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Gastronomy and Wine Portal

Evgeniy Korolev: «The net result is that Ukraine was warmly received into the Bocuse d’Or Family»

The famous Bocuse d’Or competition is now in Ukraine. The Drinks + observer spoke with the person who brought the world’s main gastronomic show to our country. Evgeniy Korolev, chef of the author’s cuisine restaurants Winovnik and 4-Tower in Dnipro, founder and owner of the Bocuse d’Or Ukraine brand, told us, how the competition would be held. Additionally, he broached many other interesting aspects.

Drinks+: Evgeniy, you have over a decade of experience in Michelin-starred European restaurants, won the Gourmet Cup in Germany in 2019 and ranked among the top three young chefs, according to JRE Germany; in 2019, you were among the top 3 young chefs in Central Europe according to the international culinary school ALMA Italy; you received the Young Chef Award 2019 and are the Chief Ambassador of San Pellegrino. In 2020, for the first time in the history of the Ukrainian gastronomy, you created Ukraine’s national and youth teams and brought them to the International Exhibition of Culinary Art World aka Culinary Olympic Games (Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung – IKA). And now Bocuse d’Or Ukraine, where you are the founder and brand owner. Which of these steps was the most difficult and why?

Evgeniy Korolev:  Frankly speaking, all awards and recognitions are never given for nothing. Any entry into the rating or competition is a result of hard working on a daily basis. Over the past five years, I have managed to take part in eight international culinary competitions, and I can say that reaching the Culinary Olympic Games (IKA) in 2020 was the most difficult task!

Due to a very short period of time allocated for training, my team and I, having arrived at the Olympics, were faced with huge problems in our preparation. At some point, we realized that for technical reasons, we would not even be able to participate or meet the timing. To this day, I don’t know how we managed, but we performed well in our nominations.

As for Bocuse d’Or Ukraine, this is a very interesting and complex project that requires tremendous preparation. The team and I started organizing the competition back in 2020, and at the present moment, everything is going smoothly according to the elaborated plan.


D+: You have worked with such masters as Alain Ducasse and Wojciech Amaro. Tell us about these gastronomy gurus: how are they working, what is the atmosphere in their kitchens, and what is their philosophy? What have you learned from these pros?

Evgeniy Korolev: It is a common practice in all top restaurants that the chef does not always have an opportunity to be in the kitchen due to his or her high workload. Experienced sous-chefs supervise all processes in the kitchen. I had an opportunity to work with Alan Ducasse only a few times; he is very charismatic, kind, and always ready to help and give an advice. Often, he would just stand and tell why and for what reasons it was important to do it this way and not otherwise. We had been working with Wojciech  Amaro quite often; I should say that he is strict and demanding. He spoke little, made us think, read and form our own opinion about a product or process. As a result of working at Benoit restaurant, I gained an understanding of the chef’s philosophy and respect to the product and the profession. At Atelier Amaro, I learned how to apply various modern techniques, to deal with product combinations and serving dishes.

D+: What attracts you in the chef’s profession: an opportunity to experiment, you enjoy your food or enjoy teaching others?

Evgeniy Korolev: Of course, I am a lover of good food. I give preference to the restaurants with original cuisine. Experiments in the kitchen are a key to success! Working with a product, combining and practicing techniques … without this, we will stop developing.

I adhere to my own style at Winovnik, and my principles are: working with high-quality seasonal products, using various techniques and combinations and, of course, non-standard serving. In the future, I would like to open a restaurant with the same concept and author’s style, but to prepare a menu in a seven-nine-course set format, without adhering to a la’carte menu.


D+: In January 2020, you signed an agreement for establishment of the Bocuse d’Or Competition in Ukraine. Can you please tell us, how it all started, how this idea occurred to you?

