Honouring a career spanning over 40 years, May de Lencquesaing, ‘Grande Dame’ of Glenelly Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s International Wine Challenge (IWC) Awards.
Words by Greg Landman.
The ceremony took place on 6th July at the Hilton Park Lane in London in front of a sell-out audience of winemakers, restaurateurs, trade and press from across the globe who gave May de Lencquesaing a standing ovation.
The IWC Lifetime Achievement Award honours a person within the trade who has shown dedication and commitment, and has made a significant difference to the global wine industry. Now in its 34th year, the IWC is widely regarded as one of the world’s finest and most meticulously judged wine competitions.
May de Lencquesaing is a member of one of Bordeaux’s oldest wine families, the Miailhe, whose place in the wine industry dates back to the end of the 18th century. Owners of the famous Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, they also owned or partly owned several other great Bordeaux châteaux, including Siran, Ducru-Beaucaillou and Palmer. Having spent many years travelling the globe with her late husband General Hervé de Lencquesaing, May took the helm of the family business in 1978. After a hugely successful tenure as head of Pichon Lalande, where she became affectionately known as ‘La Generale’, she sold the Château to Champagne Louis Roederer in 2007 to concentrate on her new wine estate in South Africa.
May de Lencquesaing, always a pioneer, had visited South Africa several times and recognised the great potential to grow world-class wines with the right microclimate. With this belief, in 2003 aged 78, she started a new adventure on South African soil when she bought Glenelly Estate on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in Stellenbosch. She replanted the former fruit farm to pristine vineyards, built a state-of-the-art winery, a tasting centre, a museum for her precious glass collection and a school for the children on the farm, and began producing a highly-acclaimed range of wines.
Today, 14 years later, alongside her two grandsons Nicolas Bureau and Arthur de Lencquesaing (the 8th generation of vintners and wine producers), they are reshaping Glenelly into one of South Africa’s pre-eminent estates, intrinsically linking themselves to South Africa’s success story. After closing to the public for a year for extensive renovations, Glenelly re-opened at the end of 2016 as a world-class winelands destination, including a hospitable bistro, a tasting room with spectacular views, a stylish new presentation of May’s unique glass collection, and a refreshed wine brand that better conveys the three key elements that define their award-winning wines: power, elegance and balance.
May de Lencquesaing, on first hearing she was to receive this prestigious award, commented, “I am honoured to be chosen by the IWC for this award. Wine has always been an incredibly important part of my journey throughout my life, and it’s humbling to be recognised in this way. Growing up and living in Bordeaux has been a great chance to learn and better understand wine and the people who make it. Although investing in South Africa in my late 70’s was certainly a real challenge, I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to create and couldn’t pass on the opportunity. It has been my absolute joy to see Glenelly thrive and prosper as I envisioned all those years ago. It’s such an exciting time for South Africa and we are so happy to be part of an international wine culture where our wines are taken as seriously as the most revered wines in the world.”
A few facts about May
- May-Eliane de Lencquesaing born Miailhe, Bordeaux, 17 May 1925
- President of the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) (1993) and subsequently Vice President for Life
- Decanter Woman of the Year – first French woman to receive the award (1994)
- Médaille de la Jeunesse et des Sports, from the Ministry of Youth and Sports (1999)
- Médaille du Mérite Colonial (2003)
- Edouard Cointreau Award for her book “Vivant, je suis!” dit le vin (2004)
- Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bacchus Society of America (2005)
- ArtVinum Award in the category ‘Lifetime Achievement’, Stuttgart, Germany (2007)
- Officier de la Légion d’Honneur (2011)
- Officier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole (2016)
- Honorary Membership of the Pinotage Association for her life-long exceptional contribution to the world of wine (2017)
- Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) (2017)
- A member of the Academy of Science, Letters and Arts of Bordeaux
The video of May receiving her award can be viewed below: