental considerations at Château de Minière. When making decisions about the day-to-day operations around the vineyard, she always tries to keep the health of the planet top of mind: recuperating rainwater, using an electric car around the property, heating with heat pumps, and even opting for lightweight glass bottles for the finished product. “As a winemaker and a business person, I feel we have to reduce our impact on the planet as much as we can,” Van den Berghe explains. “It’s full of these small choices. Each time I make a choice, I try to make the ecological choice. I think if everybody would do that, the planet would be a better place.”

Promoting Diversity in the Wine World 

In an industry as rich with tradition as winemaking in France, it’s uncommon to see real change, even when it’s for the better. But in recent years, the Loire Valley has become a hub for natural and biodynamic wines — both to the excitement of natural wine fans around the world, and to the chagrin of winemaking traditionalists in the region. The story is similar to the one Van den Berghe tells of her own feelings of “othering” as a woman in winemaking; that even though progress is being made, there’s still much room for growth. 

And in her mind, that growth is what will add even more much-needed diversity to the wine industry as a whole. 

“I was born in a village in Belgium that was also very agriculture-oriented, so I can feel the logic of how these villages work,” Van den Berghe muses. “I would say more than half of the people are traditional families who inherit [their farms] from families. Then there are people who start from scratch or take over a business and redo it and do it differently. The second group are people like me, who come with maybe a different vision or with their own background, and I think it makes the wine world interesting.” 

Add This Sparkling Red Wine from the Loire Valley to Your Holiday Celebration  

When celebrating, Van den Berghe likes to gather her whole family around the dinner table for a shareable, comforting meal. She keeps the wine flowing easily all night, and when it comes to a cozy holiday celebration, she recommends something a bit unique: a sparkling red. 

“It’s completely not common,” she laughs. “That’s part of the remarks I got in the beginning: ‘Why do you make a red sparkling? Nobody makes a red sparkling!’ I don’t care what the others do, I make a red sparkling.” 

The story behind Bulles rouge de Minière, the Château de Minière sparkling red that you’ll find at Thrive Market, is personal to Van den Berghe. “My husband lived in Brazil for quite a while, and [people in Brazil] eat a lot of meat, and it has a very warm climate. So lambrusco was part of the culture there because it’s a cool, red wine that pairs with meat.

This dry red wine is a pétillant naturel (more commonly known as a “pet nat”),  which means that it takes on its bubbly, sparkling nature thanks to single-bottle fermentation without the addition of yeast or sugar. It was the first sparkling wine they made at Château de Minière back in 2010, producing just 500 bottles to test out on friends and family. Now, it’s one of Van den Berghe’s favorite wines the winery produces. “It’s fruity, appealing, not sweet, very aromatic. It’s light in alcohol. There’s a touch of sweetness, but with the tannins you don’t really taste the sweetness,” she says.  

If you want to serve a bottle of Bulles rouge de Minière at your holiday gathering, Van den Berghe says it’s lovely to chill the bottle in the refrigerator for a while before the meal, then pour your guests a glass along with the appetizers or dessert. “With chocolate dessert, it’s perfect,” she says with excitement. “A moelleux au chocolat [molten chocolate cake], for instance. Or even better, if you have Forêt Noire [or Black Forest cake, a chocolate cake with cherries inside], that is, for me, the perfect match.”

The Bulles rouge de Minière is unexpected, unpretentious, and a lot of fun to drink, which makes it perfect to share with loved ones — the raison d’être for all the wine Van den Berghe produces at Château de Minière. “That’s really my philosophy: wine is meant to enjoy,” she muses. “It’s really not meant to be complicated. Enjoy it, share it with friends, have a conversation, have fun. That’s, for me, what wine is all about.” 

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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