Evgeniy Korolev:  It all started with my participation in international competitions, after which representatives of Bocuse d’Or from other countries invited me to apply for participation. Unfortunately, according to international rules, I could only do this from the country of which I am a citizen, that is, from Ukraine, where, let me remind you, Bocuse d’Or did not exist at that time. Later, the German organization introduced me to the representatives of the Bocuse d’Or headquarters in Lyon. For about three months, we were discussing the possibility of my participating in, or holding, the competition in Ukraine. One fine day, the headquarters’ director called me and offered to head the establishment of the competition in our country, however, on the condition that I would return to Ukraine and would never again be able to take part in the competition as a chef. One of the priority tasks was to organize a presentation of the project, including analysis of the country’s gastronomic market, the best restaurants and chefs, prospects, potential and development vector of the Ukrainian gastronomy in the world. The second stage included the project’s defense before the Bocuse d’Or committee in Lyon. Later, the project data were verified and corruption screening was held, as well as a  number of meetings in Ukraine, and negotiations at different levels; as a result, Ukraine was warmly received into the Bocuse d’Or family.


D+: Did any significant difficulties or problems arise at the stage of conclusion of the contract?

Evgeniy Korolev: The most difficult thing was waiting for the next answer from the headquarters and a series of new questions. I did not know, what they were paying attention to, when checking the information, and what they were guided by. Frankly speaking, Bocuse d’Or corporation and GLEX organizers were initially well disposed to Ukraine’s joining their family, so the French side did not create any problems or difficulties and always showed solidarity and loyalty. But at the same time, I would emphasize extremely difficult terms of the franchise and the rules of participation for chefs, which are not so easy to adapt to the realities of our country.


D+: Can you disclose a few names of the Ukrainian chefs who applied for participation in the competition, because the applications are already being accepted, aren’t they?

Evgeniy Korolev: We did not expect that the number of applications seeking participation in the first year’s competition will be so huge. According to the regulations of our organization, we have no right to disclose any information about the contestants before adoption of the official decision regarding preliminarily qualified participants, which is to be published on the Bocuse d’Or Ukraine website on June 1. I can say that the names of the majority of candidates are well known to the Ukrainian gastronomic community.

D+: In what format will Bocuse d’Or take place in Ukraine? It will be something like Sirha sites?

Evgeniy Korolev: My team and I are organizing the largest exhibition for representatives of the hotel and restaurant business. We plan to make several zones, one of which will host the final stage of the national selection Bocuse d’Or. Other zones will host an exhibition of official partners, HoReCa representatives, master classes, lectures and seminars, speaker zones, an entertainment zone, a photo zone, a zone of craft producers and much more.


D+:  As a chef who has gained an extensive experience, do you notice any qualitative changes in the Ukrainian wine market? How do you feel about including Ukrainian brands into the restaurants’ wine lists?


Evgeniy Korolev: Certainly, I do! If we compare the level of Ukrainian winemaking, which existed five to ten years ago, we may see that by the present stage, some domestic producers have considerably grown. Naturally, it is difficult for us to compete with the wines of the Old World, given their history of winemaking, terroir, weather and climatic conditions, but in the near future, more and more decent Ukrainian wines will have been produced. I can only recommend to be very active in replenishing the restaurants’ wine lists with Ukrainian wines in order to support the local producers and expand the choices available for guests.


D+:  Can you please tell the stakeholders, how the competition will be held and what awaits the winners.

Evgeniy Korolev: It is not for nothing that Bocuse d’Or is considered to be the most difficult competition, and the candidate’s preparation time is the key. In other words, as you prepare, so you will perform. Bocuse d’Or is not about improvisation and luck. All trainings, preparation, experience and concentration must be demonstrated during the competition.

The team of participants includes a chef (over 23 years old) and an assistant (under 23 years old). The Competition’s tasks include the preparation of two courses of 14 servings each, where the fish dish is served in portions on plates, the meat dish is served on a special presentation plate, and later served on the plates. The competition will take 5 hours and 35 minutes. Participation in the competition is free, the organizer bears the costs of travel and accommodation for the participants, and also provides all necessary equipment, inventory and products. All participants will receive prizes from partners and the organizer. The bronze medal winner: UAH 25 thousand, the silver medal winner: UAH 50 thousand, and the winner of Bocuse d’Or Ukraine will receive a prize of UAH 100 thousand and will take part in the European Bocuse d’Or final in 2022, where, together with the team, he or she will represent Ukraine at the international arena.

D+: What do you and your team expect from the first Bocuse d’Or in Ukraine? What parameters will measure the success achieved and at what point can you say: well, here it comes, the victory?

