How This Vietnamese Woman Succeeds With Her Bordeaux Wine

In May of 2021, I sat at picnic table next to the Gironde Estuary in Bordeaux for a casual spring lunch and tasted a 2020 Bordeaux wine with a deep blue label named Song by Bong. What a surprise. I later mentioned the wine both for Forbes and on my VinoVoices blog:

Château des Songes. Song – By Bông & Hubert De Boüard. 2020. 94 to 95 points.

Jumping, fresh aromas of lavender, cassis, red and black cherries and a lick of menthol. Fresh and approachable flavors of juicy fruits backed by bright acidity, slight nuttiness on the attack, and firm but unobtrusive tannins. Pair with roasted chicken or magret de canard duck breast with foie gras, or a honey and mozzarella appetizer. A late spring afternoon kick starting wine. Rich and rewarding.

Surprisingly, this was the first ever written review of this wine, and was unexpected for the producer Bong Grelat-Tram, who works with winemaker and consultant Hubert de Boüard of Château Angélus. Somewhat self-conscious, she had tried to shield the juice from reviews. When we later met, it was clear that her story is unique.

Below are excerpts from an interview with Bong Grelat-Tram during a recent lunch. Her husband and wine merchant Damien was with us in Crogmagnon Restaurant in Bordeaux city. This was also the first vertical tasting of the three first vintages of Song by Bong.

‘My name is Bong Grelat-Tram. I am French Vietnamese and grew up in Bordeaux. This project was born in 2018 when I was traveling in Australia with Hubert de Boüard of Château Angélus—I had worked there for almost 10 years. My dream was to have my own wine in bottle, and I talked about this dream with Hubert a few times. In Australia he said I think I can do something for you. I can make the wines. When he said that my eyes opened; it was a dream. And the project started in 2019 with the first harvest and vintage during the Covid period. For many people, Covid period was weird, strange. But for me it was an amazing moment in my life because Hubert made for me this beautiful project.

‘I was born in Vietnam on the Mekong River in the south near Ho Chi Minh City. My dad used to work for the U.S. Army as a doctor and he emigrated in the 80’s to France. I arrived later in the 90’s when I was six years old. I studied, went to university, got masters degrees. I studied Chinese and later worked in the wine industry thanks to my husband Damien, who comes from Sauternes. I fell in love with Damien. We met together at university. Damien said, ‘Come to Bordeaux and try working with me in the vineyards. If you like it, you can stay. Otherwise you can go home.’ I grew up in Biarritz and Bayonne in the Basque country. I could have worked at the beach selling beignets instead.

‘It was 2005. We didn’t know Château Angélus or Château Lafite Rothschild or Latour or other big wine names. We were young and naïve. Back then there was no Facebook. No contacts, no networking, nobody. We called places, but told them they needed to take two people to work, not one, because we are a couple. We succeeded and worked in the Graves appellations for four or five summers. In the beginning it was very hard because we worked long hours. But I discovered wines, châteaux, and worked during summers while studying. I learned from winemakers—vignerons.

‘I like nature very much—working outside, discovering things. It reminded me a bit of the countryside of Vietnam. I feel that it gives aspirations when I’m outside. I’m free.

‘I thought the wine industry was so chic, so elegant, so French. It includes history, philosophy, culture, viticulture.

‘After studies I got a scholarship and went to Taiwan and also lived in Beijing for work. When I was back in Bordeaux after the scholarship, I finished my studies. I speak Vietnamese and Chinese. But with a master degree in Chinese, what can you do? Be a teacher? At the time Damien and I were thinking, why don’t we go to business school and study wine?

‘My parents were Buddhists and they told us we need to work hard. I got my master degree and then went to business school.

‘I met Hubert de Boûard of Château Angélus during an en primeur campaign for journalists in Saint-Émilion in Bordeaux. I learned a lot from meeting Hubert and his daughter Stéphanie.

‘Hubert proposed a job in the PR department. I was the first, and young. I wanted to succeed and do my best. My dream, my quest, was to have my own wine. Bordeaux has a lot of well-known families, so this was challenging. For a person like me it was not easy. I proposed a project. Hubert said sure, I can make the wine until bottling, and then you do what you want.

‘Can you imagine?

‘The Merlot grapes come from this area of Les Artigues-de-Lussac—a small village outside of Saint-Émilion. It has a strong appellation.

‘Every two months Hubert passes by and he calls me and we meet two or three times a year. He teaches me how to select lots, and we select them together. I want Song wine to be aged in barrels. I check the plot locations on the internet—as though the wine is a baby.

‘Choosing a name is not easy. You have to think. Many châteaux have complicated names. I wanted something different. I am not the owner of a chateau and don’t come from a winemaking family. So I want to use my style, and it is the first time in my life I got to name something. I saw one plot at Les Artigues-de-Lussac is near a river call Lavie, which means ‘the life.’

‘I called the wine Song because song means life in Vietnamese, as well as river in another Vietnamese language. I gave the name Château des Songes, because if you remove the ‘es’ you have Song. Also, Songes means dreams in French; it’s a very poetic word. That was my moment because the project is like a dream. Songes gives me this beautiful wine.

‘I thought a lot about the design. In Bordeaux, most times they have a château image on the label. My label also wraps completely around. This was very difficult. It took a year to realize this design. It includes a small wave over plain blue, because I had studied art and always thought this artist Yves Klein was the best. I like his style. He created IKB – International Klein Blue, which is protected. I worked with the printer and we made a blue 99.99% similar. Blue is sky, rivers, ocean waves, liberty, freedom and lots of passion and love.

‘You are the first person who tasted my wine and wrote about it. I was very touched. I am not on Facebook. When you published it, my friend Géraldine told me. I had asked not to distribute my wine to any journalist. My idea was to organize a tasting with a few sommeliers—in Japan, including the previous best sommelier of the world Mr. Paolo Basso.’

Perhaps fortunately for Grelat-Tram—someone had ‘leaked’ to me a bottle of Song by Bong to taste. Serendipitously, I also happened to uncork it while seated beside a huge expanse of flowing water.

Tasting notes are below. (Note that the 2020 has improved with just one year of age, and the 2021 vintage is likely to soar even higher as it opens with age.)

Château des Songes. Song by Bong. 2021. 94 points.

20,000 bottles are produced of this 100% Merlot that wafts beautiful aromas of fruit, including red and black cherries as well as some hickory, currants and black pepper. Chewy flavors of red fruit and brownies, slight toffee and cinnamon mid palate, and herbs and mandarins on the finish. Sleek acidity. Give this a few years and the flavors will blossom further.

Château des Songes. Song by Bong. 2020. 95 – 96 points. [Second tasting]

Robust and elegant basket of red and black cherry aromas, as well as strawberries and some Dutch licorice. A layered, textured and elegant wine in the mouth with boisterous acidity, creamy yet shouldered tannins, and ample fruit mid palate—roiling with freshness. Some chamomile on the finish. A beautifully balanced wine—classic but lively right bank Bordeaux.

Château des Songes. Song by Bong. 2019. 95 – 96 points.

Hyper-energetic fresh with wow factor aromas from this balanced, elegant and assertive new beauty in town. Flavors include morels, cherries and eucalyptus. Sleek tannins, elegant acidity with some chocolate and a lick of mint on the finish. Welcome to the world—singer and Song.

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