Anthony Barton / Photo courtesy Château Léoville Barton via Instagram
While widely known as “gentleman of the Médoc,” there was so much more to Barton beyond the affable exterior of the man with a distinctive sense of humor.
The patriarch of the only Bordeaux family with chateau property that significantly predates the famous 1855 Bordeaux classification, Barton was a charismatic ambassador for his wines and those of Bordeaux.
“Over a period of 30 years, we shared the same values, traveled many thousand miles, made friends around the world and had a great time,” says his close friend, Jean-Michel Cazes, whose family owns chateaus in Pauillac, including Château Lynch-Bages. “Anthony was very talented, sincere, down to earth, elegant, witty and … a wonderful companion. I miss him.”
Barton’s opinions were firm and, for many, among the wisest in Bordeaux. Whenever he would attend a prominent event or wine tasting, you could be sure of a profound comment, whether on the quality of a vintage or a wine, passed off in conversation almost casually.
Barton’s views were formed over a long career in the Bordeaux wine trade, first at the Barton family negociant business, Barton & Guestier, then at his own negociant firm, Les Vins Fins Anthony Barton, and, finally, since 1984, as the ninth-generation head of the family estates in Bordeaux. Château Langoa has been in the Barton family since 1821 and Léoville since 1826, through a series of inter-generational successions that are unprecedented in Bordeaux.
For Barton, wine’s place was to be enjoyed at table, not in the cellars of speculators.
Born on July 3, 1930 in Ireland at the Barton family estate in County Kildare, he was the second son, and thus unlikely to inherit the family interests. Nor should he have inherited the Bordeaux wine business from his uncle, Ronald Barton, save that Ronald had no children.
In 1951, at 21 years old, Barton arrived in Bordeaux. It would become his home for the rest of his life, even if, in his early years, he worked without salary and at a job he disliked. It was only as sales director at Barton & Guestier and then as director of his own negociant business did he become a familiar figure, the face of Bordeaux to the outside world.
When he took over the two estates in Saint-Julien and became a gentleman farmer, he was faced with the enormous task of making wine worthy of the properties without the tools and without the money. In the 1980s, Bordeaux was only just emerging from its years of under-investment in both the cellar and vineyard. The work was hard and the development slow for the two estates. But if slow, it was also sure, thanks to the family’s ability to think long term.
By the 1990s, both estates were again worthy of their 1855 classification, Léoville as a second growth, Langoa as a third. It was a great achievement and certainly a key focus of Barton’s life’s work.
Another of Barton’s achievements was to keep his feet on the ground when, all around him, chateau owners were taking advantage of a blossoming golden age by raising prices, sometimes stratospherically. Barton had none of this. For him, wine’s place was to be enjoyed at table, not in the cellars of speculators.
In 1997, a mediocre year, he famously refused to raise his prices. Others did and got caught in the subsequent collapse. Even with latest releases, the two estates’ prices have been modest compared with others in Saint-Julien of the same high quality.
Barton’s work is secure, as the next generations in the family business are well established.
Barton leaves behind his wife, Eva, their daughter, Lilian, her husband, Michel Sartorius, and their two children, Mélanie and Damien.