Evgeniy Korolev: Organizing an event of this scale requires a huge investment of time, resources and funds, therefore it is very important for us to hold this competition at the highest European level, since we invite an international jury and the headquarters’ [representatives]. I would very much like to hold a Bocuse d’Or Europe Final in Ukraine in the coming years, so we approach each organizational moment very seriously and discreetly.

It is important for us to create the most comfortable conditions for candidates, so that the guys can concentrate only on the processes of cooking. In the near future, we will begin to conduct master classes for candidates in order to prepare them as much as possible for the competition. One of the most important indicators of success will be the chefs’ involvement in the competition and their willingness to participate in the next national shortlisting. Well, the best indicator of success will be the Ukrainian team’s victory at the Bocuse d’Or Europe Final in Lyon!

The Drinks+ observer spoke with the person who brought the world’s main and popular gastronomic show Bocuse d’Or to our country.

How to be of higher demand on the labour market due to WSET?

Text: Anna Gorkun, СЕО and Owner of 46 Parallel Wine Group

What is WSET, who needs a diploma from the British school, how education is regarded by employers and whether it affects salaries?

Within a framework of the author’s project “Wine Hub with Anna Gorkun”, a conversation about these and other related issues was held with Ekaterina Yushchenko, Director and Certified Educator of the Ukrainian Wine & Spirit School, a certified provider of the programme of the British School WSET (London), a member of the Association of Sommeliers of Ukraine and tasting commissions of the Ukrainian and international wine competitions. Anna Gorkun learned from Ekaterina Yushchenko how WSET courses were launched in Ukraine, how many levels they have, and why they not only enhance the graduate’s qualification up to the level of an international expert, but also directly affect such graduate’s salary. In addition, Anna also got to know why, being a financier, Ekaterina had forever thrown her lot with winemaking and how she was successfully combining sports and wine.

Ekaterina Yushchenko

The story of how the WSET program was launched in Ukraine is not a new one, but nevertheless my question is – how did it emerge in your life?

Initially, I did not plan to engage myself with wine. At the time, I was graduating from the Kharkiv National University named after Karazin, the Faculty of Finance and Credit, as well as from the Institute of Foreign Languages, and my interest in wine was superficial like it was for many other persons. A few years later, I was lucky to meet the guys who were au fait with the winemaking, and they introduced me to this. Thereupon, we decided to start importing, which implied a further deep dive into the wine. I presume that if you work with a product, you should deal with the issue seriously. Thereupon, we chose the WSET format for training and, to our great surprise, found that Ukraine was not on the list of the countries where this program had a representative office. I wanted to share this valuable knowledge in my native country. Thus, in 2015, we had been certified to become WSET providers in Ukraine.

How is WSET working?

Students are trained and certified according to the same standards applicable in all countries. The educational materials and tasting facilities are identical to the British ones, and the entire educational process is clearly regulated. They teach how to teach, in a very structured and consistent manner. The stuff but not the fluff. Thus, WSET enables everyone who comes into contact with the wine as a commercial product to gain the unified knowledge system that allows them to speak the same language with anyone – either a distributor from Hong Kong or a supplier from Africa.

Ekaterina Yushchenko wset

What are the WSET levels available and whom would you recommend each of such levels to?

WSET has four levels in total. I would recommend the first one to everyone – just for themselves. The second level gives more fundamental knowledge. The students and I are tasting a lot. The course is good because there is no analytics yet, but we are already digging deeply: terroir, varieties, as well as special features of soils, and we are discussing potential. It is adequate for both professionals and amateurs. At the second level, it is good to go through the main descriptors for tastings, so that at the third level, you no longer think about theory, but focus on analytics and forecasts. Therefore, the third level is great for producers, because there is a deep dive into the technological process: trimming, cutting, soil, sampling, and acidity. It is noteworthy that this course is attended by both lawyers and doctors, as well as by numerous representatives of the spheres related to winemaking. However, I would not draw any distinct boundaries: this course is suitable for sommeliers, and it is also suitable for importers, as well as  housewives. The fourth level implies absolute analytics, trends, forecasts, marketing, legal aspects, and tendencies. You are no longer a consumer, you are a market player, which means that you are already generating demand yourself.

Ekaterina Yushchenko with bottles

Nowadays, there are many schools, sommelier courses and the like, but only your school has a truly international context. I remember when we studied at WSET, many guys who went on to work on cruise ships shared their opinion that this particular certificate was very important for them, since it was highly regarded by the employers. Is it true that the WSET diploma helps one to prove their qualifications and be eligible for a salary increase?

