New Yorker Michele D’Aprix is the only American woman to make her own wine in the prestigious Bordeaux region in southwestern France. Her mission; “to redefine Bordeaux for the American market,” she says, “particularly the younger crowd.” Many young wine enthusiasts think of Bordeaux as “old, stuffy and expensive” a perception she hopes to change.
Michele’s love affair with wine began in 1997 when she walked into the cellar at Dry Creek Vineyard. It was her first interview at a winery, and she was one of their three candidates that year. She recalls, “The enologist ultimately hired me because, at the time, I was a bartender in Boston. They figured a bartender’s ability to multitask outweighed my lack of experience. I was only a third year Organic Chemistry undergraduate with no lab no lab skills whatsoever.” Michele earned her Viticulture and Enology degree from UC Davis.
Follwing UC Davis Michele was mentored by vigneron and French winemaking consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt.
“I met Stéphane Derenoncourt in 2004, 2 years after I graduated from Davis. Stéphane is not an enologist. He did not go to school to learn about vine physiology or the biochemistry of fermentation. In fact, I’d bet he doesn’t know off the top of his head what the molecular formula for TCA is, and I’m certain he doesn’t care. But he, a bit like Yoda maybe, can stand in a vineyard and tell you from a quality perspective, why one is better for Merlot, and not Cabernet Franc. And once the vineyard grows in, he knows how you better prune it, and once the fruit is picked, what temperature to keep the fermentation at, and how many times to look under the lid & give it a stir while it’s evolving. All of this is done by feel, loosely at times, and totally precise in moments. He learned wine could be ‘made’ without doing anything to it, other than letting it follow its natural progression once the vineyard has been shaped into what the soils, sun, wind, precipitation, personnel and winery can provide it.
Every vineyard has its limit with regard to the quality of wine you can grow there. Like he sees people, Stéphane sees vineyards as places to be brought to their full potential without crossing the line where they need to be manipulated.”
Stéphane introduced Michele to Pierre Bernault owner of Chateau Beauséjour, a 30-acre estate in Montagne-Saint-Emilion which is home to the oldest vineyard planting in the entire region of Bordeaux. Michele became the winemaker for the chateau and launched her Pentimento label, a Bordeaux blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
To help redefine Bordeaux for younger wine enthusiasts, Michele began a small import portfolio focused on the organic winemaking families in and around the Right Bank, the merlot-dominant wine region north of the Dordogne River, whose bottles don’t garner recognition like those of prestigious chateaux. They are a “conduit to the work and philosophy of Stéphane Derenoncourt. This project was begun with a desire to represent these ideals that I too have come to apply to my work in wine and I go forward grateful for having had the education (all different kinds), and responsible for teaching it to those who would listen. And taste.”
Michele’s newest projects are MDX Pierre Angulaire, a white Bordeaux and Maz Caz from Costeries de Nimes in the Southern Rhone.
And her favorite part of her job? “Definitely not the commute, but I love everything else about it. I absolutely love making wine. The work is physical, which makes you feel like you’re really doing something, and you can drink the results.”