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Andreas Larsson: «I wanted to be Mr. Perfect»

The Best World Sommelier, the food pairings rockstar, wine expert, who’s video-tastings became super popular and the world’s winemakers are queuing up for it and known as a trendsetter for several generations of sommeliers gave an exclusive interview to Drinks+.

Drinks+: As we are informed, you entered a culinary school at the age of 16. But also you were seriously devoted to the music – jazz. What impact the most on the final choice of the future profession?

Mr. Andreas Larsson: Simply because you’ll always find a job as a chef (that I started as), being an artist is extremely difficult in terms of making money.

D+: Remember your first sip of wine: at what age and what wine?

A.L.: My first sips of wine were simple semi sweet stuff to get drunk with my friends, but when I started to cook seriously I bought some French wine I read about in the cookbooks. This was basically Bordeaux and my first wow with a nice dish was probably a non-classified Pauillac.


D+: We read that during your trip to France in 1996, the wines of Burgundy and Rhone inspired your decision to give up gastronomy and devote yourself to the wine world. How did the realization of the new life path happen, and at what winery exactly did the understand everything?

A.L.: It didn’t really happen overnight, I still continued to work in the kitchen for a few years but I got kind of obsessed with wine and wanted to learn everything. I clearly remember tasting from the barrel with Marcel Guigal that was a wonderful experience.

D+: You studied at the Stockholm’s Restaurant Academy, and then you got a position at cellar-enoteca Vinkllaren Grappe. Was it easy to get hired at the place? With what main difficulties and insights have you met while working there?

A.L.: I got offered the job and it was a mind-blowing experience, very tough in terms of logistics as I consisted of carrying a lot of cases and bottles during the day and more of a regular service every night. However, this being a private club, meant that people mainly bought great stuff so night after night I had the chance of tasting most legendary wines that few young sommeliers get to taste these days.

My first sips of wine were simple semi sweet stuff to get drunk with my friends, but when I started to cook seriously I bought some French wine I read about in the cookbooks.


D+: Analyzing years from 2001 to 2007, your professional growth goes from “Best Sommelier in Sweden” to the titled recognition of the “World’s Best Sommelier”. To get the greatest “wine distinction”, is there a certain hierarchy pyramid: to be the BEST in the “country-region-continent-world”? Or something can be omitted (jumped over)?

A.L.: No clearly winning the world is the most difficult followed by the continental championships, Europe, which I’d say is the hardest competition, followed by Asia and the Americas.

D+: Try to remember the triumph at World’s Best Sommelier 2007. When did you realize that you can outdo anyone – had no peers? During which task exactly – can you describe your part of the contest in details? And how your life has changed: did you start to receive high-status invitations? Which ones?

A.L.: As far as concerns the final I was particularly well prepared, not only in terms of the knowledge, but especially mentally and physically. I did an attempt in 2004 and the competition took place just 4 months after the European Championship I just won, and the time to relax, restarting to prepare plus the everyday life and work struggle was simply too much.

When I went for my second attempt, I wanted to eliminate all risks, all stress and feel like Mr.Perfect! I recall the final as the candidate numbers were called out and we were four finalists (Gerard Basset, Paolo Basso, Eric Zwiebel and yours truly). I never ever had felt calmer and more collected thanks to my preparations. I knew I did everything as well as I could, no mistakes, being able to be relaxed, humorous, natural at the same time finishing all the tasks on time and pinpointing 12 out of 12 spirits for the tasting part.

Regarding how my life changed – of course, the first one or two years were quite hectic as I received invitations from everywhere to travel, taste and conduct various events all around the world. I always traveled a fair deal in wine regions but after the world championship I got to see new parts of the world in particular Asia, and since I’ve been back to Japan, China and Korea many time, and I adore it.

Regarding work you still need to work hard and structure your life to make a living and feeling well.

Andreas Larsson3

D+: You have been working at PM&Vänner Hotel restaurant, in Växjö, as a Chief Sommelier for 13 years: what are your key responsibilities and what attracts you to this particular place?

A.L.: Well as a matter of fact I gradually stepped back – 5 years ago I gave the main responsibility to my successor Ruben Sanz Ramiro who’s a great guy. I gradually stepped back from the everyday burdens, but I`m still feeling very attached to the place, and I advise the wine list, various events and tastings.

D+: The principle of wines by the glass: we heard that PM&Vänner guests can enjoy the most premium samples, in particular, a glass of Chateau D’Yquem. There are not so many places in the world, which can offer the same – is it a risk for a restaurant? What goals did you pursue, offering guests such luxury opportunity? And did your business partners (if any) understand you at once?

A.L.: It’s simple. If guests can enjoy these treasures to a fair price they will buy it! I always tried to combine high quality with a decent quality/price ratio, I would never be able to work with an overpriced wine list. Today when there’s Coravin, you don’t need to worry about those three glasses of Yquem being unsold or spoiled.

D+: Have you ever seen yourself as a founder of the projects like: a wine bar, a wine boutique or an educational school? If so, why it makes an appeal to you?

A.L.: Not really. I was never the entrepreneur type. I always prefer my independence and freedom. I make a decent living being my own consultant without the responsibilities of taking care of staff having economical responsibilities, etc. Nonetheless, if the opportunity arises, I’d still like to open something in Stockholm with my brother who’s an excellent chef.

When I do a session, I work out in the morning, I drink coffee but don’t have breakfast or just a very light one, then I finish to taste before I have lunch. It’s impossible to come back in the afternoon slightly tired, not being able to do a good job.

D+: In your opinion, does the profession of the sommelier (as it happens, for example, in the modeling business) have age restrictions? Or, maybe, do you consider the age and experience as an additional advantage?

A.L.: There’s no obstacles regarding age or between men or women in this business. I’d say what young people lack in experience they compensate in having the energy and will to work long hours. In my opinion, to be a fully fledged sommelier, you have to work full time with wine for 5-6 years before everything is there.

You don’t need to be a profound expert of each and every region to make a good list and serve good wines. However, after more time we all develop various areas of expertise and become more profound in various areas. My knowledge is much higher today than 10 years ago even if I somewhat forgot some of the less interesting things I needed to know for the competitions. I don’t really care about rootstock selections, enzymes or being able to name all the appellations of Romania today.

D+: How do you see your future?

A.L.: I take the day as it comes and I feel good not having the pressure of having to fulfill projects on a limited time scale.

D+: How did the idea & vision of commented well-known video-tastings (that became highly desired by the top world wineries) come out?

A.L.: It was the idea of my business partner – I would never like to watch myself on vide – but there was obviously a demand for new communication and instead of putting a gold sticker on a bottle the best-rated wines can show a commented video instead.

With regard to applications and schedule, as well as conditions – these questions anyone can ask Anthony (ac@syrahmedias.com): he rather does all of the planning so I can solely focus on the tasting and not the logistical or commercial aspects.

D+: Do you remember, what was the first “video-tasted” wine sample? And have you ever refused to taste because you felt the lack of quality?

A.L.: Yes, I don’t comment wines that score less than 85 points – and then even scores like 86-88 can be very good wines, like a Côtes du Rhône with charm and character with a slight rustic touch for 5 Euros.

D+: Have your tastes changed in the last 10 years? What wine do you prefer personally?

A.L.: If I look in my cellar, the vast majority is still the cornerstones of Champagne, German Riesling, Austria, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhône followed by Piemonte, Tuscany and Spain.

Nonetheless, I’m always open to try new things in wine bars and restaurants and buying new stuff in wine shops but what I buy to age remains very classic.

D+: You often give comments about the wines of the New World, such as Chile, Argentina, USA… and Old World: Greece, Italy, Germany, Austria… Do you have your own TOP-3 of Favorites: country/region/vintage, the manufacturers?

A.L.: Again, I think a good taster has to be equally apt to judge a diehard classic Cornas next to a glossy Napa Cab, next to a funky orange version, next to a 30 year old Barolo.

Andreas Larsson2

D+: What do you think about Greek wines? Concerning the changes of tastes, nowadays people started to discuss the renaissance period of Greek wines. Can you predict other wine-countries that might become highly demanded in the coming years?

A.L.: I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been back to Greece for 10 years so if anyone would invite me to tour the vineyards I’d say YES!

However I did taste quite a few wines over the last years and having the strength of the indigenous varieties and long traditions paired with today’s technology of making purer, fresher and cleaner has certainly given the Greek wine landscape a new boost! I also see the same thing happening in central and east Europe as well as the cradle of wine around the Black Sea.

D+: How do you feel about spirits? What do you prefer to drink? Once tequila and absinthe were trendy, later on, vodka took the lead. What is your forecast – what spirits will be trendy among fashionable bars menu in 2019?

A.L.: Gin is certainly booming. I even make my own blend with the talented Simon Thompson, this one gets a finish in Sauternes casks. I was never much of a cocktail or drinks guy, except for G&T. I always loved Cognac, Armagnac and Japanese whisky. But I love to taste and discover everything.

D+: They say that wine is not only a terroir, aroma & taste but the concept of “wine affect” is also included: the summary of the atmosphere, mood, and environment. How to protect yourself from the influence that is caused by minor factors in order to evaluate wine properly? How do you prepare for your video tasting performance?

A.L.: By always tasting in the same environment in the same glasses, same temperature that solves a lot. When I do a session, I work out in the morning, I drink coffee but don’t have breakfast or just a very light one, then I finish to taste before I have lunch. It’s impossible to come back in the afternoon slightly tired, not being able to do a good job.

D+: In your opinion, “honest” tastings always blind ones? Why, and what attracts you due these tastings? Do you still have a feeling of “challenge” while preparing to conduct them?

A.L.: It’s first and foremost honesty towards myself. I know how much a label can influence you. I’m not saying blind tasting is the only solution but to me a very good one, however tasting some of the great wines of the world (like I just did with Bordeaux 2016), where you mostly have to visit the Chвteau to taste.

D+: Every two years, as a part of Asian Airlines cooperation, you, along with two other specialists, taste blindly about 300 samples to create a wine menu for passengers of the first and business classes. What task was set on you? What wines are you searching for and on what basis are you relying to form a menu?

A.L.: I left this project last year, but I’d love to find a new airline to consult. Being a frequent traveler myself, I know the importance of eating and drinking well at 30000 feet. The tastings were always carried out blind and the main goal was to find wines offering pleasure at the time of tasting, age worthy wines or other examples with high acids, rough tannins are not suitable for drinking in the air.

D+: You are known not only as a famous sommelier & influential wine critic but also as a lecturer and speaker. What kind of educational projects, their topics and audiences interests you?

A.L.: I like to speak to everyone, sometimes to well initiated wine lovers doing a vertical of Cheval Blanc to the basic ABC or wine tasting to new beginners. I do quite a lot of food and wine pairing trainings with my chef brother, were we educate restaurant on the basics of tasting, flavours, pairing and also doing cooking to various wine styles, that’s a very rewarding one. Then I did tastings on everything: from mustard to mineral water, to sake, scotch, and whisky.

I’ve been to most wine regions of the world, still not to New Zeeland, nor Madeira – they are certainly on my bucket list, however there’s always a small village or appellation and exciting wines to discover. Today there’s 40 commercial wineries in southern Sweden but I have never been there either…

D+: How often do you travel during the year and for what purposes? What are the most exciting during the wine trips?

A.L.: I travel more than I stay home – like 200+ days. The most exciting thing is always to see new places, tasting new wines and above all – the connection to the people behind the wines, and the culture that comes with it.

I’ve been to most wine regions of the world, still not to New Zeeland, nor Madeira – they are certainly on my bucket list, however there’s always a small village or appellation and exciting wines to discover. Today there’s 40 commercial wineries in southern Sweden but I have never been there either…

D+: Andreas Larsson`s wine trends forecasts: what types, styles, flavors, tastes, barrel, aging… of wines will be preferable?

A.L.: Always difficult to predict, people will always say fresher wines, less oak. But I think the bold and broad styles will always remain, however I like the diversity of the wine world just like food sometimes. I adore a sashimi or fresh oysters with a light crisp low alcohol Riesling, sometime that plush and powerful Napa Cab at 15 % fits like a glove with the braised veal shank.

D+: What is the dream of a successful, accomplished, world-famous icon – Andreas Larsson?

A.L.: Going on eating, drinking, tasting being happy and healthy.

D+: small quiz:

D+: Corkscrew – is a main weapon of the sommelier. What brand do you trust?

A.L.: Laguiole (there’s actually mine – an Andreas Larsson design with Swedish reindeer horns).

D+: A favorite glass is…

A.L.: Riedel.

D+: The handbook of the sommelier is…

A.L.: I don’t think there’s one complete book, my dear friend Jean Vincent Ridon – a French guy in South Africa, is working on an extensive guide to include all elements of service with all wine styles and other beverages. I took part in some of the chapters, and I’m looking forward to read it.

D+: It is very easy to find a decent wine up to $10 today. Do you agree with this opinion?

A.L.: Indeed, some markets takes and mark ups make wine more expensive. But in France, for instance, you can find excellent wines at these prices.

Andreas Larsson4

D+: What kind of sport might be compared to the sommelier profession (are there any scandals, intrigues, investigations)?

A.L.: Not more than any other businesses – there will always be a few guys having a problem with the alcohol, some people stealing fine bottles from restaurants… and to a certain extent faking wines like we’ve seen a lot of recently. However, I try to be positive and think that the vast majority of people are nice, hard working and honest.

D+: Are you a classic type: red wine to meat, and whites with cheeses, fish or desserts? Or you are an avant-garde food pairings type? Tell us two or three favorite pairings for an example.

A.L.: I always think pairings are more dynamic with white wines, I love for instance a Swedish Gravlax with the sweet-sour mustard sauce paired with a Riesling Kabinett from Mosel. I love a fresh Manzanilla with sushi of sea urchin. With reds it’s easier, you don’t really need to be a genius to find a tasty full bodied red with your grilled entrecote.

D+: To be a sommelier – is challenging for your health.

A.L.: Always the risk of eating and drinking too much, we certainly need to exercise both for the brain and the body.

D+: If you agree, then how do you keep fit (what is your day-by-day routine – when do you wake up, any diet, sport, and bedtime)?

A.L.: On a perfect day I always start at the gym or a run/power walk but in reality, trying to do this with a hectic schedule is not always possible.

Photos: Andreas Larsson, Mackmyra, Black & Co, arkitektbolaget.se 

Andreas Larsson, the Best World Sommelier, the food pairings rockstar, wine expert, whose video-tastings became super popular, gave an exclusive interview to Drinks+.

Dany Rolland: «I married Pomerol when I married Michel»

Danу Rolland, one of the most talented and respected oenologists in the world, shared her working principles in the wine business, her memories, experience and own winemaker rules. About personal and professional – in an exclusive interview for D+.

D+: Mrs. Dany Rolland, before becoming a successful student of the Faculty of Oenology at the University of Bordeaux and graduating from it, you received a medical education. That was your parents’ decision? Who were they? Why did you change your profession and decide to connect your life with wine?

Dany Rolland: No, medicine was a personal choice until my parents preferred pharmacy. A real vacation for me. I studied for 2 years and in 1968, due to the student’s revolution of May, we didn’t pass the exams. In the same time, some friends were studying pharmacy but also oenology because their parents had officine in the countryside. I ask what does mean Oenology? At this time, I didn’t really drink wine, but the chemistry in between the grape and, at the end the wine was a very interesting subject and a way for me to try to understand this adventure, unique for a fruit, to start as a fruit and finish as a cultural drink, which cross the time, and give so much pleasure and inspiration.

dany rolland in lab 80s

Dany Rolland in lab in the 1980s

D+: Who is the one who had impacted you the most in your development in the wine industry? (about one of the mentors, I think I guess 🙂)

D.R.: My family was not in the wine business, and I met during my studies my future husband Michel whose parents were owners of vines for 7 generations. At that time, our mentor was one of our professors: Emile Peynaud.