Indeed, there are many wine schools and they are all great and they all differ from each other. In our case, you get knowledge about everything – yes, with different depths, but you have no gaps. The volume of knowledge, even if you came as an already accomplished professional, expands significantly. But if we are talking about the WSET diploma itself as a tool for monetizing the knowledge gained, it should be pointed out that it is definitely highly regarded in the market. This is confirmation that you have gained the knowledge of unique program, which is presented in 80 countries and is taught according to standards in 17 languages. This is an evidence that you are an international specialist.

Personal observation: When you open the WSET Level 3 tutorial, a great number of specific terms is scary. Is it really necessary to present this material in such a detail and what pills does one need to take in order to digest this material?

In fact, everything is much simpler. If a person has an analytical mindset, he or she will be able, without much of a hassle, to digest the material offered by the British [school]. The important thing is that they do not give too much, so that it does not distract attention from the most important things. But it should be understood that out of the four levels of WSET training, only the first three are represented in Ukraine. We provide registration, teaching and organization of exams, but review of the exam papers and awarding of diplomas – all these stages are the responsibility of the London WSET.

wine and sport

Broaching such issue as you and wine… you and sports. How did you manage to combine the two passions – for wine and sports? Accidentally, having analysed your achievements in sports, it becomes clear that it is not just a hobby, rather it is a titanic work!

It is simple. Trivial health problems have brought me into sports – I am a mother of three children, and I have not been able to avoid the problems with my back. However, I replaced the endless health clinic-hopping with gym exercises and began to strengthen the muscle corset. With lapse of time, I realized that I wanted to do it with full dedication – in fact, it is my life principle. Thereupon, I developed a passion for the aesthetic vector and was nominated for participating in the fitness bikini contest, where I was ranked first. But in this case, the victory was not the main achievement, and the key aspect was that I set the bar so high for myself that I could no longer afford to relax. Now, sport is a part of my life. However, at the present stage, the aesthetic vector has been replaced by the functional one: I mean various competitions (Sportan, Race Nation, and DikoGonka). This is a real drive, adrenaline. Believe me, all this absolutely peacefully coexists with a passion for wine and everything related to it.

What is WSET, who needs a diploma from the British school, how education is regarded by employers and whether it affects salaries?

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: «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+.

Chris Yorke: «We are launching an on-line campaign!»

Those who are interested in Austrian wine are probably aware that there has been a change of leadership at the Austrian Wine Marketing Board not so long ago: last year in December, Wilhelm Klinger announced that he would step back from his duties as a Managing Director. His successor, Chris Yorke, has been elected after following a thorough multi-stage selection process involving more than 90 applicants, led AWMB in the early 2020.

Chris Yorke, Managing Director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, spoke about his new position, plans and the impact of the epidemic on the wine business in the interview with Drinks’o’clock.

DoC: Mr. Yorke, studying your biography from official sources, it can be noted that your career was previously connected with the wine sector. Then you radically changed businesses: American Express NZ, Sony Card Europe, Roche Pharma (Welwyn Garden City), ICI Agrochemicals. Why did you change the spectrum of professions? What important professional qualities have you gained in so many different positions? How are they helping you now?

Ch.Y.: You are right I did work with a number of international companies, but this was before I entered the wine world.  The common thread with this international business experience was that the target audience was always premium and international.  Understanding the premium consumer and how her/his tastes change over time and in different countries is one of the key skills needed to do my job well.

DoC: Why did you decide to participate in candidates’ selection for the position of the Managing Director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board? What attracts you to the wine sector?

Ch.Y.: I had been Global Marketing Director for New Zealand Wine based in New Zealand for 15 years, so I had been aware of Austrian Wine for a long time.  I had spoken to many international influencers who I asked who did the best generic marketing and often I got the answer: Austrian Wine! When I then heard that the position was becoming vacant I initially was unsure whether they would accept an international candidate.  They said they would choose the best candidate.  Along with 90 other candidates I went through the process and was lucky enough to be appointed.

Chris Yorke2

DoC: You were elected as the Managing Director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board after a thorough multi-stage selection process, in which more than 90 candidates participated. Tell us more about the selection stages, what was the assignment, who were your competitors?

