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Anthony Barton: tributes paid to Bordeaux wine great

Fond tributes have been paid to Anthony Barton, the ‘gentleman’ of Bordeaux wine who is also credited with enhancing the fortunes and quality of Châteaux Léoville Barton and Langoa Barton.

The Barton family announced yesterday (19 January), ‘We have the immense sadness to inform you that our beloved Anthony Barton passed away at the age of 91 years old.’

Known as the ‘gentleman’ of Bordeaux wine and admired for his sense of humour and charisma, Anthony Barton was also widely respected for modernising family estates Léoville Barton and Langoa Barton – the respective 1855 second and third growth châteaux in the St-Julien appellation.

Barton was credited, too, with maintaining a relatively modest pricing strategy during a major period of growth for Bordeaux wine in the world.

After Barton won Decanter’s ‘Man of the Year’ award in 2007, Johnny Goedhuis, then MD of UK merchant Goedhuis & Co, said, ‘Anthony has not only made great wines…but has priced them at a level that one can afford to drink.’

Barton told Decanter at the time, ‘We’re making a very good living as it is. How many new cars can anyone buy after each vintage?’

Goedhuis, now chairman of Goedhuis & Co, was among those across the wine world paying tribute to Barton this week. ‘It was with great sadness that I heard yesterday evening about the death of Anthony Barton,’ he said today (20 January). ‘What a wonderful inspiring man who I can certainly blame, in part, for my career in this great industry of ours.’

Goedhuis added, ‘He was one of the first people I met when I was dispatched to Bordeaux in the early 70s as a callow youth. So for nearly 50 years he has been a friend, advisor and, of course, supplier of the wonderful wines he crafted at Châteaux Langoa and Léoville Barton.’

Jancis Robinson OBE MW remembered Barton’s entertaining and insightful company in a tribute this week, and added, ‘He was one of relatively few Médoc château owners to live above the shop, in his case the cellars in which both Langoa and Léoville Barton are made.’

Barton’s route to becoming a legendary figure of Bordeaux wine was somewhat circuitous.

While the family has been active in the Bordeaux wine trade since the early 18th century, and has owned Langoa Barton and Léoville Barton since the 1820s, Anthony Barton was born at the family residence in County Kildare, Ireland, in 1930.

He moved to Bordeaux in 1951, where the family’s estates belonged to his uncle, Ronald. Finances were tight and the family previously reported that Ronald told his nephew after the 1951 crop, ‘Another harvest like this and I will have to sell’.

Over the next years, Anthony Barton worked at family merchant business Barton & Guestier, and continued as export director after it was acquired by Seagram, before founding his own company, ‘Les Vins Fins Anthony Barton’, in 1967.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that he inherited the family wine estates from his uncle, and began playing a more active role in their development. He lived on-site with his wife, Eva, from 1986 onwards.

Fresh investment and critical praise for the wines followed. The late, great Steven Spurrier chose a Léoville Barton 1989 as one of his favourite Bordeaux wines of all time.

Yet Barton will also be remembered for his warm personality.

Adam Brett-Smith, MD of UK merchant Corney & Barrow, said, ‘Quite outside of business we spoke regularly, exchanged books, films, anecdotes and his wonderful wines. I adored him and of course his family.

‘He had a lightness of touch, a self-deprecation, the most perfect sense of timing, an incomparable wit and a wicked sense of humour – all of which were deployed to mask a keen intellect, a restless fascination with the fallibilities of mankind and a love of all things beautiful. Truly he was “A veray parfit gentil knight”.’

Johnny Goedhuis added, ‘Anthony had so many qualities: hugely charming, interested in everything and everybody, an amazing host, all combined with being tremendously good fun.

‘That large dollop of Irish blood, of which he was immensely proud, made him a great raconteur and all of us who were lucky enough to know him will today be remembering some of his finest stories.

‘As I walked to the office this morning it made me think of our next visit to Bordeaux. Driving up and down, past the gates of Château Langoa Barton, I will feel extremely sad but I am also sure that I will smile, grateful that I knew Anthony and also hopefully recalling some of his more extraordinary anecdotes. I will also certainly stop to see Eva, Lilian, Mélanie and Damien.’

Anthony’s daughter, Lilian, worked with him for several decades, and her husband, Michel Sartorius, also joined the family business. Lilian has taken over the running of the family estates in recent years, and has been joined by her children, Mélanie and Damien.

In 2011, the family bought Château Mauvesin in Moulis-en-Médoc, renaming it Mauvesin Barton.

Related articles

From the archive: Anthony Barton receives Decanter award in 2007

Steven Spurrier: My top Bordeaux wines of all time

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