Her Glenelly Estate in Stellenbosch is also home to De Lencquesaing’s astounding glass collection which features about 500 antique and contemporary pieces.
“It was a dangerous time. We took risks,” recalls De Lencquesaing from a chair in her famed glass museum at Glenelly wine estate in Stellenbosch.
“Each day, I would ride my bicycle from my grandmother’s home to Château Palmer, past the Germans, and pass food to our guests through a hole in the wall.”
She did this for three months till the Italians escaped through neighbouring Spain, which was a neutral country in World War II.
“We never got used to being occupied by the enemy but we had our ways of dealing with it.”
One of the risks May Miailhe (her family name) took was joining the resistance to fight the invaders, knowing she faced torture and execution or deportation to a concentration camp if discovered.
“My specialty was creating false identity documents and travel permits but I took part in other operations when required. I worked with my father but my mother never knew.”
De Lencquesaing is a member of one of Bordeaux’s oldest wine families, whose history in the industry goes back more than 300 years. She took over the business, Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, in 1978.
In 2003, aged 78, she started a new adventure by buying Glenelly Estate in Stellenbosch.
Four years later, she sold the family home and winery to Champagne Louis Roederer: De Lencquesaing had decided to focus solely on South Africa.
She currently runs Glenelly with two of her grandsons, Nicolas Bureau and Arthur de Lencquesaing, who represent the family’s eighth generation in the wine industry. Their winemaker is Luke O’Cuinneagain.
While the estate is greatly admired for its wines, it is also home to De Lencquesaing’s astounding glass collection which features about 500 antique and contemporary pieces, the oldest dating back to the first century BC.
The exquisite collection has artistic and archaeological merit and includes (other than the Roman pieces) 18th and 19th century glasses; Art Nouveau and Art Deco pieces; a Salvador Dali creation entitled Cross Leibniz; a masterpiece by the Italian master, Lino Tagliapietra and works by contemporary SA glassblowers David Reade, Liz Lacey and the late Shirley Cloete.
One piece, a opaque statuette of De Lencquesaing by Maxime Real del Sarte, was a gift to celebrate her marriage to her late husband, General Hervé de Lencquesaing, in 1948.
Its likeness is reflected on Glenelly’s flagship Lady May wine (a Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from a single block and completed by a dash of other traditional Bordeaux cultivars).
Her entire glass collection – the Stellenbosch exhibition comprises just a third of the whole – is considered one of the largest and most valuable privately owned in the world.
“I inherited my love for collecting things from my grandfather and his Irish wife, who collected art, furniture and china. I was an army wife who moved 15 times in my husband’s career with four little children [and] didn’t have time to collect till after his retirement.
“It was in either 1981 or 1982 when we visited a little shop in Bath, England, and I saw a charming little glass in the window. We entered and started talking to the owner, who said he had two copies of a book on glassmaking and I could have one if I wished. I still have that glass … and the book.”
Why does she collect glass?
“Glass is special because its origin is sand. As such it is worthless because nothing will grow in it. It takes man’s intelligence to turn it into something of value.”
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