Ch.Y.: It was a competitive process with a number of interviews and then a presentation to the Board.  The interviews I was able to undertake by skype as I was in New Zealand.  The final interview and presentation to the Board was carried out in Vienna, so I flew 30 hours each way to take part.  It was a confidential process so I don’t really know the identity of the other applicants. However, one applicant who I have subsequently managed to recruit into my management team is Christian Zechmeister, who is now responsible for Austria, Germany and our regions.  Christian has great experience so I think to overall quality of applicants was high.

DoC: Were there any words of encouragement from the ex-Managing Director? How was the transfer of the administration control going – how long did it take? Did you communicate a lot? What is the especially important information you have got from Willi Klinger?

Ch.Y.: Willi Klinger and I had a three-month handover period which went very well.  We travelled together to USA and Canada and also in many parts of Austria.  Willi was very generous with his time and took great care to introduce me to many stakeholders and to explain the background of how we work with them.  Like most wine countries, Austria’s is quite complex in terms of structures and regions so Willi particularly helped me untangle that.  I wish Willi well in his new role as CEO of Wein and Co in Austria.

Our wines have the types of elegant styles that consumers are looking for: good quality and value, sustainably produced and matching very well with food and our people are very friendly.

DoC: Your predecessor had a great authority – but, probably, the world does not expect from you the same strategy, everyone, as it seems to us, expects something new. What do you think about this? Will your position in the development of wine marketing be absolutely identical to the position of the ex-Managing Director? If you are planning changes, what specific new steps would you like to take and when should they be expected?

Ch.Y.: Every person brings their own approach to a role, building on their own strengths.  Willi did this and did it very well. My first task has been to build the team and we made a number of changes including as discussed increasing the size of our management team to give a clear focus:

  • A closer focus on our key markets Austria and Germany and collaborative work with our wine regions
  • A real focus on driving export growth in key premium wine markets
  • All supported by a communications team across on-line and off-line channels

We are rolling out those changes this year and planning for next year.

DoC: You have held the position of the Managing Director for several months. What measures for the development of Austrian wine have you worked out? What did you work on during this period?

Ch.Y.: We have built the team and launched the strategy to the industry. We are now working on a number of activities to support what I call our “Glass in Hand” strategy.  What I mean by that is that we want to provide our wineries with more opportunities to show their wines to the world, as we are convinced that when trade and consumers try our wines and meet our people we can win. Why? Because our wines have the types of elegant styles that consumers are looking for: good quality and value, sustainably produced and matching very well with food and our people are very friendly.


DoC: What strategic markets are currently important to the Austrian Wine Marketing Board? How these issues going to be addressed?

Ch.Y.: Obviously the home market where we have 80% of our sales is important but as we have such a high market share the strategy is to defend and support the premium segments. Our only way to grow will be in international markets. Germany and Switzerland are logical due to language, but then we have USA, Benelux, Monopoly markets in UK, Central and Eastern Europe and parts of Asia.  We target markets and market segments that are premium and understand the price/quality that we offer.

DoC: What global international exhibitions do you plan to take part in? Perhaps you will enter new markets, new local exhibitions?

Ch.Y.: We are big fans of Prowein Düsseldorf and Shanghai and Vinexpo Hong Kong and now Paris.  We are also evaluating their other shows.  Obviously the current situation is very difficult for exhibition companies and there will probably be a shake out of cities and locations.  We also take part in smaller more targeted events, ie for organic or biodynamic wines and always look for new events that match our target consumers and trade.

Our only way to grow will be in international markets. Germany and Switzerland are logical due to language, but then we have USA, Benelux, Monopoly markets in UK, Central and Eastern Europe and parts of Asia.

DoC: Has coronavirus made major changes to your plans? How did your company adapt to processes under the global quarantine? How do you feel about online resources for placing image ads of Austrian wines?

Ch.Y.: Yes, corona virus is the number one topic as with all other companies and wine countries!  We have quickly refocused our activities and are launching an on-line campaign in Austria targeting sales of wine in supermarkets, online and from wineries.  We are looking to expand this to other countries.