D+: Having studied your biography, it seemed that some twists in your life happened just lightning fast. Remember, please, which of these events has become the most significant for you and how they changed your life?

D.R.: As oenologists, we started in buying a laboratory, one of the most renowned of Gironde. We started with bad or not great vintages from 1973 to 1981. 1982 was the start of a great story for Bordeaux, with also the fact to meet Robert Parker since 1983. And also during the 80th, the first proposals of consulting outside for Michel: California in 1987, and Argentina in 1988.

D+: Let us recall Catherine Péré-Vergé – a legendary figure in Pomerol. Please tell us about your friendship – if I am not mistaken, largely thanks to meeting you, Catherine started to make wine in Pomerol. What has Catherine changed/brought to your professional life?

D.R.: Catherine Péré-Vergé was for us, Michel and I and our daughters, a wonderful friend. We were very close when she decided to invest in Pomerol starting with Ch. Montviel. We have also a personnel partnership: at this time she was a co-owner of Cristallerie d’Arques, and on the market, there was no glass for tasting and drinking that was really acceptable. We decided to create one: I tasted a lot of wines in different glasses and organized a “cahier des charges” to design one with all the qualities we were expecting. And her company made the glass called Oenologue”. It was 25 years ago. After we were also very close when we decided to invest in Argentina and she was the first to say Ok, Go.

Dany and Michel in Château Fontenil, 1986 

D+: In 1997 you moved to Château Fontenil – were you interested first in Château, and then in the vineyard? As far as we know, the vines of the Château are 45 years old – did you keep everything or did you change some?

D.R.: At this time, we were living above the lab in Libourne. That was easier when daughters were going to elementary school. But we needed space and we were looking for a house in the countryside. We found Fontenil, with 10 hectares of vines around. Why not? We were knowing very well this appellation of Fronsac, loving the soils and landscapes, less expensive than Saint Emilion, but with a lot of similarities. Now  there are 71 producers in Fronsac covering 840 hectares and in Canon Fronsac – 33 producers covering 280 hectares. We bought in 1986, everything was wrong, house, cellars… a lot of works! The house was in a derelict state; everything had to be replaced, but the view over the valley was superb and… seven hectares of vines were also for sale – historically attached to Château Le Faure Haut-Normand.

The overall picture, together with the well, resembled the quaint corner of a little village. This place had a soul, but needed a body to accompany the soul. That would be the veritable challenge and the work of many years’ labor as well as immense effort and at times sacrifices. But vines were in good condition, old and interesting to make good wines. Regarding the vines, overall, they are on average older than 40 years. Some of them do not have a precise date noted on the grape variety declaration: they were planted prior to the 1950’s.

In 1997 after construction and renovation work over a three years period, we finally moved into the house for Michel’s 50th Birthday (December).

D+: We know that most of your vines are Merlot, is it true that to work with this grape variety is very simple?

D.R.: I don’t understand what you mean by “simple”, because like Pinot Noir, these two grape varieties need soils, climate and much more care than Cabernet Sauvignon which can grow anywhere in the world.

D+: What is your favorite variety in principle – if you look globally, without reference to France?

D.R.: My favorite variety is merlot because I “married” Pomerol when I married Michel, but I love also Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux and Syrah from East France, and so many good wines with so many varieties, as Malbec in Argentina.

D+: What can you say about a permission to cultivate Petit Verdot in Pomerol as a way to adapt to climate changes?

D.R.: In Medoc Petit Verdot is used in very small percentage, to complete blend cabernet sauvignon and merlot, but I don’t think it has a real interest in Pomerol for the blend and specially concerning the climate.

D+: Which vintages of Château Fontenil are the most iconic for you?

D.R.: 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2016, 2018.

D+: You are involved in all wine making processes at Château Fontenil. Tell us please about Château Fontenil wines. Does Mr. Michel Rolland take part in the wine production processes, help you? Or is it exclusively your project? Why Château Fontenil wines have just such a system of vinification: with a whole bunch, fermentation and aging. Apparently, the decision came as a result of many years’ experience?

D.R.: I am more at the Château than Michel who travels more, but all the decisions are taken together, and now with our daughters who love to work with us for blending, communication, or others subjects: Fontenil is a family home.  The real technological evolution at Château Fontenil began in 1999-2000. Construction of a new barrel cellar, which also contained 3 oak vats of 60 hectolitres – a folly for the appellation – but Fontenil was worth it fully! Installations in the vinification cellar: stainless steel vats of 57 and 80 hectolitres in capacity, all equipped with reversible thermo-regulation. Using adapted crates (baskets) for grapes – double sorting tables, before and after destemming. Modernising and decorating of a tasting room and guest rooms for our clients and journalists.

From 1999 to 2010, practically only good vintages, a quality revolution! In each one of the parcels the selections are carried out with more and more precision. Each batch of grapes – hand-picked into small crates at optimum ripeness – is sorted before and after destemming, and then vinified separately (as whole berries or crushed or even whole bunches) in the wooden vats, with manual punching down, or in the stainless steel vats, with the gentlest possible pumping over. After 6 to 8 days of cold stabilisation, follows a period of long maceration (up to 40 days), which resembles an infusion more than an excessive extraction. All fermentation takes place with indigenous yeasts and without any additives; BIO without shouting about it from the roof tops. Here, material has to be mastered; the tastings and the analytical controls are both numerous and continuous. Half the new wine is run off into new oak barrels, while the must is still warm, which allows the malolactic fermentation to get under way smoothly. In the traditional way, without neglecting the advantages of high technology equipment, a delicate pressing is realized. This is perfected thanks to a JLB vertical press, which ennobles and enhances the marc juice, only too often excluded from the blend.

In 2008, the decision is taken to vinify exclusively in new oak barrels for the “Défi” and part of “Fontenil”.

D+: Could you tell us about the wine Le Defi de Fontenil – what was the story with the plastic sheets, that were protecting the vineyard from the rain, and that is why the vintage lost the right to belong to Fronsac appellation?

D.R.: The predominance of heavy and fresh soils (calcareous clay or Fronsac Molasses), combined with the fickleness of the meteorological conditions, both demand a certain knowledge and experience, as well as a daily dose of pragmatism, to temper the grape so that it can express the very best of itself. In 1999, therefore, a certain initiative seemed to us to be judicious. The laying of plastic sheets on the ground between rows, in order to avoid the penetration of water, detrimental at the end of the “veraison” (changing of the colour of the grapes), to give the grapes the opportunity to mature more fully and harmoniously, particularly on the late ripening soils of Fronsac. The experiment was planned to stretch over three years, covering a surface of approximately 1.6 hectares of Merlot on two steep parcels. This in order to be able to reuse the same tarpaulins cut to size to fit the length of the rows. This experiment represented a certain investment. Thus, in 1999, the results proved extremely convincing. The tarpaulins had been put in place on 8th August and until 25th September – harvest time. Around 120 mm of rain had fallen. The grapes were in perfect sanitary condition and considerably sweeter with a better extractability of the anthocyanins and furthermore a more advanced maturity of the pips. The results were impressive and were confirmed by the quality of the wines produced from the protected vines. Nobody, in a position of authority, took the trouble to come and taste the wine and the produce of this experiment, was directly incorporated into the wine of Fontenil. In 2000, the experiment was repeated. Two days later after the tarpaulins installation, a letter was received from the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origines). INAO ordering us to remove the tarpaulins immediately, under the threat that the wine from the concerned parcels would be declassified as “table wine”. No official explanation, but for the technical commission this procedure could susceptibly alter the terroir and furthermore, was unaesthetic. No study had been undertaken by their own services… and certainly no consultation or discussion before this arbitrary decision.

As we have always thought that it is better to carry out an experiment to its conclusion in order for it to be techni – cally exploitable (on the principle of scientific methodo – logy and correlation), we kept the tarpaulins in place. As a result, in 2000, we produced 8,000 bottles of table wine; in fact a very particular kind of special cuvee. The Fontenil Challenge was born, called “Le Défi de Fontenil”. We continued and renewed the experiment with the tarpaulins in 2001 then again in 2004, for the last time. Today, the “Défi de Fontenil” remains the “cuvee de tête” (the special cuvee of Fontenil) – without tarpaulins, and therefore, without any … artifice!), still a “table wine”, or since 2009, a “Vin de France”, in order to justify its name: a true “challenge”! No vintage mentioned – merely a batch number for each one.

Château Fontenil

Château Fontenil

D+: They say that in Château Fontenil you have a secret garden. What is his mystery?

D.R.: 🙂 Who are “they”? I have a simple house called Château, like many in Bordeaux, but I love details and I am passionate and perfectionist with all about house, garden, vineyard. When I invite friends, I love lovely tables, flowers and table art, I try to make good food and serve great wines from all around the world… no secret weapon but pleasure and work.

D+: Oh, how we understand you! It seems that Pomerol, which gives the world the most status wines, is essentially very simple. Let’s say Christian Moueix states, that his Petrus is not a Chateau, as many incorrectly believe, but “just an old farmhouse.” And the owners of the famous Le Pin, Fiona Morrison and Jacques Thienpont, (with whom, as far as we know, you are friends) say that they are not the stars of the wine world at all, but only farmers. Can such an illustrious couple like you and Mr. Michel Rolland forget about fame, even among the virgin nature, and lead the life of ordinary farmers?

D.R.: Absolutely true, on Right Bank and specially in Pomerol that is younger in history regarding Fronsac or Saint-Emilion, houses are simple and people are not “Châtelains” but gentlemen farmers. But, above all we are oenologists travelling a lot with the life of people open to the world, not leaving all the year at home as owners are doing. Our life in Fronsac, it is very simple and peaceful.

D+: You have bought a number of outstanding wineries, some of them with partners. How did you select vineyards? Have you ever heard the advice: to look at them hen the rain falls, in the most difficult season, perhaps in winter?

D.R.: We just «fell in love» with some places, people or terroir during all of our travels. We started with Argentina, and now it’s our unique best project with Fontenil. We have made personnel wines in South-Africa and Spain with joint ventures, but now we focus, mainly, on Argentinian projects for outside.

D+: What is very important for you in this process – do you want to help people close to you, you are attracted to new terroirs, opportunities? Creating great wines in different parts of the world, in an unfamiliar climate – it should be extremely difficult. Please tell us about the most interesting projects of recent times.

D.R.: Regarding the consulting it’s always a challenge and more in difficult countries where climate, soils, knowledge …are not at the top like India, China…but when people want to learn and make good wines, it’s always a pleasure: good doesn’t mean great; for a great wine, we need to have all the qualities of terroirs, work and good professionals in each production sector.

D+: Do you work only with dry wines or there are sweet ones too? In what type of wines are you more interested as a winemaker?

D.R.: White and red wines, very few sweet or sparkling wines.

D+: You and Mr. Michel Rolland are known as the perfect “wine couple.” Common interests in oenology simplify life together or complicate?

D.R.: We have been working together for 47 years… Difficult to say it is or was complicate. Each of us has his own personality but we are very complementary.

D+: Do each of you have your own favorite technology, “specialization”. Let’s say, if you meet the challenge – one of you makes the decision on fermentation, and another sets the aging algorithms? Are there any disputes? Whose word is the law?

D.R.: Michel is more THE consultant and I am more at home, looking at laboratory and properties, but we are looking in the same direction regarding technologies, no challenge.

Val de Flores in Argentina

Val de Flores in Argentina

D+: Do you work with so-called natural wines, wild yeast? What do you think about this direction, as well as organics and biodynamics?

D.R.: Of course we worked with clients who are in organic or biodynamic culture and winemaking. It will be the new challenge to protect the Earth. But the final decision in this way must be taken by clients not by us. Personally, right now, we are in organic farming for our Val de Flores in Argentina. And with wild yeasts everywhere, except if a climatic or special problem require to add others.

D+: The company under the new name Rolland et Associés now will be managed by a team of oenologists, like-minded people of Mr. Michel Rolland. You and Mr. Michel Rolland now retain only a membership on the board of directors. What is the reason for this decision? Please comment on the situation.

D.R.: It’s the logical and normal evolution for a company as ours. Our oenologists have been employees, and after 20 years working together, it’s normal to give them shares for the future, and evident that they have more responsibilities, but nothing changes regarding work, and we are always present in the company business.

Dany Rolland with daughters Marie and Stephanie

D+: You are a shareholder of Rolland Collection Limited, a company that sells wines produced by all Rolland wineries. How is this business developing now, in which countries are there representatives/operators? How are your wines priced and by whom? Is there a single principle for all wineries?

D.R.: Rolland Collection is a family business and it’s our oldest daughter: Stéphanie, who is in charge of management. But all fares are discussed and fixed regarding the cost of the production and the situation of the market for all wineries. For Fontenil which is present on Bordeaux place market, Rolland Collection operates in same way than the others wine merchants.

D+: How do you feel about the en primeur system, its pros and cons for the winemaker?

D.R.: The en primeur system exists since a long time, it’s not perfect but it’s a good system for the owner and normaly for people who buy the wine. At this level, no problem for the winemaker: his work about the vintage is almost done.

D+: Could you recall the moment when you tasted the wines of Argentina for the first time? What was your first impression? As far as we know, the invitation from the winemaker Arnaldo Etchart was quite spontaneous for you. What prompted you to agree?

D.R.: It was in 1988, and Arnaldo Etchart called us to help him to make better or different wines that he made, because he wanted to sell on American market. We spontaneously accepted to visit and know/discover Argentina; and we fell in love with the country, the people, the landscapes, the possibilities to make good wines was the second challenge after California.

D+: What wines do you make today?

D.R.: We try to understand all the terroirs in all altitudes and latitudes and to adapt, our knowledge with a good viticulture. It seems we make good wines that really attract the interest of drinkers, and looking like their origins.

D+: You are pleased to take up less iconic wineries for consulting – in the USA, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Spain, Italy and Morocco. Have you ever thought about Eastern Europe? Have you ever discussed with Mr. Michel Rolland what country is interesting in this part of the world? What can attract you?

D.R.: As consultants and with the curiosity needed for that, we are interested with all new projects, challenge but time is not extended and we have to make some choices but we found very good places and possibilities in Bulgaria and especially around Black Sea, some in Russia (visited by a collaborator but in standby due to the virus) we work in Turkey, Armenia, Croatia, Greece…)

D+: Each country has its own peculiarity – culture, mentality, attitude to winemaking. In which country and with which terroir was the most difficult/easiest to work with and why?

D.R.: Impossible to answer, we are very open minded and have very good clients in each part of the world, and very good friends too. Of course the challenge is not the same in California than in Bulgaria, making wines at 1000 $ or less than 10. Anybody in the wine business knows that.

D+: Where would you like come back?

D.R.: In our life, we have never been in Australia or New Zealand, but it’s not a pain, a small regret, life is too short, we need another one.

D+: What can you advise to your colleagues’ winemakers from France and other countries, on how to minimize losses from a pandemic and keep sales? What steps have you taken?

D.R.: If you speak about the Covid pandemic as it’s not possible to travel, we try to organize tastings/blends by video conferences. Moreover, we speak very frequently with the people of wineries or vineyards to be always in touch and to have the best reactivity.

D+: Please name the most advanced technologies, equipment -perhaps even not yet tested by you, which you would be interested to apply in production?

