Athénaïs de Béru – from banking to growing biodynamic wines in Burgundy
The picturesque Château de Béru has been owned by the same family for 500 years. Every generation was engaged in wine growing up until Éric de Béru, who was unable to maintain the vineyard and therefore leased it. Just a few years later, the leaseholder surprisingly handed in their notice – at which point Éric's daughter, Athénaïs, who had been a successful banker in Paris until then, didn’t hesitate for a second and decided to take on her father’s estate. Although she had very little knowledge of viticulture, she threw herself into this adventure. We visited the lady of the château and learned about how her courage paid off – and why she doesn’t wear Birkenstocks in the wine cellar.
Growing up on a wine-growing estate
Béru is a small village near Chablis in Burgundy, France. Monks were already producing wine at nearby Fontenay Abbey in the twelfth century. It was also monks who built the wine cellar of what later became the château, as well as the walls around the vineyard known as “Clos” Béru. Athénaïs enjoyed a happy, nature-loving childhood. Her parents loved to entertain family and friends at the château. “The place was always full of people. As a child, I thought I had like 30 brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles. Everybody was a member of the family.”
From a village kid to a big city dweller
Athénaïs moved to Paris to study. She became a successful banker. For six years, she worked day and night and was always on the go. She increasingly became a Parisian and only visited her home in Béru for family vacations.
But then her life changed unexpectedly in 2006 when the vineyard leaseholder terminated his contract prematurely – a situation that rarely occurs. Athénaïs didn’t think for long: within hours, she had decided to abandon her privileged life and well-paid job in Paris and to make a radical change in her life, taking on the vineyard – together with an uncertain future and an ancestral home which had seen better days. “I made a lot of mistakes, but it’s the only way to learn fast and also to make things your own way,” she reminisces, laughing.
A return to nature
Right from the start, Athénaïs decided to avoid chemicals and chose to sustainably protect the environment, the soil, and people. Step by step, she familiarized herself with the basics of biodynamic viticulture. This was a highly unusual approach in this traditional wine-growing region and the local winegrowers had plenty of advice for her. “Without any disrespect - I just did exactly the opposite of whatever I was being told,” relates Athénaïs dryly.
Her wines are now among the best in the region, in part because of the original twelfth century cellar, which boasts ideal conditions thanks to its natural humidity and steady temperatures.
The power of the elements
The château’s main entrance features something rather special, namely one of the last remaining lunar calendars in Europe. It dates back to the 15th century and was highly significant to agriculture back then. Athénaïs likewise draws on the power of the moon and explains: “What we do all year long they were already doing it ten centuries ago.”
More than a living museum
Château de Béru is an historic place which effuses a great deal of positive energy. It is home to many old paintings and pieces of furniture dating as far back as the times of Marie Antoinette. An original document from 1687 is especially interesting, as it is signed by the Sun King, Louis XIV, and endorses the family coat of arms. “We nevertheless live and work like normal people,” says the lady of the château, “just like all the generations before us. And naturally, we use the building for wine tastings, tourism, and events, too.”
The natural way to wear shoes
For Athénaïs, Birkenstocks are the ideal leisure and gardening shoes, and she had her first pair back when she was based in Paris. “I always used to have one pair and wear them until they die,” she explains. “Here in the damp wine cellar, I obviously wear rubber boots. But as soon as I’m out of the cellar for me Birkenstocks are the easiest shoes even to work with. I am always active. So I need shoes that can keep up with my activity. Birkenstocks are simply incredibly comfortable and correspond to my everyday life today.”
Good wine – a contribution to life
Athénaïs’s tenacity and her decision never to compromise paid off – Château de Béru wines are now to be found in some of the world’s best restaurants, including noma in Copenhagen.
Athénaïs de Béru is aware that her life is extraordinary. “I’m not happy to wake up every day at six, I would lie if I said that, but I really wake up every day being happy to continue and to explore this life adventure. I have also learned a lot of humility, because you realise that, if you take the whole history, your input to this history is very small. At the end, we produce a bottle of wine - and the best connection among people all around the world is sharing a glass of wine…”