Secondly we are focusing on plans for after Corona and are actively planning a number of events when our wineries can travel again, particularly supporting the restaurants around the world but also our wineries’ cellar doors, as well as wine tourism


DoC: How do you feel about such a safe, and therefore urgent method, like presenting Austrian wines online and after put this presentation on digital channels? Let’s say our Communication media group has such resources and an extensive experience of disseminating such information among buyers and distributors from different countries.

Ch.Y.: We are always open for urgent ideas. And since on this stage, such a concept is less dangerous – this is certainly an option for consideration.

DoC: What interesting wine events from Austrian Wine Marketing Board await wine lovers as well as wine professionals in the near future?

Ch.Y.: Very many! We plan to do Austrian tastings in Moscow, St Petersburg and Toronto and other events in Chicago, Basel, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stuttgart. as well as a number of other activities in the second half of the year.  A lot is on hold at the moment but once things clear up there will be a number of exciting activities we can let you know about!

Chris Yorke, Managing Director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, spoke about his new position, plans and the impact of the epidemic on the wine business in the interview with Drinks’o’clock.

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.

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.

Jancis Robinson: «I never intended to produce anything other than words…»

To write to Jancis Robinson (who, I am sure, should not be presented to our audience) with a proposal for an interview, I was surprised when the answer came unexpectedly prompt. The content was in the spirit of the famous Jancis – concise and strict: “Send me questions. Not too many, please! I am so busy at the moment.” Of course, we could not resist the temptation and took the opportunity given to us by Mrs Janсis Robinson, the fate and the quarantine: and just in case we prepared questions with a marginJ, hoping that we would get at least a half of answers.

Jancis Robinson, a person with the special merits in the wine world, a wine critic, journalist, writer, consultant of Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland answered ALL D+ questions! We are incredibly grateful.

Jancis and Olga

Drinks+: Mrs Jancis Robinson, first of all, we would like to note, this is a great honor for us to have the opportunity to ask you about your wine world vision, your personal thoughts and rules. You are a unique person in the wine world! In addition to many honorable titles and awards, you are known as the main wine encyclopedist of our time. Your energy is also enough for light wine genres. You are loved, known, read, quoted all over the world. You have achieved a lot in life… Including the unofficial status of the harshest wine critic in the world.

Do you agree with this opinion? What is the ultimate goal of your work – first of all, education of a wine consumer or education of a producer? Or something third?

Jancis Robinson: I’m sorry if I’m known as such a harsh wine critic. No-one could love wine more than me. And I love writing stories about it. But perhaps what gives rise to this supposed ‘unofficial status’ is that in my wine reviews/tasting notes I always write down my impressions as I am tasting, a sort of stream of consciousness (I never go back to rewrite my tasting notes to polish them) and I write 100% for my readers, wine consumers, and not for quotation as sales aids. This is probably why my tasting notes are so rarely quoted by producers!

I’m no great fan of tasting notes that are a long list of flavours because I think tasting is so subjective that it’s unlikely another taster with find those same flavours. Also, consumers may feel inadequate if they don’t sense the same flavours. I concentrate a bit more on the vital statistics of the wine: body, tannin, acidity, sweetness, how mature – and then perhaps an impressionistic overview and assessment of its personality.

Jancis Robinson2

D+: Your 20-point wine scoring scale has shorter scores number, but more emotional in terms of description: “Deadly dull”, “Distinguished”, “Superior” “Truly exceptional” etc. What, in your opinion, is the advantage in comparison with the 100-point wine scoring used by many?

J.R.: I think everyone should be free to use whichever scale they feel most comfortable with.  The 20-point scale is the traditional European one and I have never felt the need to switch. But I am sad if too much emphasis is put on scores. I see scores as a necessary evil – something that was needed when the fine wine market was on fire and readers needed a rapid shorthand assessment of quality so that that could buy wine in a hurry. But that is no longer the case and of course I always thing words are far more important and no wine can be summed up in a number.

On JancisRobinson.com we publish a separate tasting note for every different bottle of a wine that we taste and we find that there can be considerable variation between bottles so no-one should take a single tasting note and score as the gospel!

D+: You are the only wine author who was distinguished as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, on whose wine cellars you are also advise. Tell us, please, how this process works. Do you travel, taste, then offer a list? How often do the wine list change? Which countries prevail? Has it ever occurred to you to get a feedback with a request to replace one or another wines or all your offers were always accepted unconditionally?