D.R.: Until now, a lot of evolution in high technologies was made and almost a lot of observations and questioning regarding the plant, variety, density… the future will be in the vegetal and vineyard, to have the best quality of grapes, and also in the protection of the plant and soils to find the best combination of production: quality/quantity/safety.

D+: What trends could you highlight in the wine world for today? How, in your opinion, should be the ideal modern wine – red, white? With what manufacturing techniques could we achieve for today ideal performance of wine? And what kind of aging containers do you prefer – cement, steel, oak?

D.R.: The challenge is to preserve the best taste of a grape in a particular place, to respect the identity of the wine, trying to be very gentle with it, using the right way of winemaking and giving the best content for aging: but it depends on which type of wine you want to make: simply for refreshing, easy to drink for everyone or a wine who can age and pass through the time. We try to find the best way for that in viticulture and to use the good material for each of this kind of production: freshness with steel, more complexity with cement with longer maceration, the same in oak for aging, looking at the time and the age of the barrels.

D+: Do you have any students-winemakers? If so, how long does the study last and what is the methodology, how does the study go?

D.R.: No, we can have some in the wineries during harvest to help and study but it’s not on our entire responsibility.

D+: We understand that you are the highest class consultant and your advice is paid accordingly. Nevertheless, we dare to ask a question and we will be extremely grateful if you answer: the winemaking of Ukraine is only developing now, in difficult conditions and practically (due to the loss of Crimea) without autochthonous varieties that could impress the world. What would you advise Ukrainian winemakers – in what style would it be worth making wines to stand out on the world stage and occupy your own niche?

D.R.: I don’t know perfectly this situation, but the only advice would be to try to understand their terroirs and to plant with a good viticulture, the varieties the more adapted to the climate and soil, not exclusively indigenous ones. Each variety has the taste of its terroir. And after, they have to choice the best technology to produce wines, in quality not in quantity.

D +: Thank you very much for answering all our countless questions 🙂 and for your time!

Drinks+ Blitz:

With so many projects and, apparently, relocations – how is your standard working day goes?

Before pandemic time, it was a mix between laboratory, office, family, Fontenil and travelling for representations or Argentina: second home. Now, it is more static, and with my age, I lift the foot, looking more on the properties than the laboratory and consulting. Michel continues to do that very well, always travelling (except now) but looking to his business with Bordeaux, Spain or Italian’s clients.

How do you relax, what brings you joy?

I like to read, to look for antics, to spend time with my grandchildren, to play golf (but I don’t take enough time) to relax in our vineyards, to cook, to receive friends, to make a good and lovely table…

Your favorite restaurant\dish\wine.

I love a lot of different “cuisine”: exotic or traditional, Indian or Thai food or “fusion” in Peru or Argentina, Chinese also. I love as fish and shellfish as much meat. For wine, it’s impossible to make a list: young or old wines but good, all varieties.

Your favorite holiday, how does it go?

I love travelling, discovering old and historical places, or a nice beach. But, above all spending holidays with my children in Arcachon, where I use to go since my small childhood.

What’s the most important thing in your life?

My family and making wines.

What country have you never been to but would like to visit?

A lot!  Bali (Indonesia), Vietnam, Jordan, and many others.

What are the immediate plans for Dany and Michel Rolland?

Giving our children (daughters Stephanie and Marie and their five children) a good succession, to interest them in all the wine business, to inculcate them all the experience, enthusiasm, curiosity, and respect, it’s not a very original challenge, but we hope to be safe to do that, and keep going on until the last trip…


Dany Rolland, one of the most talented and respected oenologists in the world told about personal and professional in an exclusive interview for D+.

Florence Cathiard: «We like to thrive under legal constraints…»

Daniel and Florence Cathiard, the owners of Château Smith Haut Lafitte, have invested enormous resources in the renovation of the 18th century Château  and winery buildings they acquired in 1990. And besides finances, Daniel and Florence brought their own worldview to the cause, consisting in the desire «to do everything so that every vintage of red and white wines reflects the potential of a magnificent terroir».

Florence Cathiard in an exclusive interview for D+ shared her wine business philosophy.

D+: Mrs. Florence Cathiard, this is a long-standing story and probably you were often asked about this, but we are also interested: why does a family of athletes, high-level sport professionals suddenly decide to radically change their business activities – from a logical activity for themselves – sporting goods stores Go Sport, go on to wine business. Was there any doubt? And what prompted you to buy a Château in Bordeaux?

Florence Cathiard: After 10 years of competition skiing (between the age of 12 and 21 for me), we worked very hard to develop our supermarkets over 20 years as well as Go Sport business. Daniel and I began to cross each other in airports and forgetting everything about family life in order to become even more successful in our respective careers.

When Daniel decided to sell his shares, I was unhappy and terrified at the very beginning but soon I understood that it could be a good opportunity for our couple to start over again with a new adventure… a small niche rather than a big company .🙂 At that time, the only drink we used to have and loved very much was Bordeaux red wines.

So we looked for some estates to purchase in Bordeaux and fell in love at first sight with the one single piece, great terroir of SHL, surrounded by 65 Ha of forest and meadows. Even if it was pretty derelict at the time.

Florence et Daniel Cathiard

D+: Could you recall the moment when you crossed the conditional threshold of Château  Smith Lafitte – already as a mistress and left alone with your domains? What were you thinking about at that moment? What particular problem bothered you the most and what should you do first?

F.C.: The very important thing for us at that moment was the terroir and on the other hand we need to have a certain estimate what we have to do! At the first time what we thought, that we wanted to be organic! But it was a total disaster with organic processes! We didn’t have our own organic company, it took us 5 years to get a result and it was very expensive.

smith lafitte

D+: Did you have any wine-making ambitions at that moment – let’s say, that you will make a better wine than in such Château? Who, then, was your opponent who you wanted to overtake? Or at that time you did not pay attention to other leaders?

F.C.: As my always optimistic husband Daniel said, we were learning the job! (in the hard way). It took us until 1995 to really succeed in making a great vintage in both red and white. We understood that we need more recognitions in our wines. They should be more elegant, less oaky and have a long-long finish. We chose to hire Fabien Teitgen who just graduated from the best university for wine making and agricultural engineering.

We took him not only because of his diploma but because he also shared our same inner conviction about organic farming. Michel Rolland also became part of the project, and is still today our consultant and friend, as well as Stephane Derenoncourt who joined us more recently.

What we also did, we organize our own cooperage in the Château and it was a great idea! With our own oaks we decided to change a lot in our wines.


D+: Château Smith Haut Lafitte – one of the 4th (and there are about 6000 in total !!!) in Bordeaux with its own barrels’ production. Why did you decide to make your own barrels? What you did not like about the quality of suppliers? How did this affect the quality of your wines?

F.C.: We decided to make our own barrels because we think it is very important to master the supply of the oak and the subtleties of the toasting for the wood never to overwhelm the fruit nor the specificities of the terroir.

We feel no need to violate the rules of the region because a great growth of Bordeaux must precede the trends: we were and still are pioneers in oenotourism, in organic farming and now in biodynamic and phytotherapy…

We like to thrive on the constraints of having to compose our symphony in the crystal glass with a very limited name of varietals, of not being allowed to irrigate etc… Because a 650 years old Château as ours must remain Classic, avoid the mistakes of the past, and not follow the fashion which will not last…


D+: What difficulties did you encounter at the beginning of the wine-journey in principle? Have you studied the winemaking theory, viticulture, or everything were comprehended in practice? Whether there were any mistakes in your decision-making? Could you please remember it, if possible?

F.C.: In 1991 our expectations were greater than our fear. But 4 months after we bought the estate, we suffered from frost and lost 80% of the crop alike the four leading appellations of Bordeaux! It was an agricultural and financial disaster. Then in 1992 endured continuous rain and in 1993 we were half breaking but still pretty naïve and certainly a little arrogant, we decided to convert in organic farming and it was a complete failure. Yields went drastically down, our home made organic compost was totally inefficient and the vines suffered a lot…

D+: Robert Parker once spoke of Smith Haut Lafitte like this: “Under the impeccable leadership of the Cathiard Family, the Château has become one of Bordeaux’s brightest stars since the mid-1990s.” Could you please name three or five basic steps that led the Château to success?

F.C.: Leading a Château to success requires:

  •  a great terroir;
  • an excellent team;
  • stop using chemicals and pesticide;
  •  living on your estate or very near…
  •  making no difference between your job and your way of life as well as a passion fully shared with your partner;
  • a lot of luck and optimism to deal with Dame Nature and the weather.


D+: What changes/trends in the wine business can you personally notice over the past 10-15 years? Could you divide them into positive and negative?

F.C.: Positive in the last 15 years is that what we call ‘La Place de Bordeaux’, I mean the 50 wine merchants, negociants, they have given to SHL a worldwide exposure making our bottles famous in more than 30 countries. But on the other hand we have to back up the Négociants since some huge companies sell our wines to big markets, like the United States or Asia and don’t pay as much attention to the small markets, the ones we call niche, to divide our risks. Negative – what we can see now it is like postapocalyptic world because of Covid-19. Only our team is working on the vineyard, and we hope that in July it will end and people will come again to our Château. We rather prefer small individual sales, because we believe the people we meet directly, later becomes world ambassadors for our wines. The good thing about our new vintage, 2019, even it will not be easy to sell it like previous vintages, it might take more time, but it will only get better with a bit of ageing. We shall release the wine on the Place de Bordeaux at the end of June, and the odds are that prices shall be more interesting than last year, with a quality that is no less better. Smith Haut Lafitte 2019 will definitely be a good buying opportunity for fine wine lovers.


D+: Bordeaux is famous for its red wines and a few dare to risk breaking this tradition. But we can say that you are still sporting producing white wine. And do it brilliantly. Our editorial team visited you last year and we tasted one of the most outstanding vintages – 2011. In your opinion, what other years among your whites can be recommended to serious collectors?

F.C.: With our whites as well as with our reds we would like to show the best of Bordeaux. In the world they are the finest, not the first. For our white wines we have 10.5 ha. The soil is very special; it gives slow ripening which we think is excellent for our wines. We have 90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Semillon, 5% Sauvignon Gris. We have a special wine, special blend, special soil and every year we are among of three best white wine of the whole Bordeaux appellations. We are very proud of our whites, they are much smaller than red, but for us it is a niche and we have two kind of vintages. One type is full of energy and very straight like an arrow, direct, pure, with a lot of acidity, freshness. These are 2011, 2013, 2016, 2017 vintages. 2013 was selected among the 10 best wines of the world by Wine Spectator. For me, I prefer wine with more body, roundness in the mouth, the kind of wine that can confuse people. It is – 2005, 2009, 2015, 2019. In this wine people don’t recognize 90% Sauvignon Blanc and it is surprising. This kind of wine goes very well with fish. The first type of wine goes better with seafood. You decide. Better is to have both and choose.

Florence Cathiard

D+: The vines in your vineyards, according to the information, are up to 40 years old. But there are also 60-year-old – Sauvignon Blanc varieties. Was there any temptation to make a cépage wines only from old vines or would it be a violation of the rules?

F.C.: We are doing now 90% Sauvignon and it will not change radically. We did the pure Sauvignon till 1998 and then we decided to add 5% Semillon, 5% Sauvignon Gris. We did this because Great Bordeaux wines are bland, not pure varietal. We wanted to stay faithful to the traditions for Great Bordeaux wines.


D+: How do you feel, that today more and more winemakers are violating the rules of the region in order to make wine according to their own rules? What, in your opinion, is more important – the originality of the style or features of the region, area? What change in the winemaking law in France, in your opinion, would be worth making? Or current legislation is almost ideal for producers?

F.C.: We love our wines, and it should be like this. Château  Smith Lafitte is 650 years old and we are very proud of it. We learn from our failures and therefore we get better, yet we want to pursue a typical terroir wine. Making a fancy wine outside the lines is probably a good bet for a small château/vineyard, but definitely not a good strategy for one of the top Classified Growth of Bordeaux like SHL.

D+: Your Château  has been following the principles of organic winemaking for several years. Tell us about the work done and your personal attitude to organics. Why does a Château  with a name Smith Haut Lafitte to have the organic status? Is it not about a business at all?

F.C.: My father wanted to call me “Nature”, but lucky enough my mother objected. I did all my skiing training by running in the southern Alpes mountains in my young days and Daniel, whom I met at a very young age, was even more passionate about the mountain and its nature, thanks to the snow which was very abundant in our childhood. There we found ourselves on the front line when climate change started to show its negative impact. As for our two daughters, they grew up in an isolated farm north of Grenoble. Mathilde, the founder of Caudalie, was very into animals and managed to tame two hens at a young age while Alice was always concerned about plants & vegetal, she now set up a huge organic vegetable garden at Les Sources de Caudalie.

To be more organic in your life style it is now very important – the planet is damaged to a point where it can no longer heal on its own, it’s time to take care of it as much as we can. Even if we have the impression of living in a protected environment in the heart of our vineyards, the least thing is to preserve what surrounds us.

We also took part in COP21 2015 (Climate changes conference). I was a president of the CSO (Conseil Supérieur de l’Oenotourisme) and as such, I met with all the major wine institutions in France as well as the related ministries such as agriculture, tourism, health… I spread the words about ecology. We were then invited to Cop 21 2015 where we sent our daughter Alice to stand for the new generation.

On the other side, we are fully committed to “phytotherapy” (herbal medicine) by cultivating and drying our own plants such as comfrey, wormwood, yarrow, wicker, valerian and tansy but also pick up horsetail, nettle and fern growing naturally in our forests, and later make a decoction out of it in a large teapot to then spread in our vineyard. Examples below:

  • Cow Horn filled with humus mixture to dynamize soils life.
  • Horsetail: Against fungal diseases, mildew, with action from silica and calcium.
  • Osier: To fight against fungal diseases
  • Oak bark: Improves grape resistance, fights against grey rot
  • Ferns: natural insect repellent
  • Nettles: A fertilizer that enhances interchange and chlorophyll storage

We also so far planted some 8.5km of multi-diversities hedgerows and we continue to plant. We set up a dozen hives as well to enhance the diversity around us. Even it can be very restrictive sometimes since the hedgerows sometimes make the vines frost-sensitive (by shadowing them) and the bees are sometimes attacked by Asian hornets, even if we need to dedicate large surface to cultivate our plants and build up barns to dry them, we believe that the other wine estates should also try to commit more in this fight according to their means and encourage them to do so.

We strongly believe that a healthy & beautiful environment is the best thing we can do for the people following the SHL adventure along with us. So far it really helps with certainty, living in harmony with nature, far from all kinds of city pollution and aggressiveness.

D+: Could you please tell a few words about “Les Cinq” (except for Haut Smith Lafitte, this includes: Canon La Gaffeliere, Gazin, Branaire-Ducru and Pontet-Canet) – an alliance created to promote in the world markets. Tell us how did the idea of unification come about? What is your relationship with the owners of these Châteaux?

F.C.:Our Club “Les Cinq” was founded by my husband Daniel and Stephane Von Neipperg during an Air France strike in 1993… Pontet Canet decided to leave the club a few years ago and now we are just 4 châteaux (But with Daniel and I that makes 5 friends) and we do not tour together as we used to do because we have grown differently in many aspects but we still communicate a lot and share some good meals and wines of course.

D+: When we wrote a report about a visit to your Château, we quoted your high opinion about the vintage of 2019, but at the same time you spoke out in the press with regret about the negative events of the past year: problems of the economic plan related to Brexit, Trump tax increase, uprisings in Hong Kong, triggering a downturn in Asian markets and price turbulence in China. And now here is the corona virus. How do you deal with current problems? Do you consider the uncertainty with en premier this year?

F.C.: Yes! We know that en primeur will be delayed. Now we send some samples to importers and to the great collectors of our wine we are very active in social media, we do it but we know that we will be cheaper even if the 2019 is a great vintage. We will not sell as much as we could, because some countries will be closed. But we think that people will never forget about drinking an excellent wine!


D+: What is the current situation with sales?

F.C.: Until now 20% to the US, including Canada, 20% for China, including Hong Kong, 20% for France, 20% for Europe. We are well sold in eastern countries also people from Switzerland love our wines and also Germany is a good market as well as Indonesia & Singapore. But this year with Covid-19 it will be disrupted and we don’t have a clue yet how the sales are going to scatter. We hope that a vaccine will be released soon in order to come back to a normal life/normal activity. I hope wine will be the one of the main thing that people will buy.

D+: How to minimize pandemic losses and keep sales? Is it worth to take it easy, maybe. As some say, it is better to wait out without investing in promotion? Wine does not go bad from aging, but only adds to the price?

F.C.: We try to minimize the very sad impact of Pandemia by taking time to answer to all our SHL friends around the world, proposing virtual master classes, setting up a drive in our boutique… and preparing a beautiful 2020 vintage every day! I think we should invest more in the Internet in a near future, as well as welcome our clients in our “small island of civilization”.

D+: Perhaps, with the glory of Château Smith about Lafitte in the world, only the glory Caudalie cosmetics – created from oenoproducts – can argue. How did you organize the business, whose idea was it, did the success come straight? Do you taste new products? What do you like most from the latest developments?

F.C.: Caudalie cosmetics is totally another complete story by itself even if we gave the initial “coup de pouce” all the glory and merit belongs to Mathilde and her husband Bertrand! Alice and Jerome are now owners & managers of les Sources de Caudalie. They just sold les Etangs de Corots since it was no longer part of their strategy of opening superb resorts in the 5 best French wine regions: Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Loire Valley (a beautiful resort, similar to Les Sources de Caudalie is bound to open in July or August), Champagne and Alsace.Our children have the complete disposal of their own businesses and we interfere in their decisions only if they ask us for advises.

D+: Your château is special not only in its history, the quality of its wines, you make your own barrels and have a cooperage on premise and other production advantages. This is a territory with a special philosophical atmosphere. This is an art objects park and, in fact, the château itself is an art object. Tell us what all these installations mean to you, who selects them for you? Do you have the final say in this selection and how do they all relate to your personal philosophy?

F.C.: It is our personal collection. But at the beginning we just bought a piece of art with my husband (the giant bronze hare by Barry Flanagan) and if we have some money left after we pay everybody and buy the best technical tools, we buy a great sculpture each year. As people began asking about this, and we made a few booklets and designed a new visit “Art & wine”. Now we are planning to go on with new sculptures 🙂.

D+: As far as we know, this year the 8th World Wine Tasting Championship is planned at Château Smith Haut Lafitte, in which the Ukrainian team will participate for the second time. How will it be with this contest now, is it postponed? Why did you invite the organizers or they contacted you? Why such an event is interesting for the already famous Château like Smith Haut Lafitte?

F.C.: This year in November we shall be very pleased to welcome the 8th World Wine Tasting championship and specially the Ukrainian team! The organizers contacted us and of course we could not say no to such a prestigious event.

D+: You wrote a book called Art de Vigne (‘The Art of the Vine’) – what is it about? This is for winegrowers, about the history of the region, about wines – to whom is it addressed?

F.C.: The book I wrote and that my husband illustrated with his photos wasn’t just only another nice coffee-table-book (I hope!) since 30 000 copies were printed, selling half of it and offering the other half. It was mainly read by great wine lovers, especially of SHL.


If you and your husband hadn’t bought Château Smith Haut Lafitte at one time, then you… (please continue the sentence)

Then we should have been very stupid, wealthier than now but to which use … and bound to escape to some remote and very boring fiscal paradise maybe…

Please tell us about your daily routine and diet.

In these times of Covid-19, I spent every morning with my husband and our 2 dogs in the vineyard, speaking (with social distancing) to our valiant team (nobody missing!) then we taste (and spit) some blind samples of the last vintage 2018 and 2019, while having a simple and fresh lunch (meat with red wine, fish when we drink white…). In the afternoon we have “window conference” with Fabien to organize the life of the Château and take many decision, then answering my email and house party with family and friends…

How do you relax?

Walking through our Land Art forest.

Which wine from your vintages is most dear to you and why?

2009.2010.2015.2016 and the two last babies 2018 & 2019. (2013, 2017 and 2019 for the White!) see technical sheet enclosed.

What book/movie/event turned your life upside down?

My encounter with Michel Serres, a great philosophical author who became my friend and unfortunately disappeared last year and my tasting of Haut Brion 1989.

Which country have you not been to yet, but would dream to visit?

Georgia because it is the cradle of wines and Napa Valley because we like the place are bound to go back there soon.

What is Florence Cathiard goals for today?

To make one of the very top wine of Bordeaux, White and Red, for each vintage, and to have a happy family in good health (better to reverse the two propositions…)

What is the life philosophy of Florence Cathiard?

Take your chance, believe in your star, follow your way. ‘À te regarder, ils s’habitueront’ (René Char)

Florence Cathiard in an exclusive interview for D+ shared her wine business philosophy.

Anna Gorkun: «46 Parallel Wine Group has implemented all of its plans set for the first year of its operations»

46 Parallel Wine Group presented itself at the very beginning of 2020. The company was born out of the dream of Anna and Taras Gorkun: to create wonderful Ukrainian wines worthy of making Ukraine’s sartorial statement in the world of winemaking. Immediately after the launch, the company began to face challenges, including the pandemic that blocked a part of its traditional sales and promotion channels.

Anna Gorkun, CEO of 46 Parallel Wine Group, applied the tactics of slashing drive in extreme conditions. Now, the market players declare that 46 Parallel has rapidly – within less than a year – become a real national brand. As to the company’s credo – Proudly Ukrainian – it has been confirmed as a result of the company’s recognition at the world level. Its owner and presenter of the author’s program on the Wine Hub Channel with Anna Gorkun, who had made several dozen interviews with representatives of the Ukrainian business during one year, now found herself in this role, too: she was our interviewee and shared with the D+ columnist, how this successful strategy was being built.

Philosophy and concept

Undoubtedly, it all began with a dream. However, we are realists and we approached its implementation in a consistent manner, having analyzed the market, developed a business plan and positioning concept. Initially, we decided that we were launching two wine brands at once: because we saw a free category in the premium wines segment, as well as an unfilled niche of a high-quality wine for everyday consumption.

This is how 46 Parallel ТМ and Apostrophe ТМ appeared. Our idea is that we, Ukrainians, intend to promote such Ukrainian product based on exceptional quality and its origin. Given that imperative, the author’s collections of dry wines of the premium segment were formed: elite vintage Grand Admiral and lighter, elegant El Capitan wines of an absolutely amazing quality. The portfolio of the first Ukrainian emotional wine brand Apostrophe was also formed.

At the same time, one of our differences distinguishing us from a number of other producers (I would even say, one of our advantages) is that we create wines without being tied to one vineyard, which means that we have the opportunity to choose the best grapes every year and guarantee permanent quality. This does not, at all, imply the rejection of advantages offered by a terroir; it is quite the opposite: we have the opportunity to represent the best regions of Ukraine. In Odessa Region, we are working on the entire group of sparkling wines and most of the white ones. The red wines of the Grand Admiral collection are created from grapes purchased in Kherson Region. In fact, we have covered two major regions at once.

It should be emphasized that we don’t just arrive by the harvesting time and choose the finished product. We start the process of selecting the promising vineyards yet in early spring. Last year, at the beginning of May, our team visited all vineyards and production facilities of partner companies to make sure that all processes engaged in creation of 46 Parallel Wine Group wines of the 2020 harvest will be able to meet our standards. Once we have determined the terroir which is to be presented by us in the current year, we commence working on the vineyards: our experts carefully and regularly monitor the condition of vines, the formation of bunches, all agricultural techniques and the harvesting itself. In addition, the chief winemaker of 46 Parallel Wine Group personally oversees all stages of the vine’s development.

To improve the quality of future wines, we limit a yield per vine: no more than 3 kg, for premium collections – hand-harvesting and minimum time to be spent to deliver grapes for processing. Vinification and bottling are also strictly controlled. Our perfectionism extends to aging: we order barriques from the world leaders: French companies Seguin Moreau and Tonnellerie Vinea. We do not limit the tastings only to regular ones, which are carried out by our oenologists at every stage; we also have a final wine tasting conducted by an independent professional board. Upon approval by the top-class tasters, our wines are bottled and thereupon, “rest” in bottles for at least 6 months. It should be pointed out that it is only upon completion of all these processes, the wines may be offered for sale.

46 Parallel wine group wines

Entering the international markets

The slogan of our company is Proudly Ukrainian. It should be emphasized that despite “tender age” of 46 Parallel Wine Group and the turbulence of the first year of its operations, we already do have something to be proud of. It is true that the lockdown had seriously complicated the implementation of our export plans: virtually all major international exhibitions were canceled.

Nevertheless, at the very beginning of the year, in partnership with Drinks+ Media Group, we were able to present our wines to the international audience at the Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris exhibitions and at the exclusively organized tastings of our wines in the USA and Germany, with participation of international experts of the highest rank. It should be emphasized that the very first reviews of our wines by world experts were very positive.

Drinks+ journalists have collected a significant portfolio of opinions of foreign professionals: judges of international competitions, wine journalists, oenologists, educators, sommeliers and wine consultants. We also submitted our wines to the Ukrainian and international competitions, the results of which confirmed that we were on the right track.

46 Parallel Wine Group is the only Ukrainian company that gained the award of the leading international contest Concours Mondial de Bruxelles 2020: El Capitan Pinot Gris wine was awarded a silver medal. This is an eloquent message: the Ukrainian wines deserve to be on the same list with the world’s best wines. Moreover, 46 Parallel may become the country’s calling card on the international arena.

At the USA Wine Ratings competition, already two wines of our company won silver awards: red dry vintage from a premium collection: Grand Admiral Cabernet Sauvignon-Saperavi-Merlot (vintage 2016) and sparkling rosé from Pinot Meunier by Charmat method: El Capitan Brut Rosé. However, the gold medal was shortly added to the portfolio of our 2020 international awards. The premium wine – Grand Admiral Cabernet Sauvignon-Saperavi-Merlot (vintage 2016) was awarded the Grand Gold Medal at the competition Sélections Mondiales des Vins Canada. The wines of the Grand Admiral and El Capitan were awarded medals at the Ukrainian contests: Odessa Bay, Ukraine Wine & Spirits Awards, Wine Guide of Ukraine, and En Primeur from the Black Sea Craft Wine Association. The achievements of the first year of the company’s operations include the fact that Apostrophe TM wines, along with the products of other Ukrainian producers, but exclusively in the wine category, are promoted under the collective brand #TradeWithUkraine on China’s leading online B2B platform 1688.сom. At the present stage, another very strong marketing project pertaining to our positioning abroad is ongoing, but due to the lockdown in most European countries, it is still on pause. I hope that by spring 2021, I will have the details to share with the connoisseurs of our wines.


Since stability has not yet come, I would prefer to talk about the plans in terms of their implementation. As promised yet at the beginning of 2020, we presented two more premium wines during the last year: the first batch of Grand Admiral Brut Nature vintage 2018 (limited edition, classic technology) and El Capitan Pinot Noir, which completed the exquisite El Capitan collection consisting of the wines from the Pinot variety group: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Meunier. Thus, despite a cascade of obstacles, 46 Parallel Wine Group has implemented all plans set for the first year of its operations.

In the future, we plan to follow the course that we charted: to enhance representation throughout all channels in the domestic market and develop exports of the highquality Ukrainian wine that we can be proud of.

Photos by 46 Parallel Wine Group

The company was born out of the dream of Anna and Taras Gorkun: to create wonderful Ukrainian wines worthy of making Ukraine’s sartorial statement in the world of winemaking.

Pablo Navarrete: «We created our own concept in Mendoza, namely took Malbec with the microterroirs’ blend»

Nataliia Burlachenko, brand ambassador Vinos de La Luz, sommelier, spoke to Pablo Navarrete, the chief winemaker of the Argentinean Vinos de La Luz Mendoza, the author of ILUMINADO – “The Best Wine of Argentina 2019”, among the TOP-50 of the best wines in the world according to Decanter.

Nataliia Burlachenko: Pablo, how did you become an oenologist?

Pablo Navarrete: In childhood I spent every summer in the vineyards of Mendoza, in its eastern part, in the estate of my uncle Jose Figaro. And soon, as a child, I began to wonder how grapes turn into wine? What kind of process is this? And from that exactly moment my deep and mutual love for wine and winemaking was born.


N.B.: How did you start your collaboration with Vinos de La Luz?

P.N.: A very entertaining story. After graduating from the Juan Agustin Maza University in Mendoza, I worked at various wineries in different parts of Mendoza, but I always most of all liked the grapes from Valle de Uco, so I looked in that direction. In 2012, someone told me that the Vinos de La Luz winery is looking for an oenologist. I turned out to be this oenologist (laughs).


N.B.: Undoubtedly, you are talented! Being still so young, how did you manage to create one of the best wines in the world and the best wine of Argentina 2019 Iluminado Malbec 2015 Paraje Altamira?

P.N.: Iluminado Malbec 2015 Paraje Altamira is the wine that every winemaker wants to create in his life. In fact, it is an amalgam of such components as the best terroir, the best grapes, the unique microclimate of Paraje Altamira, Valle de Uco, as well as the vision and mission of Vinos de La Luz. These were the set of factors that created Iluminado Malbec 2015 Paraje Altamira, which in 2019 was included into the best 50 wines of the world according to Decanter. This wine is an example of what Argentina can create with the help of its king Malbec.

N.B.: You recently finished harvest 2020. Is there any peculiarity of this year’s harvest and which is your forecast?

P.N.: From the very birth of the bunch, due to weather conditions, namely, low temperatures at the time of berry formation, some of them stopped growing, while others, on the contrary, absorbed more strength and energy for growth. So the number of grapes was limited in a natural way. Making the following pruning, we received not just high-quality grapes, but grapes of the highest quality. Also, despite all the fears associated with the pandemic, we were able to pick the berries exactly at the moment when the terroir was fully represented in the berry. The combination of all these elements allows us to believe that the harvest 2020 is unique and promises to please us with great wines.

Navarette working

N.B.: Pablo, do you have any plans to create something new?

P.N.: Of the wine releases that will soon see the light are monovariety Malbec from various microterroirs, that is, Malbec from Gualtallary, Malbec from Vista Flores and Malbec from Pampa El Cepillo. With this project, we want to convey the uniqueness of each parcel, each microterroir as much as possible. We want to show how one Malbec variety with the same genetics can sound different in different microzones of the same region, and convey the taste of each microsites with the help of our famous Malbec. These terroirs are so unique that I can determine which wine is from which terroir in a blind tasting. The uniqueness consists of four components: the soil, the microclimate, the altitude and the influence of man, who makes the assemblage of these components.


N.B.: Sounds grandiose! I’d like to try it as soon as possible!

P.N.: You can already try our other new creation, which can be found on the shelf and, which is very highly appreciated by our customers – it’s a blend of terroir. Traditionally, if we’re talking about blend, we mean blend of the varieties of grapes, and if the wine is of the same variety, what kind of blend is it, you can ask? We created our own concept, namely took Malbec with the microterroir Altamira, Vista Flores and Gualtaliary and combined into a single ensemble, so that one terroir complements another, so that Malbec from one parcel helps to reveal the aroma and potential of Malbec from another parcel. You can enjoy the results of our laborious work now.


N.B.: We touched on the topic of terroirs, human influence and the microclimate, could you tell us more about the so-called “curtains” that winemakers began to build on their vineyards in Pampa El Cepillo microzone?

P.N.: To answer your question, first of all, I would like to talk a little bit about Pampa El Cepillo. Pampa El Cepillo is the newest IG adopted in Argentina, it is a unique territory in the extreme south of Mendoza region, the most affected by Patagonia – the coldest part of Argentina. This means that cold cyclones from Patagonia can come at any moment of the plant development and growth, at the beginning, when the berry is born, in the middle of growing or at the moment when the berry is ready for harvest and, unfortunately, damage cannot be avoided. In order to decrease the influence of a cold cyclone, and we call it “cold shock”, because the temperature drops only for a few hours, producers and winemakers use various protection methods.

There was a time when winemakers used combustible materials, made fire in the vineyards, thereby creating a protective warm dome that more or less protected plants, but at the same time polluted the air in the area a lot. And now, when the humanity is thinking permanently about the environment, this method has been abandoned in favor of more effective, environmentally friendly and less expensive. Among the new ways of protection, which, incidentally, is also not very cheap, are the so-called “curtains” 5-6 meters high, which are mounted on poles with a taut wire.

The “curtain” itself is made of dense black oilcloth material, it is hinged at the top, so it can be stretched and removed if necessary. This «curtain» is always located facing south, to stop just those cold streams of air that come from Patagonia.


N.B.: It seems unbelievable to me that among the hectares of vineyards you can see black “curtains”. How common is this method?

P.N.: This is one of the options for protecting the vineyard. Micro irrigation is more common, it is used in the vineyards, which are located below. This system requires large reserves of water and communications through which irrigation is carried out. This is now the most reliable, but quite expensive way to protect against cold cyclones from the Andes and Patagonia.

N.B.: Pablo, I want to thank you for the interview and wish you and Vinos de La Luz more amazing wines, creative ideas and victories!

The chief winemaker of the Argentinean Vinos de La Luz Mendoza told about mutual love for wine and winemaking, job of oenologist and ILUMINADO – “The Best Wine of Argentina 2019”.

Ricardo F. Nunez: «We are a small army under the flag of Vinos de La Luz»

D+ managed to talk with Ricardo F. Nunez, the owner of the Vinos de La Luz group of companies, which unites wineries in Spain, Italy, Argentina.

D+: Mr. Nunez, this is not the first interview that you have kindly given to our publications. But you see the wine world in all its diversity and you can evaluate it from different points of view. So every time, behind the scenes, there was still a long series of questions. Today, if I may, we will ask some of them.

Ricardo F. Nunez: I hope to have answers for all!

Nunez family

D+: You have always said that wine was the passion of your life. But how did it all begin? Was your family involved in winemaking? Today you are a man of the world, you travel a lot, live for a long time in different countries, and what traditions of wine consumption exist in your historical homeland?

R.F.N.: Please look at this photo.  It  is  from  1926,  that  is,  it is almost 100 years old, and I hope your dear readers do not see it as just a piece of antique. There are my grandparents, my father, my uncle, and  my  two   aunts. In that year, my grandparents had 16 years of having arrived to Argentina as Spanish immigrants, more specifically, as Galician immigrants, because they were from the heart of Spanish Galicia. When they had barely known each other, they both worked as day laborers, and traveled around Spain, following the harvests of grains, fruits, vegetables and grapes for wine. They were economically poor, but they also lived in a country that, before the First World War, offered them a little future.

They knew how to work on the land and there was a place where there was plenty of land and it was already a legend among the Spaniards, Italians, and many nations of Europe: it was Argentina. They went there with nothing in their pockets in the third class of a ship that took them 33 days to arrive to the point of their destination. A few days after arrival, they were already working in La Pampa, a place 800 kilometers from the port of Buenos Aires. They worked for five years as peasants, dealing with the cereal and peanut crops. I remember this about the peanut harvest, because my grandmother told me that it was the hardest to do, since they had to collect the peanuts kneeling in dozens of hectares. But I never heard them complaining about it.

One day, my grandfather learned  that  the  government of the Province of Mendoza offered to immigrants a land in the mountains for free, but on the condition that they would grow grape plants on the land. My grandparents didn’t hesitate for a second, and there they went. That’s wonderful. They were assigned more than 200 hectares at 1,100 meters above sea level at the base of the Andes Mountains, where everything was wild and could be reached by horse-drawn carts.

Twenty years ago I took over the family winery, and here we are: I am a retired banker and active wine producer.

However, there was a reason why grandparents chose that; in Spain, they had been vine growers in the region of Castilla y León, more precisely, in Peñafiel, which today is the heart of Ribera del Duero. So, that’s where it all started. My destination was not the vineyards, but the University. I had to be a «doctor» with a degree. I did what my parents wanted, maybe I did a little more than they wanted, and we kept the vineyards and the first winery until the moment I decided to develop the wine business again, that is, I returned to my first love. You see, it’s a short story, which is only a hundred years old.


D+: How did you study winemaking? Did you know right away that you would be a winemaker or got another profession?

R.F.N.: There is a big difference between being a winemaker and being a wine producer. I am lucky to have one of the best teams of winemakers that can be created, and although I live touring vineyards and wineries, getting into all the details; though, it is almost like an obsession, because I am annoying everyone with my shadow behind them, breathing so close that they can feel my healthy lungs, I   am not literally a winemaker, I am a wine producer. I am sure about everything I have learned from this activity, I know more or less a lot about many things, but they have a privilege: they are winemakers with their feet muddy with vines, and with a great knowledge of the technology in cement and steel tanks, and they know that you have to caress the barrels with your voice every day. They have that talent with which they are born, and they deliver it to Vinos de La Luz in all the countries where we are present. Right now, I’m thinking that they are more obsessive than me.

ricardo nunez

 La Luz Del Duero Winery

D+: We know that you were engaged in financial activities were they unrelated to wine? What was it?

R.F.N.: First, I went  to the University  and  graduated as a lawyer, but I had a problem: I couldn’t charge a fee for my work because it didn’t cost me anything to do it for people; that means that I didn’t see this work as aimed at building wealth, rather solving legal conflicts. And one day, almost reluctantly, I was developing financing systems for people with scarce resources, those who did not qualify for a traditional loan, and when I could rest easy, in 1989, the world economy changed, the Berlin wall opened the doors to huge markets, and I started in Central Europe what I thought was going to be my “last stage”. Incidentally, it did not appear to be the last one. Twenty years ago I took over the family winery, and here we are: I am a retired banker and active wine producer.

Ricardo Nunez

Schloss Vollrads, Germany 

D+: The chronicle says that one day you learned that there was one winery for sale in Argentina, and you bought it. Was it Finca La Luz? What exactly attracted you in it?

R.F.N.: I heard that story, but it is not exactly what happened. 22 years ago, the winery in Argentina, which had 70 hectares left of the initial 200, had no management; a few of us who were of my generation were scattered around the world. Yet a decision had to be made. Perhaps, the easiest thing would have been to continue drinking the best wines, but, to be honest, I would have lived in great fear of ever meeting my grandparents and my parents to whom I had to explain that I had let the family winery go to the “other hands”. It helped me a lot to have a global vision of the world, especially from the center of the geography of the Earth, that is to say, the Central Europe, and it took me only a month to make the decision to re-take the winery. But just as that global vision led me to that, it also led me  to project a world development program which is not over yet. One day, in 2012, I was standing on the land with nothing planted on it (it was at the foot of Mount Helon, in Ningxia Province, China) and I was negotiating to plant the Argentinian Malbec vineyards and build a winery, very close to the one created by Chandon.

There I realized that I had not slept in 36 hours, and I had been flying for 24 hours out of those 36 hours; that I was not Chandon, and the team that had arrived with me was looking at me as if they were asking me: “Who of us will be relocated here?” Then, I said to myself: «We should have come 20 years ago», and decided to limit the development program to its origin, that is, wineries in the old wine world, in the middle age wine world and in the new world, under a single quality denominator, which we had called Vinos de La Luz. By the way, the name of Finca La Luz is still owned by a parcel in Mendoza, which is limited by La Luz Street, but it is a coincidence, because Vinos de La Luz – Wines of the Light – has always been the best way to name a set of wineries that applied transparent protocols.

Nunez 2

D+: Doctor Nunez, the wines from your wineries are in great demand in the world, and numerous wines that come from your wineries are intended entirely for export. This experience, as well as your business and legal practices enable you to see the processes in 3D. Lately, we have been witnessing changes in the sales methods; this is particularly relevant to futures. Can you comment on the pros and cons of futures?

R.F.N.: This topic is very interesting, because it looks like it begins to change the sales methods of the most famous French wineries. When a large winery abandons the sales system called “en primeur”, it is because it realizes that a large part of the profit produced by the efforts of many years is taken away by the financiers advancing money at a price of the wine that is going to be delivered within a few years. It has been a tool to ensure the sale of the entire harvest and have fresh money in the bank, without major headaches. I never adopted that system because we build everything with our own capital and we are not wrong. Sooner or later, the one who does not have enough capital, depends on a bank or a distributor, who advances funds.

For example, nowadays, in Argentina we have four geographies where we produce grapes and two where we make wines. Those are unique places due to their «terroir», which can be hardly defined using words, but we all know what it means. Without capital, we would never have risked having wines at 1400 meters, such as the Gualtallary estate, or Altamira, or Pampa El Cepillo, or Vista Flores, which are denominations of origin limited in their extension, very strict in terms of their standards of production, but they have given us wines that do not fall below 93 points and some of them have reached 97 points. These «parcel wines» can only be made in own vineyards and by cutting the plant so that it gives us less, even tears are falling on our faces after each cut. Vinos de La Luz – Wines of the Light – has always been the best way to name a group of wineries that applied transparent protocols.

Doctor Nunez

Photo: Andrey Cherlat

D+: How do you select such talented oenologists, at what moment do you understand – yes, this is my man?

R.F.N.: It is a group that has been formed over the years, which does not talk about “the wineries” but about “our wineries”, and that is made up of winemakers who were already famous such as Roberto Cipresso in Italy, who has just made a 98-point Brunello, or others who are wellknown today and have received awards, such as Noelia Mena (Spain) or Pablo Navarrete (Argentina). Another part of the group includes land engineers, sommeliers, marketing specialists, sales specialists and communication specialists. We are a small army under the flag of Vinos de La Luz. Each country has its style, but the wines have a similar quality.

Perhaps it is better to explain this with an example: in 2018, we sent several wines from our wineries in three countries to compete at the Berliner Wine Trophy in Germany, which is held pursuant to the standards of the OIV. They all won a gold medal, none won a double gold medal, but none won a silver medal, either. That is to say, that the gold medal awarded to six wines from three different countries marked the quality line that Vinos de La Luz should toe. We would have liked to win a double gold medal, but perhaps we would have opted for the style of one wine and not another. In this way that year we confirmed the quality because the six gold medal wines were chosen among 9000 wines from around the world. The other example is Iluminado Single Vineyard that we have made in Argentina, Spain and Italy.

In different international competitions, they received 97, 95 and 95 points. That is uniform quality in high quality. It is clear that there is a reason and it is the application of the same production protocols in different regions and grapes. It’s that part of talent that I talked about earlier, and it makes the people in our team dedicate part of their time to teaching at school of winemakers and universities.

They are talents that must be respected, because they are also a little bit crazy. For example, in Mendoza, we had 16 hectares without plantations and we preferred to dedicate our efforts to developing another geography. Then, Pablo Navarrete said: “Here, we are going to plant “garlic”; for two harvests he has achieved a record output per hectare with a garlic that we call “Garlic La Luz”. So, in this group, it seems that there is more than one crazy person, but so far they are successful crazy people.


 Vinos de La Luz Winery, Uco Valley, Argentina

D+: In Argentina, Spain and Italy, the wines of the umbrella brand Iluminado are created with the same DNA Vinos de La Luz. Of course, we are talking about a single, highest level of quality. But, perhaps, you are trying to achieve a certain general style: if so, can you tell us with what technological methods?

R.F.N.: Vinos de La Luz is the umbrella, and the wines that want to be under that umbrella have to meet a series of very demanding quality requirements. Believe me, on many occasions, – it has been incomprehensible to me that the team did not accept a wine that seemed very good to me, and they believed – sometimes there was no unanimity among them – that we should not incorporate it as a bottled wine from La Luz, and it should be sold in bulk to another producer. However, when they explained the reasons to me, it was logical to understand. Then, the 97 Decanter London points appeared for Iluminado Single Vineyard Paraje Altamira Malbec 2015; there upon, things began to settle on their own, because when you approach 100 points, that is, a perfect wine, you cannot afford going for less. For this very reason, I defend the group’s criteria as if they were mine, even though they weren’t born from me, but from their talent. They are of a special breed, born for the quality wine.

noelia and pablo

With Pablo Navarette and Noelia Mena in vineyards of Mendoza

D+: Your wines collect a whole constellation of awards. How you make a decision, in which competition to participate?

R.F.N.: Everyone knows this phrase: «The best wine is the one you like the most», but this is true only for your own taste. However, when wines are a product of a certain style, of a particular philosophy pursued by a winery and they are novelties that want to surprise, one wants to know, what third parties – those in the know – say. That is why quality testing has to go through independent professionals and specialized consumers, whether they are winemakers, sommeliers, wine journalists, or producers. You can bring them together in a focus group but you will never have the opinion of a large international group – from different countries – and highly specialized. That guarantee is granted by serious international competitions and offered by independent international specialists. Vinos de La Luz has 90% of its wines awarded or scored in competitions with blind tastings and under international standards. We have many gold medals, many wines above 93 points, and up to 97 points, but we have not yet reached 100. We have a wine classified as one of the best 50 wines in the world in 2019, but we have not yet reached the wine that would be considered perfect (100 points) Vino de La Luz.

In Georgia

In Georgia

D+: Your company has been present on the Ukrainian market for many years. You opened a representative office, and then a chain of Wine Gallery boutiques. How are things going?

R.F.N.: A year ago, we partnered at Wine Gallery with Georgia’s Shilda Winery and a major local partner; it should be pointed out that the three of us knew each other and were related for many years. We decided to establish ourselves with our own importing and distributing company, which already has a business model in place despite the pandemic. Wine Gallery has already opened three of its own stores in Kyiv – well located and well designed – where it sells our Italian, Spanish, Argentinean and Georgian wines from Shilda, but also has a wide range of good brands that we are importing or buying from other importers. We have a very good sales team, but also Vinos de La Luz has its own Brand Ambassador in Ukraine, who is working to support the brand development in the region. I should say that she is a good ambassador indeed: very active and intelligent; in addition, she – Nataliia Burlachenko – is writing for Drinks+.

on contest

D+: While we’re on the subject of the wine trade, let me quote Robert Joseph talking about the changes associated with the pandemic: “The only thing I’m still confident about is the growth of digital communication as well as distribution. I sincerely believe that in the near future the huge wine walls in supermarkets will be a thing of the past». What is your forecast?

R.F.N.: I believe that the pandemic is just one more round of a fight that has been taking place silently at first, and then continued, with many explosions, for several years. The appearance of large sales platforms has, perhaps, been the moment of greatest friction between traditional distribution and the one supported by artificial intelligence technology. However, nowadays, producers are almost 90% linked with the online marketing. We have divided our sales into direct sales, sales to distributors (which imply sales via national places where wineries are installed), general online stores, specialized online stores, our own online stores, sales to importers (implying meetings during which one can see the other participants’ faces through various online meeting systems). We have had 6 or 7 international «exhibitions and fairs», from country to country, via Zoom in 2020; it should be emphasized that these events were organized due to the technology companies that create the so-called «augmented reality» platform, and put our brand ambassadors and commercials standing with their products and serving registered buyers for one or two days.

Vinos de La Luz is the umbrella, and the wines that want to be under that umbrella have to meet a series of very demanding quality requirements.

With Roberto Cipresso in Peñafiel, on La Luz del Duero winery

The importer, who already knows, whether a winery behind that wine is serious or not – because today everything is known – will ask you for a sample, and the latter can be in the hands of your potential customer within 48 hours. There is another aspect that is going to change and it is the resistance of countries to accepting a free exchange of wines and spirits. The world is going to be transformed into a great free shop existing in numerous clouds, where the locals will be the countries, and which we may enter and leave without traveling. Tariff barriers will be lifted due to the pressure of online systems and physical distribution will be made from warehouses installed by self-managed vehicles. How much time is left? It depends on the vaccine, and how long the world will consider this stage to have been completed, but the foundations are laid.

D+: Do you think single varieties wines or a trend behind blends will develop? What varieties do you think are the most promising today?

R.F.N.: I believe that the world of wine is opening its doors to the recovery of indigenous varieties, which will take their place alongside the grapes that everyone knows and are planted at the same time in several countries. I also believe that when countries have a successful indigenous variety, they will have credentials so that the other varieties that they cultivate and are cultivated in other countries, may be called by them, using the name of their specific country. What about the varieties which are similar to Malbec and are coming from France, Argentina, Spain, and Chile? Is it because of the genetics? I have doubts that the genetic origin dominates over the terroir. The truth is that the bottles should distinguish the French Malbec from the Argentinean Malbec, the Spanish Malbec, etc. As to the varieties, which are unique for several countries, they will be defeated by the local terroir. And each terroir is different. We are irreversibly going to value wines identifiable by their origin. Thus, let us put that on the label because this is how we educate the consumer. In our case, the seal and logo of Vinos de La Luz serve as our quality credentials.

D+: Traditional question: what plans does the head of Vinos de La Luz have?

R.F.N.: Right now we are involved in ten programs. Wine, liquids and technologies. Terroirs developments. I will definitely tell you next year, if your readers agree.

Photos provided by Vinos de La Luz

D+ managed to talk with Ricardo F. Nunez, the owner of the Vinos de La Luz group of companies, which unites wineries in Spain, Italy, Argentina.

Dany Rolland: «That is why we feel in love with Argentina!»

Drinks+ editor had a talk with Dany Rolland. It turned out that the wife of the most popular “flying” consultant Michel Rolland is a brilliant oenologist herself, and at the same time, she epitomizes the French glamour and feminine charm. We also figured out that the Rolland couple consider Argentina their second home.

Drinks+: Mrs. Rolland, you and Monsieur Rolland are not just oenologists and consultants, but also owners wineries in France, Argentina, South Africa and other countries. What about this passion for wine? Is it a family tradition?

Dany Rolland: My family was not in the wine business and I met during my studies my future husband Michel whose parents were owners of vines for 7 generations. As oenologists, we started in buying a laboratory, one of the most renowned of Gironde. Besides, it was 1983 when we met Robert Parker. And also during the 80th, one of the first consulting propositions outside for Michel was Argentina.

dany and rodolfo

D+: It’s interesting how Michel Rolland gets such proposals?

D.R.: Well, it was very simple then and a little funny, too. In 1988, Michel received a call from a winery owner in Argentina. The situation was comical, because he hardly spoke French, and neither he, nor we spoke English well enough. We only realized that his name was Arnaldo Etchart and he called us to help him to make his wines better or different wines, because he wanted to sell in the American market. We were not sure of the seriousness of this proposal, but decided: even if it not transformed into a serious work, it will be a wonderful journey to the land of tango! Moreover, the trip was planned for February. It should be pointed out that in Argentina, it was the summer period.

D+: Isn’t it risky to fly to the other end of the earth … Must be a real adventure!

D.R.: Right you are! The story was challenging and full of surprises. When we flew to Buenos Aires and got to the booked hotel, we were faced with the laconic note: “At the lobby at 8 am”. Thereupon, several hours later, we met with the brothers Etchart. No one could speak French. Though, we were lucky that their friend could help with the translation. Well, next day, we had to fly to the north-west, to Salta, and after that, to get to Jujuy.

D+: What was your first impression of Argentina?

D.R.: We were struck by almost cosmic landscapes, the canyon with its multi-colored rocks – all seven colors. It was an absolutely different world: the purest air, mountain peaks, weather-beaten and smiling faces of Indians, and lamas walking at the foot of the Andes. Cactuses… and a lot of light! Finally, Bodega Etchart showed up, where we were greeted by the amazing – big and loving – Etchart family. Michel and I still remember the empanadas of Mina, which we then tasted accompanied by a glass of white wine with an almost Alsatian, but exotic nose. At the time, we discovered Torrontes*! This is how our Argentinean adventure began as well as a long friendship with the Etcharts family that will go beyond consultations to the family-owned wine cellar.

D+: Talking about friendship. Tell us, please, about your friendship with Catherine Péré-Vergé – you were working together not only in Pomerol, but in Argentina, too.

D.R.: Catherine Péré-Vergé was for us, Michel and I and our daughters, a wonderful friend. We were very close when she decided to invest in Pomerol starting with Ch. Montviel. We have also a personnel partnership: at this time she was a co-owner of Cristallerie d’Arques, and on the market, there was no glass for tasting and drinking that was really acceptable. We decided to create one: I tasted a lot of wines in different glasses and organized a “cahier des charges” to design one with all the qualities we were expecting. And her company made the glass called Oenologue”. It was 25 years ago. After we were also very close when we decided to invest in Argentina and she was the first to say Ok, Go! She was the first one who believed in our Argentinean project. Incidentally, the first harvests of Val de Flores, as well as Clos de los Siete, until 2009, were vinified by us at the winery owned by Catherine Péré-Vergé, at Montéviejo wine cellar, due to the oenologist Marcelo Pelleriti.

D+: You have founded in Argentina a number of outstanding wineries, some of them with partners. How did you select vineyards?

D.R.: We just “found in love” with some places, people or terroir during all of our travels. We started with Argentina, and now it’s our unique best project. We have made personnel wines in South-Africa and Spain with joint ventures, but now we focus, mainly, on Argentinean projects for outside.

bodega rolland argentine

D+: Tell us about them, please.

D.R.: Perhaps, I will start with an outstanding project – Yacochuya, and then, move to San Pedro de Yacochuya, created along with the Etchart family in Salta, where our love for Argentina began. These wines are produced in small numbers from old Malbec vines (some date back to 1915) and a small proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon. Yacochuya vineyard is considered to be one of the highest-mountain grown in the world. This is an extremely beautiful place a few hundred kilometers south of the Tropic of Capricorn, at an altitude of 2035 meters. It has a specific climate with alternating hot days (36 ºC) and cool nights (12 ºC). The wine label depicts a cactus typical of the local landscape, and Michel’s signature.

The more time Michel and I spent in this country, the more we wanted to understand its terroirs, to work on new wines. And even live there … And in the end Bodega Rolland was founded as well as one of the most prestigious brands – Clos de los Siete. In this project, we have united several winemaking families from Bordeaux and 850 hectares of vineyards. The estate is collectively managed and divided into separate sections, but each contributes to the development of the top-of-the-line wine – Clos de los Siete.

In addition, each estate’s section independently produces its own wines under its own name in its own wine cellar. Michel advises all of our partners. The first vines in these vineyards were planted in 1999, and the first release of Clos de los Siete took place in 2002. As a part of the collective project, we founded Mariflor brand. As Michel says, Mariflor is “place, wine and concept” at the same time. Mariflor vineyard, located next to the area of Val de Flores, already familiar to us, got its name (literally, “Maria Flower”) from the name of the area, and in honor of our daughter Marie. Not only does she help us in winemaking, but also enjoys photography as her hobby. I hope your readers can appreciate them and understand due to them, why we fell in love with Argentina!

Bodega Rolland

The vineyard is located at an altitude of 1100 m above sea level. An area of almost 100 hectares, of which 60 hectares are planted with Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. Since 2002, we have been growing Pinot Noir on 4 hectares of Mariflor. Mixed soils – sand and clay on a rocky layer, the exposure is mainly east. Irrigation is strictly controlled, using only the purest mineral water from the Andes mountain springs. 2 ha of Mariflor: Sauvignon Blanc, planted in 2003. The first wine from Mariflor vines, 100% Sauvignon Blanc, was produced in 2006. A number of fine wines are produced here, including Mariflor Pinot Noir and the vintage Mariflor Camille, named after our first granddaughter. Regarding Top Wines of Mariflor, in honor of each of our grandchildren – not only Camille, but also the twins Arthur and Théo, Raphaël and the youngest Giulia a special cuvée has been created.From different grape varieties, but with the same high quality, 3000 bottles per year each. Bodega Rolland produces the wines: Mariflor, Val de Flores, and Yacochuya but in joinvinture and less production.

Dany Rolland Bodega Rolland

D+: What is your favorite variety in principle – if you look globally, without reference to France?

D.R.: My favorite variety is Merlot. But I love also Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux and Syrah from East France, and so many good wines with so many varieties, as Malbec in Argentina!

D+: Do you work with so-called natural wines, wild yeast? What do you think about organics and biodynamics?

D.R.: Personally, right now, we are in organic farming for our Val de Flores in Argentina. And with wild yeasts everywhere, except if a climatic or special problem require to add others.

D+: You and Mr. Michel Rolland are known as the perfect “wine couple.” Common interests in oenology simplify life together or complicate?

D.R.: We have been working together for 47 years… Difficult to say it is or was complicate. Each of us has his own personality but we are very complementary.

Rolland family

D+: You are a shareholder of Rolland Collection Limited. How is this business developing now? How are your wines priced and by whom?

D.R.: Rolland Collection is a family business and it’s our oldest daughter: Stéphanie, who is in charge of management. But all fares are discussed and fixed regarding the cost of the production and the situation of the market for all wineries.

D+: What wines do you make today?

D.R.: We try to understand all the terroirs in all altitudes and latitudes and to adapt, our knowledge with a good viticulture.

D+: We would like to thank you for answering all our countless questions and for your time!

*Torrontes. A rare local variety for the New World, where most of the vines were brought from Europe. It was believed to have grown here even before the arrival of the Spanish missionaries, but research has shown that Torrontes is a cross-pollinated variety between Muscat variety and Mission red variety brought to the continent by Cortez. In the aroma, flowers, exotic, tropical fruits, and spices prevail. “Sweet in the beginning and bitter in the end – just like life itself” – this is how Argentinean winemakers describe it themselves. The best organoleptic properties are ue to the Torrontes vines grown in the high-altitude vineyards of Salta.

Drinks+ editor had a talk with the wife of the most popular “flying” consultant Michel Rolland and a brilliant oenologist herself.

Sandrine Garbay: «To produce Château d’Yquem 1937 every year!»

I think for any winemaker in the world it would be an honor to work at Château d’Yquem. But of all the applicants, she was chosen – Sandrine Garbay, who was only 27 years old at the time! One of the youngest and most respected professionals on the planet answered D+ questions. Including this story, that looks like a fairy tale.

D+: Madam Garbay, Château d’Yquem is classified as Premier Cru Supérieur, the highest category in the classification of Bordeaux wines. To drink such a wine is, perhaps, like having a picture of Edgar Degas in your own living room… You can hardly meet them on the shelves of a supermarket (Château d’Yquem as well as Degas) J. How does it feel to work with wine of such a high level, in the interiors with such a design, in the Château with such a history?

Sandrine Garbay: It is funny you should compare the experience at d’Yquem to a painting by Degas, since I grew up with a copy of The Star hanging above my bed as a child and teenager. It is a great parallel. And in the same way that you never get tired of looking at a piece of art that moves you, I never get tired of coming to work in the enchanting setting of d’Yquem, nor tasting its precious elixir! Even after 25 years in the business! I am proud and, above all, honoured to work at d’Yquem.

Château d’Yquem

D+: How did it happen that you ascended this pedestal in a very young – as for a winemaker – age? How old were you? Why was it you exactly who was chosen and how did your professional path begin at this, without exaggeration, amazing place, which personifies all the best that there is in the Sauternes region? It looks like a fairy tale.

S.G.: Not long after graduating in Oenology in 1989, aged 22, I was recruited by one of my professors specialising in MLF, Ms Aline Lonvaud, to undertake research in bacteriology. Thus, after spending five years working in a laboratory, I obtained a PhD in oenology in 1994. But eventually, as much as I enjoyed my job, I dreamt of returning to production and fulfilling my true vocation as an oenologist. That is why, not long after, I started looking for work in the southern Gironde, since my husband had just set up his own business not far from Sauternes. It was at this moment, when Alexandre de Lur Saluces offered me the opportunity to join his team at d’Yquem, that my life really turned into a fairy tale. When I heard the news, I was overwhelmed with joy, not to mention anxiety! I began working at d’Yquem on the 1st of September 1994.

My role consists in fermenting and ageing the wines at the estate, from the moment they arrive at the cellar to bottling. I also supervise packaging and shipping departments, and I am in charge of a team of ten people.

Inside Château d’Yquem

D+: Could you please tell us about your education – how much does the theory of winemaking help you in practice, as Sauternes is a very special, complex wine? Which of the winemaking masters became a teacher for you?

S.G.: I am continuously drawing on my initial training, my experience at Yquem, as well as technical and scientific advancements led by researchers at the ISVV, who I have a lot of faith in!

I learnt the specific characteristics of Sauternes, and particularly d’Yquem wines, thanks to my predecessor Guy Latrille, who I collaborated with for three years, as well as Francis Mayeur, the estate’s current technical director (who has been working at d’Yquem for 37 years!) and the now-retired consulting oenologist, Serge Chauvet, who first introduced me to Alexandre de Lur Saluces and to whom I owe a great deal (he was my «fairy godfather», so to speak). It is clear the incredible phenomenon that is noble rot requires special attention that cannot be learnt out of a textbook. The reaction that takes place between the grape (the host) and the fungus Botrytis cinerea (the guest) under the watchful eye of the Sauternes microclimate could almost be described as magic. This extraordinary process climaxes in the creation of d’Yquem, a treasure trove of voluptuousness and refinement.

Inside Château d’Yquem 2

D+: How does Sandrine Garbay’s regular work day go? Which is the most stressful period/season for you, why and how does this stress manifest itself?

S.G.:: My role consists in fermenting and ageing the wines at the estate, from the moment they arrive at the cellar to bottling. I also supervise packaging and shipping departments, and I am in charge of a team of ten people.

wine Château d’Yquem

A typical day begins by allocating tasks to each of my colleagues. I then get down to tasting the wines on which we will work. This may involve tasting the wines in each barrel before they are racked  and  blended,  or  taking  part in group tastings led by a committee of six to seven people to determine the final blend, or regularly tasting  the wine throughout ageing. I then carry on completing administrative tasks (relating to wine, traceability, record- keeping, customs formalities, etc.). I generally devote some time each day to promoting the d’Yquem experience and sharing our dedication, either with the estate’s visitors, or with journalists, sommeliers or students from all over the world. The harvest is the most intense and stressful time of year, but it is also the most thrilling! It is my favourite season, since it reveals the intrinsic nature of my job. A new vintage is taking shape – this is an incredibly exciting time for us!

