Saint-Emilion women enfranchised after 800 years
- Thursday 12 April 2001
King John, who signed the Magna Carta in 1215, was also the architect of the 1199 Treaty of Calais, at which he granted the burghers of the French wine region Saint-Emilion the right to administer their city and their wines through a promotional body called the Jurade.
Moribund for centuries, the 800-year old Jurade was revived in 1948 and the burghers decided to maintain the ancient traditions - including an exclusively male membership.
Jacques Capdemourlin, Premier Jurat (president) since 1997, determined to change this rule for the new Millennium and reflect the fact that some of the greatest wine estates of Saint-Emilion are run by women.
The honoured ladies are Beatrice Ondet (co-owner with Marie-France Fevrier of well-regarded Chateau Chauvin) and Francoise de Wilde, owner of Grand Cru Chateau Ripeau. Their enthronement takes place on 17 September at an ancient ceremony called the Chapitre du Ban des Vendanges in the cloisters of the Collegial church in Saint-Emilion.
Like their 47 male colleagues the new members will be dressed in full ceremonial attire - long red robe with white cuffs and collar, white hood and a red cap. And like their colleagues they will enjoy the same title - jurat - in its unfeminised form.
Ondet, a former chemist (she and her sister gave up their professions in order to look after the chateau when their father fell ill in the late 1970s) is robust about the rights and wrongs of feminism in 800-year-old wine organisations
'I am not by any means a feminist', she told decanter.com. 'It isn't a question of sex, but of competence and devotion to the profession. A woman is just as likely to be able to do certain things as well as a man.'
And she has no truck with suggestions that she and other formidable women in Bordeaux may have exerted pressure on the gentlemen of the Jurade.
'We certainly didn't try to influence the Jurade. It was they who decided to ask us to join the fraternity. I am honoured to be inducted next Sunday.'