J.R.: There’s something about climbing into a taxi and asking the driver to take me to Buckingham Palace that still gives me an absurd amount of pleasure, even in this, my 16th year as a member of the Royal Household Wine Committee. I am not remotely blasé about the subsequent fight through the crowds of tourists to present my driving licence as photo ID, first to the policemen at the North Centre Gate (pictured), the one on the right of the Palace, and then, after a 50-metre crunch over the pink gravel, again to the liveried staff at the Privy Purse Door.

We need to select enough wine, about 5,000 bottles, for the Royal Household to offer its guests at more than 300 events held each year in Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Our budget is supplied by the Queen’s Civil List funding. Outsiders might assume that we spend our time picking out the plums from the world’s vineyards for Her Majesty’s cellar but the reality is very much more prosaic. By far the majority of the wines we buy are either nonvintage champagne (supplied at an average price considerably lower than any supermarket special offer I have come across) or relatively modest wines for big receptions, the likes of inexpensive New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and the most basic red Bordeaux.

But whenever I publish tasting notes on the wines submitted to the RHWC on my website, some readers almost invariably come back expressing disappointment that the wines aren’t grander. I realize on reflection, however, that the complainers are rarely British taxpayers.

We committee members meet a few times each year to taste, usually under Buckingham Palace though once, memorably, in the rather more cramped cellars of Windsor Castle. Wines for state occasions like this come not from the Royal Household but from the quite separate government cellars under Lancaster House, which have their own, separate wine committee.

We do get to taste some reasonably smart stuff for Her Majesty and her guests. We buy young red Bordeaux when it’s released and age it because – at least so far – that has saved money. And there is always a cache of red and white burgundy, as well as some vintage champagne for really important guests. But whenever I publish tasting notes on the wines submitted to the RHWC on my website, some readers almost invariably come back expressing disappointment that the wines aren’t grander. I realise on reflection, however, that the complainers are rarely British taxpayers 🙂.

While I always enjoy blind tasting (and it is most important that we taste blind because so many of the wines submitted come from companies run by members of the committee), the wines themselves are just a small part of what I enjoy about our ‘work’ on the RHWC.

At our tastings, conducted in complete silence until we each submit our list of favourites, the Clerk of the Royal Cellars’ (Simon Berry’s) chief role is to co-ordinate the scores and make concrete buying decisions based on them. Within budgetary constraints we are given a relatively free hand in our choices.

D+: Have you ever thought about creating your own wine? And even if this is not a goal for you, and you are not considering such an opportunity, still we would like to know which wine region/country you would choose and why? Hypothetically?

J.R.: I am a pretty average gardener and am a complete control freak so I have neither the ability nor the character to be a farmer. It would also mean sacrificing my objectivity.  I feel so lucky to be able to taste the fruits of the labours of so many winemakers around the world.

I never intended to produce anything other than words and it took all the persuasive powers of designer Richard Brendon to come up with my beautiful glassware!


D+: Please tell us briefly about the ideal tasting glass.

J.R.: The Wine Glass from the collection has been specifically designed to offer the best tasting experience for every wine, whatever its colour, appellation, style or strength, including Champagne, port, sherry and beyond. I have spent 42 years trying to make wine as approachable and as pleasurable as possible and sincerely believe that just one glass for all wines makes perfect practical sense.

D+: In your opinion, what relatively new wine-making countries could be included to your personal TOP over the next 5-10 years and with which varieties? Which wine regions do you think are undervalued in the wine world?

J.R.: Both my JancisRobinson.com colleague Julia Harding MW and I are huge fans of Portugal and Greece – for the same reasons. Both produce highly distinctive wines from a rich array of indigenous grape varieties that we are still discovering. We admire the fact that neither country succumbed to international grape varieties in any major way. As wine producers, they are not new, but they deserve to be more widely understood and admired.

I’m also a big fan of new wave South African wines – the young guns from Swartland, for instance. And I am rather thrilled by the fact that the wine world is more in flux than I have ever known it with so many new trends: lower alcohol, less oak, indigenous grape varieties, natural wine, skin contact whites.

On JancisRobinson.com we publish a separate tasting note for every different bottle of a wine that we taste and we find that there can be considerable variation between bottles so no-one should take a single tasting note and score as the gospel!