 D+: Château d’Yquem has a very long history. What has been fundamentally changing in the process of winemaking during all these long years, and what has remained unchanged? For example, we know that in 2011 the estate changed the process of vinification – was this your idea? Do you have, in spite of the legislative regulations and the traditions of the Château, a carte blanche to apply your own techniques, to experiment – if so, what other know-how have you applied?

S.G.: When considering altering the very essence of a wine like d’Yquem, it is important to do so with caution. Any change or development in the winemaking process must be carefully thought-through, evaluated and adapted to the identity of the end product. What has not changed throughout the history of d’Yquem, is the emphasis we place on producing and selecting high-quality grapes. Can you imagine just how complex and specific harvesting the botrytised grapes in passes is? We have a wealth of expertise at the estate, enriched with several centuries of experience.


In recent years, we have improved alcoholic fermentation thanks to advances in research, whilst remaining true to our roots by using the grapes’ indigenous yeast. We also fine-tuned ageing to help preserve the floral and fruity aromas of the wine, which resulted in the very gradual shortening of the barrel ageing period, from 40 to 20 months between 2000 and 2011, as  well  as  reduced  oxygenation  in the wine thanks to racking without air contact and bottling in an inert gas environment. We are constantly monitoring the latest technologies. If we come across something that could be of interest to d’Yquem without compromising our unyielding respect for the terroir and the product, we will consider conducting a trial, possibly full-scale, and evaluating the results.

We also fine-tuned ageing to help preserve the floral and fruity aromas of the wine, which resulted in the very gradual shortening of the barrel ageing period, from 40 to 20 months between 2000 and 2011, as well as reduced oxygenation in the wine thanks to racking without air contact and bottling in an inert gas environment.

D+: Sugar level is much higher in Château d’Yquem today than it was before. Why did you come to such a decision and what are its advantages?

S.G.: It is not a choice on our behalf – it is in fact the result, albeit a positive one, of climate change. Throughout the history of Yquem, the sugar levels in the greatest vintages were very similar to those produced since the 2000s. D’Yquem 1929, d’Yquem 1937, d’Yquem 1945 and 1949, and even d’Yquem 1959, which were grown under similar weather conditions to today, all had over 130 g/L of residual sugar. The intermediate vintages of those decades were clearly less concentrated: between 80 and 110 g/L.


But since the mid 1990s, the climate has been much more conducive to the spread of noble rot and, in particular, the evaporation of water to concentrate sugar levels afterwards. This resulted in the sugar levels in the wines exceeding 130 g/L, contributing greater power, aromatic complexity, and an impressively long aftertaste. The clear advantage of this is that, since 2001, we have managed to produce a «1937» every year! I am exaggerating a little, but there is a grain of truth in this…

D+: Could you tell us please about the features of working in the Château d’Yquem with a barrel – during the processes of vinification and aging. When we were on   a tour in your Château last year – by the way, we saw you from afar, but you were busy and we didn`t dare to come and make an acquaintance J – they told us that about 400 barrels are used per year.

S.G.: Barrels play an integral role in the winemaking process. From the very beginning, the juice from the grapes is fermented in new barrels (100%), which will accompany the wine throughout the ageing process. An aromatic reaction occurs between the lactones from the oak and those produced by Botrytis cinerea, which is responsible for the marmalade and candied orange notes typical of Sauternes wines. We are thus very fond of barrel ageing, but this does not prevent us from trialling other types of container. Come and ask us again in 10 years time!


D+: Which Château d’Yquem vintage would you call the top? Have you ever had bad vintages in your memory? What do you do in such cases? What is the main difficulty in the work of the head winemaker of Château d’Yquem?

S.G.: Many d’Yquem vintages are top-level wines: 21-29-37-45-49-67-75-83-88-97 and the legendary 2001. But in recent years, I would like to highlight the 2009-2015 and the 2017, which are, quite simply, fabulous! Of course, we should not forget that Mother Nature can spoil everything, as was the case in 2012. During this extraordinary year, I discovered how the rain, which fell almost incessantly in October, could lead to the development of grey rot and destroy the entire crop in just two weeks. We could not do anything to stop it… The one hundred barrels or so of wine produced (versus 400 for a typical vintage) turned out very bland and lacking body on the palate. The wines were not bad in themselves, but they were far from meeting the high standards demanded by d’Yquem. Pierre Lurton, with the full support of Bernard Arnault, chose not to produce d’Yquem that year.


For my part, this brought bad memories. The feeling of powerlessness was difficult to overcome, as always, but resilience and hope came with the following vintages. We are lucky in that respect!

D+: Last year Drinks+ visited Château d’Yquem. Welcoming his guests Bernard Arnault, General Manager of the LVMH, said that Château d’Yquem is following the path of organic winemaking and is going to move to biodynamics after completing a series of certification procedures in this status. What additional steps should Château d’Yquem make for this?

S.G.: We started our transition to organic viticulture two years ago. All in all, there were not many major changes     to undertake. We have never used chemical weedkillers, practising traditional ploughing instead. We do not use chemical fertilizers either, we have always enriched our soils with local farm manure only. We adopted organic methods to fend off powdery mildew and mating disruption against grape worms.


However, we were still using chemical biocontrol molecules to fight against mildew and black rot, which are not permitted in organic viticulture. We therefore decided to completely abandon these molecules and the estate has been officially undergoing a conversion to organic viticulture since August 2019. It will take us three years to obtain organic certification. This will have no impact on our cellar activities, since we already respect organic specifications.

When Alexandre de Lur Saluces offered me the opportunity to join his team at d’Yquem, that my life really turned into a fairy tale.

D+: They say wine starts in the vineyard. How much of this is fair for Sauternes?

S.G.: All wines start their journey in the vineyards, and in Sauternes we encounter the same challenges faced by dry red wine estates. We communicate with our colleagues from other estates, particularly regarding new technologies and developments that will help reduce the use of copper and sulphur to protect our vines. This is the major challenge of the Bordeaux wine region, and it should be remembered that our climate is not the same as that in the Languedoc or Burgundy. We tend to have a significant amount of rainfall during the growth cycle, which is already imposing the threat of vine diseases this year. When the Bordeaux region says that converting to organic viticulture is not easy, it is not for complacency or a lack of conviction on the part of winegrowers, it is because fighting against mildew and black rot using only copper is incredibly difficult.

D+: One of the features of Château d’Yquem is that grapes are harvested in 13 stages, with different Botrytis levels, which adds complexity and ideal acidity balance to the wine – what is your role and actions during this period?

S.G.: In fact, the harvest at d’Yquem takes place, on average, in five successive passes. That is already a lot! The organisation of these passes and the harvesting strategy is decided by the estate’s technical director, Francis Mayeur. He and I, alongside the vineyard manager, of course, communicate on a continuous basis. This stage is crucial in determining the quality of the wine. Nothing should be left to chance, and even with the three of us supervising this task, it is quite a challenge.

Château d’Yquem

D+: Do you have assistants? Could you tell us about your team – who these people are, their education, age, work experience, interests etc. In general, what is your team like that are creating a legendary wine – the Sauternes of Château d’Yquem?

S.G.: I work with ten people all year round. I have a quality control assistant, whom I have been working with for the past 21 years, as well as a packaging assistant who has been at d’Yquem since 1993, and an assistant in charge of shipments since 2012. Only the latter was trained in winemaking – the other two come from very different backgrounds, more suited to their roles. They all completed their training at d’Yquem.

D+: Perhaps this might look like a provocation to violate corporate ethics, and yet, let me ask you: if not Château d’Yquem, then which of the famous wines would you single out for its impeccable quality?

S.G.: There are many great wines are remarkable! In this respect, I truly admire the work of Bordeaux-based consultant oenologist, Eric Boissenot, on behalf of all his clients, whatever their status. He is an incredibly talented man who maintains absolute discretion at all times. Similarly, Vincent Millet’s work at Calon Ségur is the perfect example of rigour and precision. The wines have gained considerable elegance and intensity, I am a big fan!

D+: Which of the Château d’Yquem vintages was the oldest that you have personally tried? Can the oldest Sauternes be called the best?

S.G.: The oldest d’Yquem that I have tasted was a d’Yquem 1801. While my emotions were running high,  it  was  not the best wine I have ever  tasted. I have fonder memories   of d’Yquem 1811, which featured aromas of cooked fruit, mingled with roasted nuances and notes of liquorice and spices. Generally speaking, d’Yquem wines require twenty years of ageing to fully express their rich range of aromas. However, younger wines can also be immensely enjoyable, while some very old ones remain delicious for an incredibly long time (over 100 years!). There is no hard and fast rule and each vintage may present its very own tasting curve. That is why it is a good idea to buy several bottles from the same vintage to taste it at every stage of its development – that way you will never end up disappointed!

Sandrine Garbay

D+: The problem of climate change leads to the fact that winemakers start experimenting with varieties which are not familiar to a particular region, crossing certain vines in the hope that they can develop something resistant to one of the main modern challenges of nature. Is Château d’Yquem thinking about climate change?

S.G.: Climate change presents a real challenge for the future of our vineyards. Testing new grape varieties is an avenue that we are exploring on a few rows, in order to   plan the future while remaining as faithful as possible to the identity of d’Yquem. But it is not the only one. Between the 1960s and the 1980s, a cool climatic phase in Bordeaux led us to favour early-ripening rootstocks and clones, alongside vineyard management and practices designed to compensate for lower temperatures. In recent years, this trend has completely reversed, so that we opted for easy- to-implement tools to delay ripening (shifting towards late- ripening rootstocks and clones, modifying vine training and the height of the leaf canopy, studying shading, as well as controlled irrigation in very early-ripening plots). These are just a few of the many avenues to explore and implement   at the regional level. The Nouvelle Aquitaine region has invested significantly into achieving this objective.

D+: What does the chief winemaker of Château d’Yquem dream about?

S.G.: My dreams remain humble: to continue to fully participate in the epic saga that is d’Yquem, to watch it adapt to the passing of time, to see the next generation take over this magnificent estate and to see it shine around the world, as it rightly deserves!

Photos by Château d’Yquem

Sandrine Garbay, one of the youngest and most respected professionals on the planet answered D+ questions.

Silvio Denz: «I wanted to grow the French style of living well, savoir-vivre, with the French style of doing things well, savoir-faire»

Our exclusive interview with Silvio Denz – the owner of The House of Lalique and several French and Spanish stellar wineries.

D+: Last year The House of Lalique celebrated 130th anniversary. What events or releases were held in honor to this special occasion?

Silvio Denz: For the 130th anniversary of Lalique that we celebrated in 2018, we have created several pieces in limited edition of 130 pieces on the theme of the swallow, iconic motif of the brand: the vase ‘‘Hirondelles’’ stamped with gold, the fragrance Mon Premier Cristal Hirondelles and a scented candle in sapphire blue crystal and enamelled platinum. I have always considered Lalique to be a timeless lifestyle brand, and since I bought the company in 2008, I wanted to grow the ‘‘art of living’’ positioning by marrying the French style of living well, savoir-vivre, with the French style of doing things well, savoir-faire, through six core pillars: decorative items, fragrances, jewels, interior design, art and now hospitality, which has been a new business area for Lalique since 2015. We highlight Lalique’s values, these being our know-how, our quest of excellence and also the rich artistic heritage that we inherited from Rene Lalique and that inspires us in our contemporary collections.

I have always considered Lalique to be a timeless lifestyle brand, and since I bought the company in 2008, I wanted to grow the ‘‘art of living’’ positioning by marrying the French style of living well, savoir-vivre, with the French style of doing things well, savoir-faire, through six core pillars: decorative items, fragrances, jewels, interior design, art and now hospitality, which has been a new business area for Lalique since 2015.

D+: Speaking of Lalique, of course, we cannot overlook the 2013 vintage of your Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey, which had a special bottle with one of Rene Lalique’s exquisite engravings – Femme et Raisins. Is it true that this is a fragment of the famous panel ’’Figures and Vines’’ in a dining car of the Cote d’Azur – Pullman Express train? Are you planning anything else in a similar vein for releases created in your chateau?

S.D.: Yes indeed, Rene created in 1929 the ‘‘Femme et Raisins’’ (the woman and the grapes) glass panels for the dining car of the legendary Cote d’Azur Pullmann Express train, a creation inspired by themes dear to the heart of this Art Nouveau master. And we decided to feature this pattern on the Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey bottle since the 2013 vintage. Also unique crystal pieces were created especially for Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey, combining the worlds of wine and crystal: vine leaf, Semillon grape, cork, plug, case of wine, a spectacular jeroboam and the delicate drops of gold, whose colour recalls molten crystal and sweet wine. And last but not least, a unique Lalique barrel, in glass and crystal, which has leather straps and is engraved with the famous ‘‘Femme et Raisins’’ motif created by Rene Lalique in 1928. The finesse of crystal pays homage to the golden wine.


D+: Sommeliers recommend serving Sauterne Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2013 with an appropriate accompaniment: scallops, lobsters, high quality cheeses. What are some of your favorite food pairings for this wine?

S.D.: 2013 was an exceptional vintage for Sauternes and Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey 2013 is no exception. It is an explosion of exotic fruits with a hint of caramel. I think this wine is perfect to enjoy with a dish called “Emotion of Lafaurie” and created by Jerome Schilling, chef of the Restaurant LALIQUE at Chateau LafauriePeyraguey. It consists of qince, Salers cheese, coppercoloured angelica jus and red honeycomb – it does great justice to the depth and elegance of this vintage. Two things you will only find in a Premier Grand Cru Classe.

And last but not least, a unique Lalique barrel, in glass and crystal, which has leather straps and is engraved with the famous ‘‘Femme et Raisins’’ motif created by Rene Lalique in 1928. The finesse of crystal pays homage to the golden wine.

Сильвио Денц

D+: In 2011, in Wingen-sur-Moder, at a villa that once belonged to Rene Lalique, the Museum Lalique was opened. Among the many exhibited masterpieces there are bottles created by Rene Lalique, whose father, as we know, was a wine merchant dealing such brands as Macallan, Hardy, Patron. Do you have any plans to continue the production of premium bottles for other alcohol brands? If so, can you tell us more about the design and brands?

S.D.: Each year we launch unique or limited edition bottles, in collaboration with high end spirits brands. For over 15 years, Lalique has designed and produced spectacular decanters for The Macallan famous whisky, achieving several record prices at auctions in Hong Kong and New York. Recently, we created a collection of six decanters for Niepoort Port wine house. The “Niepoort in Lalique 1863” decanter, the first one of the series, was sold at auction in Hong Kong in November 2018 at the price of HK $992,000 (approximately EUR 111,000), which achieved a world record of the most expensive Port wine sold at auction. Lalique will indeed continue to develop partnerships with high end brands with a view to create unusual bottles, thus benefitting from the expertise and savoir-faire of the two partners working together.

D+: In 2015 Lalique S.A. announced an expansion of its activity for a hotel food sector and hospitality sector. It can be assumed that the company had embodied its ideals at the Villa in Wingen-sur-Moder, where a luxury hotel with a gastronomic restaurant is run under the auspices of the chef Jean-Georges Klein. Could you please tell us more about this project?

