“Although built at the beginning of the 19th century, it wasn’t until 1896 that my ancestor Charles Bonnaventure, a wine merchant from Sète, decided to buy the Saint-Pierre estate. For over one hundred years, five generations of this family have worked at improving, modernising and developing the wine production ‘between sky and the sea’. In 1938 his eldest son, Charles, already working with several employees, took on a young 20year old girl called Isabelle.
She still works there to this day and, at over eighty years old, still comes to prune the vines and give a helping hand during the wine harvest. Her faith and devotion have ensured the success of the estate.
She tells with pride the story of how my great-grandfather decided to pay her the same wages as a man – quite unheard of in those times of sexual discrimination.
The second world war meant that in 1944 the estate was evacuated, the land mined and abandoned, the cellars left to deteriorate and the house occupied. In March 1946 my grandfather, Frank Viala, husband of Charlie’s daughter, took up the business again. He rebuilt the cellars, and started replanting the vines. The first harvest produced only 200 hectolitres of wine. He inherited his passion for winemaking from his father, Pierre Vialla, who saved the French vines, which had been decimated by phylloxera in the first quarter of the century, by introducing a graft from America resistant to the illness. When Frank died in 1951, his wife Angèle decided to keep on the estate helped by the staff, Isabelle and the manager, Pierre Mascon.
At this time the production gave a high yield of cheap table wine sold in bulk to wholesalers. The revenue was quite modest and slumps in sales were becoming more and more frequent.
In 1969 my parents moved to Saint-Pierre and my father took over the reins of the business. He continued replanting the vines and undertook work on the wine storehouse to improve the quality and to develop opportunities created through tourism by selling the wine directly to the consumers.
In 1975 a stall was set up at the entrance to the estate. Thanks to the great improvement in the quality of the wines, with help from an oenologist, a large part of the annual production is sold through this stall.
Twenty-three years have now passed since I took over running the estate representing the fifth generation of my family to do so.”