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  • Sam Darling

Family rumors and famous wine

It’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In my historical digging I’ve learned of other tantalizing bits of family lore but it seems as though stories are getting mixed together and I am having trouble separating fact from fiction.

I learned from my great aunt a while ago that my great-great grandfather’s brother was an owner of Chateau St. Julien. That seems unlikely, as it’s always been owned by famous wine families and none of them appear in my family tree, but perhaps he was a co-owner or manager.

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I was also told that at one point in history it was the headquarters for the French Revolution as the a members of the French moderate republican party in power from 1791–1793 worked out of the chateau. The Girondins. It was so called because the party leaders were the deputies from the department of the Gironde. I do know that family lore tells us our ancestral brothers fled The Terror when it started by selling assets and passing themselves as commoners, but I had always heard they left Paris to do this. Perhaps it was actually because they were members of the Girondins that they came to grief.

In any case, the area of my hometown in France is lousy with world-famous French wine. Look at how the St. Julien is surrounded by famous labels. These are all just an hour drive of where I was born and all the kids of the family know the wines and even the families who still own and operate some of these labels.

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These great uncles of mine were politicians and published authors and made their money in the wine business. But any other details are fuzzy.

I also heard a family rumor that a great uncle from that same line went to a death camp during WWII but survived. he sold his share of the vineyard when he was liberated and moved to Paris to live out the rest of his life in fun and comfort instead of working.

I’m not sure about any of this. I suspect there are kernels of truth in all of these stories of accomplished and tough uncles, but it seems like stories have been conflated. It intrigues me nonetheless. I love the idea that I had two family members — one from each branch of my family tree — who survived concentration camps. I’ve read that their odds of survival was 1 in 11. It’s like reading about a family ancestor who survived getting hit by lightning.

The other part of the wine story I have heard is of a recent ancestor who had a relationship with a Petrus widow after he himself was widowed, and could have brought that famous vineyard into our family except he didn’t want to remarry. That’s like knowing of a recent ancestor who lost a winning lottery ticket.

These stories are intriguing, but they are wispy rumors compared to the first-hand accounts of Nazis taking over the house like on the night my mother was born.

Seventy years is not very long ago.

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