S.D.: With the Villa built by Rene Lalique in 1920, I wanted to take the home of Rene Lalique to honour him and his work while at the same time, create a living Showroom for the Lalique brand today, highlighting the interior design, architecture, decorative objects and art categories. Therefore we renovated the Villa which has reinvented itself and taken on a new lease of life since its opening in September 2015. It has become the sumptuous setting for a five-star hotel with six suites and a gourmet restaurant, which was awarded two stars by the Guide Michelin three months only after its opening, thanks to the immense talent and involvement of Chef Jean-Georges Klein and his team. And the same year Villa Rene Lalique became a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux collection.


D+: The villa storage has a collection of 12,000 bottles. Could you name five of them which, in your opinion, are the most valuable, and what is their price today? And can you suggest to those who are going to have dinner at the restaurant some of the most interesting samples from its wine list (perhaps in pairing with the most outstanding Chef’s dish)?

S.D.: Here are five of the ‘‘treasures’’ of the restaurant menu: – Sauternes Chateau d’Yquem 1865 at 28,000 Euros – Sauternes Chateau Lafaurie Peyraguey 1920 at 1,800 Euros – Alsace Gewurztraminer Clos Zisser Klipfel 1943 at 900 Euros – Romanee Conti 1989 at 10,000 Euros – Napa Valley Screaming Eagle 1992 at 10,000 Euros. And here are three wines, among others, that are interesting in food and wine pairing: Sancerre Grand Chemarin Vincent Pinard 2014 a EUR 120 perfectly goes with the following dish: char slowly candied, almonds, vinaigrette of buds of spruce. Saint Emilion GC Chateau Peby Faugeres 2000 with the roe deer of our regions, sun artichokes cheesecake, pear, reduced jus with an infusion of fermented lemon. Alsace Grand Cru Brand Riesling Josmeyer 2014 with the gold caviar, seriola tartare with creamy celeriac, buckwheat blinis.


D+: Story goes that your passion for wine takes roots from the wine companies that you owned. Which winery you bought first and under what circumstances? Why did you decide then that it was the very hour and the very object? What is it`s fate?

S.D.: In the mid-1990s, I diversified my activities and became a co-founder of ‘Les Grands Vins Wermuth’, a wine merchant in Zurich. Following a demerger, one part of this company became ‘Denz Weine’. Wanting to get involved in wine production, in 1998 I formed a partnership to acquire ‘Clos d’Agon’. Responsibility for running this Costa Brava vineyard was entrusted to winemaker Peter Sisseck.

In 2005, I invested in Bordeaux by acquiring the estates Chateau Faugeres, Chateau Peby Faugeres and Chateau Cap de Faugeres. My passion then took me to Italy. In partnership with Fabio Chiarelotto, since 2007 I have been making four wines as powerful as they are precise at Montepeloso estate in the Tuscan valleys. In 2010, Chateau Rocheyron in Saint-Emilion – purchased with Peter Sisseck – joined Vignobles Silvio Denz. Four years later, Chateau Lafaurie-Peyraguey – one of the oldest estates in Sauternes – rounded off this collection of vineyards as part of the company Art & Terroir.


D+: Which enologist do you work with?

S.D.: I worked with the support of Michel Rolland, who has been the estate’s consultant oenologist since 1992, allow it to strive for perfection vintage after vintage.



We highlight Lalique’s values, these being our know-how, our quest of excellence and also the rich artistic heritage that we inherited from Rene Lalique and that inspires us in our contemporary collections.

D+: In March 2005, you purchased simultaneously three wineries in Bordeaux: Chateau Faugeres, Chateau Peby Faugeres (AOC Saint-Emilion Grand Cru), and Chateau Cap de Faugeres (AOC Cotes de Castillon). Did you foresee then that in June 2015 Robert Parker would give a hundred points to the 2005 Peby Faugeres vintage?! If it’s not a secret, how did you select these chateaux for the purchase then and how did you work on creating such a wine?

S.D.: The red jewel in the Vignobles Silvio Denz crown, Peby Faugeres was created in 1998 in tribute to the estate’s former owner Pierre-Bernard Guisez, whose nickname it has adopted. Made up of Faugeres best Merlot plots, this vineyard occupies a single piece of land on the ancient soils of the Saint-Emilion limestone-clay plateau and was soon recognised as a wine in its own right. Quickly rising to become one of the greats, its 2000 vintage (christened ‘Legend of the Future’) was named one of the top 24 wines in Bordeaux by Robert Parker, who then awarded it the perfect score of 100/100 in 2005 in his magazine ‘Wine Advocate’. Born of a unique terroir, Peby Faugeres is also the expression of an ongoing quest for perfection both at the vines and in the winery, where it benefits from the expertise of oenologist Michel Rolland. In addition to the demanding standards shared with the others Vignobles Silvio Denz estates, this Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classe also nurtures rarity: every year, the harvest undergoes a rigorous selection which only permits small-scale production of 18 hectolitres per hectare.

Silvio Denz

D+: People say that it is an exemplary wine storehouse where all modern requirements were made? How is this cellar different from others?

S.D.: I put my enthusiasm and taste for excellence at work in the estates I acquired. Nothing is left to chance in the running of these estates, which are committed to the ongoing pursuit of perfection using the most natural possible practices in accordance with ECOPASS ISO 14001 certification. Every detail matters and contributes to the wines’ unique expression. Reading a terroir, expert advice, watchful care, modernising equipment, combining traditional practices with more innovative technologies – every effort is made to enable the plots of land to express their abundant potential to the full. I try to blend these talents and combine my passions to bring these developments to fruition. The art of winemaking, architecture, traditional expertise and cutting-edge infrastructure are all put to use to achieve the best possible interpretation of these vineyards. Tasting notes and scores have demonstrated the quality of the wines from one vintage to the next. In 2012, seven years after they were acquired, Chateau Peby Faugeres and Chateau Faugeres became SaintEmilion Grands Crus Classes.

D+: Could you please tell us about the collaboration with the architect Mario Botta to create a wine cellar in Chateau Faugeres. The say it is an exemplary storehouse for wine where all modern requirements are met. How is this cellar different from others?

S.D.: As well as being a remarkable work of architecture, the winery is also a technological tool designed for cutting-edge winemaking. As a true temple of wine, its excellent facilities (in particular its gravity-fed vat house) paired with the support of Michel Rolland, the estate’s consultant oenologist, allow it to strive for perfection vintage after vintage.

Our exclusive interview with Silvio Denz – the owner of The House of Lalique and several French and Spanish stellar wineries.

Gerard Basset: «The whole life is a search of knowledge. And the more knowledge you get, the hungrier for it you become…»

Today, leading wine brands increasingly often invite globally recognized experts to participate in their projects. An evidence of this trend is the October visit of Gerard Basset, one of the most renowned wine gurus, to the Ukrainian capital. At the presentation of “Tamada” TM for Kyiv professionals the maitre combined Georgian wines and European cuisine with enogastronomic ties. Gerard told D+ about this experience and many other things.

Drinks+: Gerard, you are one of the most experienced and award-winning wine expert in the world, and a holder of the title of Master Sommelier (1989). Tell us, please, how your career started, and how you became a Master of Wine – we have heard that is completing this program is a big challenge. Can you say more about this qualification? And how did you get a Wine MBA in 2007?

Gerard Basset: To be honest, I have never had an objective to become a sommelier. But one football match changed everything. I once came to England to support my favorite team, and I fell in love with this country so much that I decided to stay. I needed a job, of course, and I started as a waiter at one of local restaurants. This business became my passion, and when I returned to France for some time, and decided to learn cooking. I completed different training courses, from waiter to chef. But, frankly speaking, I never planned to become a chef. This was followed by a sommelier training course which I took to get new knowledge.

However, already at that time I understood that I did not want to be a restaurant manager, but I wanted to be a sommelier. Why I decided to qualify in different areas? Probably, just because I like learning as a process. Exams, contests and preparations to them are the best part of it. The whole life is a constant search of knowledge. And the more knowledge you get, the hungrier for it you become. Becoming a Master Sommelier – or, in principle, becoming the best in your sphere – requires a lot of effort.

First of all, you need to improve your level of education, which means a lot of reading, showing interest to new things, and a lot of practice. To get the Master of Wine degree, you will need to write an assay, in addition to other things. This is followed by technical part. For example, the tasting process for the Master of Wine is different from, let’s say, the Master Sommelier’s. You will need to describe the wine in more details, including the region, and to provide a good explanation in your answer.

The title of Master of Wine is highly respected in the UK. Wine experts will perceive you in a totally different way. I gained my MBA qualification at a management school in Bordeaux, where I wrote a thesis on the wine list. I was running my own business at that time, and this experience proved to be very useful. We were learning to understand the principles which guests follow when they choose the wine, and how the specific wine list may impact the guest’s choice. We took a small restaurant and filled its wine list with 90 positions. It contained everything but information about the wines. People started asking about such criteria as style and food compatibility, and then the geography.

D+: We have a different story here in Ukraine. Sometimes it is difficult to persuade guests to try a wine produced by the manufacturer they don’t know, as an alternative to a famous brand. This is why some sommeliers, if they want to draw attention to other wines that are not any worse, simply remove the “celebrity” positions from the wine list.

G.B.: The point is that new wines should be offered to guests by glass. It does not make any sense to pay $100 per bottle when you are not sure if the bottle’s contents meet your expectations. Unfortunately, it is not always possible.

D+: Which steps do you take for further development of your profession?

G.B.: It is a range of steps that includes reading industry journals and books, wine atlases, and visiting wine-tasting events and wineries. One of the books that have recently impressed me is ”The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty”. This is a real story of a wine triumph of Californian wine-makers of Italian descent in the Napa Valley and competition between their children. The book is written by Julia Flynn Siler and is highly recommended.

D+: Thank you for this recommendation. Gerard, in 2010 you won the Catey Award, an equivalent of an Oscar in catering industry. Please tell us about this nomination. And, in principle, do all these awards and title have any impact on your career?

G.B.: The Catey award is very important in the UK’s restaurant and catering industry. And it is really prestigious to hold it. However, almost nobody knows about it outside of the industry in which it is awarded. For sure, any awards are important for your personal development and your future career. Additionally, if you own a restaurant, this is a good reason to motivate your people: thank you, guys, we have become the best place. This is a good leverage for team management.

D+: How often do you travel? Do you have a favorite region and winery?

G.B.: I love Burgundy for its exceptional wines – sometimes you can find real masterpieces there. I like the Napa Valley, it’s like a wine Disneyland. I cannot avoid mentioning Madeira and Champagne. I really travel a lot – Italy, France, Portugal, South Africa – and each country is worth a separate story. Generally, to have an idea about the region, you need to visit not only big and famous estates, but also small producers too. If you come to Burgundy and visit just Romanee Conti, this will not be enough. Although I call their wines dream wines. By the way, I consider a visit to this domain my best experience.

D+: What are main mistakes that occur in making a wine list?
G.B.: I would not call it a mistake, but this is a very common thing in restaurants now, when the wines contained in the wine list are in fact not available. For example, you come to the restaurant and ask a bottle of wine you have chosen. They tell you it is not available now. Then you find another wine and point at the relevant position in the wine list. And you hear that, unfortunately, it is not available too. This shouldn’t be a case. But, in fact, different things may happen. Sometimes the wines contained in the wine list do not match the restaurant’s food at all. Once, my wife and I visited a fish restaurant in London. Its wine list was a variety of famous wine brands. Nevertheless, there was no real match between the wines and the food. Bear in mind that filling the wine list with top wines that don’t really match the food will not be a big success.

D+: It is a well-known fact that the chef also plays an important role in creation of enogastronomic pairs. Do you have any disputes with your chef?

G.B.: We have never had any disputes. This is a team work, and you always need to look for a compromise in case of any disputes. We have done big work with Andrea Nori, chef of the “OK Bar & Restaurant”. This is a great experience. And in the process of creation of enogastronomic pairs – a combination of Georgian TM “Tamada” wines and European cuisine – we were fine-tuning some things and changing other things, but it was just a kind of polishing.

D+: Did you find any complicated or unexpected combinations?

G.B.: This experience has become a kind of a challenge for me, because I’m just planning to go to Georgia and currently I don’t know Georgian wines that well. When making the pairs, I focused on stylistic characteristics of semi-sweet wines. And it worked in many aspects. The combination of delicate taste of cheese in salad and Tsinandali was what I liked especially. I think that you shouldn’t be too conservative and combine specific wines only with specific food. This is approach is boring and not very professional. Georgian sweet wines are quite interesting. I think Ukrainian consumers know them well.

D+: Have you ever tried wines from kvevri? If yes, what are your impressions, and do they have a chance for recognition in Europe?

G.B.: Georgian wines have just started their way to the global success. Wines from kvevri will definitely find – and have probably already found – their own audience, as they have their own history and philosophy. I have tried many natural wines in my life, and liked some of them and didn’t like other. But wines from kvevri which I tasted were really elegant. They are now available for sale in London.

D+: How do you think, does the chef has to have an extensive knowledge of wines or basic expertise is sufficient? For example, leading culinary schools now include wine courses into their training programs.
G.B.: Chef has to know and feel the wine. Today there are many culinary colleges that for some reasons tend to underestimate the importance of wine semesters, which is incorrect – at least from the marketing point of view.

D+: Which product, sauce or specific dish you think is the most difficult in terms of the choice of wine?

G.B.: Very spicy food. Especially when it comes to Oriental and Mexican food. Many wines, of course, go well with ‘hot’ dishes, but if the food is soaking in a think layer of spices, making pairs is not that important here. However, everything depends on the particular case. Chocolate, for instance, is also considered problematic with regard to wines, but many types of wine effectively unveil the piquant taste of the “capricious” product.


D+: Which restaurants (except those where you work) you can call exemplary?

G.B.: In London, go to “Texture” – a wonderful restaurant with good cuisine and an extensive selection of champagne. If we talk about places with outstanding wine lists, I would recommend “28/50”. They have very simple and basic food. But the unique feature of this place is that the managers include a minimum margin into their wine list. Therefore, visitors have an opportunity to taste wines of the chateau which they cannot afford at other restaurants. I also must mention “Terroir” for its extensive wine list. Here you can order exceptional wines by glass. In Paris, for example, I would recommend “Caillebotte”, a popular choice of locals and tourists. “Frenchie Bar a Vins” is another must-visit place in the capital of France. Great ambiance, carefully selected wines, incredible food, good service and very democratic prices make it a favorite place of many guests. “L’Affable”, a French restaurant with simple but delicious food. From wine bars, I would recommend “L’avant Comptoir”. This is a small place, but they have a very good wine offer.

D+: You own a restaurant and a boutique hotel “Terra Vino” on the South England coast. Can you please give an advice to beginner hoteliers – what is necessary for a hotel to become a success?

G.B.: My wife and I run our own small 11- room hotel and a restaurant of Californian and European cuisine. Location is probably essential for the hotel. From my practice I see that guests prefer staying near the water. Food and wine list are important, too. If your guest is not impressed by the food and drinks, he will not come back to you. You need to take all these factors into account, but if you are simply difficult to find, or it is necessary to cover 20 kilometers of winding roads to reach your restaurant, your project will be a failure.

D+: Gerard, thank you for the interview. We wish you a great journey to Georgia and hope to see you soon in Ukraine.

Фото: sanfranciscowineschool.com, inspirationf1.com, beingasommelier.wordpress.com, thedrinksbusiness.com, seebtm.com, aucklandnz.com, schiller-wine.blogspot.com, independent.co.uk, downtheroad.org, nypost.com

The most experienced and award-winning wine expert Gerard Basset told D+ about his experience and many other things.