“Je suis André Lurton, vigneron,” said André Lurton, handsome with a black scarf around his neck and a long tan cashmere coat draped over his shoulders. He was at a town hall meeting to speak against a proposed crematorium in Saint-Quentin-de-Baron, three miles from his birthplace at Château Bonnet in Grézillac.
He won, as he did time after time.
André Lurton, Bordeaux landowner and viticulture legend who was more than a winemaker, was born October 4, 1924. He died May 16, 2019, at 94.
Lurton blended the political circles of wine and vines, decade after decade, to push a Bordeaux decimated by World War II, to today’s second most popular tourist destination in France.
“Vigneron” was his calling card.
His story starts amidst the turmoil of World War II. As a teenage fighter in the French Resistance, he joined Groupe Roland in the Dordogne. At 20, he moved to the French First Army fighting under General de Lattre de Tassigny around Colmar vineyards in Alsace, before pushing their way into Germany from 1944 until V-E Day, May 8, 1945.
It left him with an affinity for military vehicles, which he kept a cache of at Château Bonnet.
In 1953, he took over Château Bonnet, bought by the Lurton family in 1897, post-phylloxera epidemic. Over the years he bought more vines and chateaus, always knowing that vines equal wealth, always the vigneron.
In 1965, Lurton broadened his horizons from Entre-Deux-Mers to Graves, across the Garonne river. There he made his legacy: Put the best vineyards of the Graves into their own appellation, Pessac-Léognan. Lurton was founder-president of the appellation. It took 22 years.
He regularly asked the Crus Classés de Graves, the group of top chateaus that include first-growth Château Haut-Brion, to reopen its classification to include his darling La Louvière and other excellent chateaus. Finally, as reported by France 3 TV in 2014, they told him to stop.
Always a political person, Lurton held multiple posts in Bordeaux wine politics. He was director of the Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB) from 1966–1986, and vice-president of the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur Wine Syndicate (1965–1996). He was mayor of his birthplace, Grézillac, for 45 years.
Lurton’s primary company, Vignobles André Lurton, at last report (2017, released in 2019) was worth $26 million. He was the sole owner until 2012, when bank Crédit Agricole Grand Crus assumed an 18% stake.
Lurton and his family were the 392nd richest in France, according to Challenges magazine’s 2018 ranking of French fortunes, and 32nd in the wine sector. Seven children survive him: Denise, Christine, Edith, Odile, François, Jacques and Béatrice. Most remain in the wine business.
The company owns roughly 1,500 acres of vineyards in Bordeaux, including 643 acres in Pessac-Léognan, some as joint ventures or with minority shareholders. This includes by appellation: Châteaux La Louvière, Couhins-Lurton, Rochemorin, Cruzeau (Pessac-Léognan), Bonnet (Entre-Deux-Mers, Bordeaux) and Barbe-Blanche (Lussac Saint-Émilion).
Three years ago, Jack Ma, owner of one of the world’s largest online retailers, Alibaba, bought Château de Sours in Saint-Quentin-de-Baron. It is where, years before, Lurton opposed the crematorium.
Ma and Bordeaux should honor this relentless man. Lurton fought with and against friends, foe and family for the future of Bordeaux vines his whole life.
Andre Lurton’s funeral was May 20, 2019, at Notre-Dame Catholic Church in Grézillac. His wife, Elisabeth Garros, died in 2006. He is survived by brother Lucien and sister Simone (brother Dominique died in 2010), seven children and multiple grandchildren.