D+: We know that you have looked fairly closely at organic and biodynamic wines. In your experience, is the profile taste of organic wines different from conventional wines? What do you think is the prospect of natural wines? Which wineries/countries regions, in your opinion, stand out in this wine types?

J.R.: I think BD wines often have a wildness and immediacy about them but I wouldn’t claim to be able to taste a difference between organic and non-organic wine.

Natural wine has no strict definition but tends to be defined by what it isn’t. All but the most hideously industrial wines are ‘natural’ products to a certain degree but, just like fruit itself, anything fruit-based such as juice, wine and dried fruits is prone to being spoilt by excess oxygen and/or harmful bacteria. For centuries, sulphur or sulphur-based compounds have been used to stabilise and preserve freshness in all these products but, as technical knowledge increased in the twentieth century, so did the array of additives used in winemaking. In the 1970s many a wine smelt more of the chemistry lab than the fruit basket.

This century and in the later years of last century, however, there has been a global, industry-wide move to reduce agrochemicals in the vineyard and additives in the winery – this last encouraged not least by the discovery that asthmatics are particularly and sometimes dangerously sensitive to compounds associated with sulphur, which is why any wine containing more than 10 mg/l of sulphur dioxide has to be labelled ‘contains sulphites’.

Those making natural wine try to minimise their use of sulphur dioxide (a small amount is routinely produced when grape juice is fermented into wine anyway), and also tend to see forms of stabilisation such as filtration as equally evil. But sulphur dioxide is effectively a preservative, and low- or no-sulphur wines easily brown or lose their fruit if exposed to warmth, and the lack of stabilisation can result in cloudy wines.

Although the most famous practitioners of the current era of natural winemaking were senior vignerons in Beaujolais in the 1960s, and then the Loire Valley, today’s ‘naturalistas’ tend to be relatively young.

One day in Madrid I met a young sommelier who had been introduced to natural wines in the Loire and had enjoyed them there, but was now horrified by the dogmatism evident at natural wine bars in Spain, where, she felt, the quality of the wines served was so much lower.

As a result of this sort of phenomenon, the reputation of natural wines is so bad in some quarters that even some of those producing them – the respected Philippe Pacalet of Burgundy and Envinate of Spain for instance – deliberately avoid the term. One of British Columbia’s most successful wine producers, Okanagan Crush Pad, grows exclusively organic grapes and is careful to preserve every nuance of what nature provides in their Free Form wines but, as the company’s Christine Coletta explained recently in London, they deliberately avoid the term ‘natural’ and use ‘minimal intervention’ instead.

But this doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. I asked the queen of natural wine, New York wine writer Alice Feiring of The Feiring Line, what she felt about the nomenclature of these increasingly prevalent wines. She admitted, ‘it’s a term in flux for sure. However, there’s no other term for it, and when pushed those people [who repudiate the term] will admit that they [their wines] are indeed natural. So at some point it’s going to be just wine, like it used to be before technology shaped it all. It’s a very tricky question and a trickier answer. For one, I don’t mind it one bit.’

Climate change has sneaked up on us in my lifetime and dramatically expanded the extent of the world wine map towards the poles. Who would have thought grapes could be ripened in Scandinavia, Poland, southern Chile?

Wearing my wine consumer hat, I feel quite strongly that wines that most obviously belong to what Feiring calls ‘the natural wine “club”’, those that are very different from the conventional norm, should be clearly signalled on wine lists and shelves. I have ordered less successful natural wines from even quite celebrated wine lists and had to leave everything but the first sip. I approve of those restaurant wine lists that recognise the popularity of natural wines with a segment of their customers by offering some, but corral them clearly in a separate section, perhaps headed Natural, New Wave or Off Piste Wines.

The winemakers I admire are those who have established a reputation for their conventional wines but who, unblinkered by prejudice against natural wines, try out some of the strategies adopted by the naturalistas. Despite the current polarisation, I suspect that eventually everyone will meet somewhere in the middle.

D+: You probably have a wine cellar. How many bottles does your collection have? What is the oldest/most expensive wine you have? What wines do you mainly collect?

J.R.: About 2,000 bottles all in our temperature controlled cellar in our new flat – carved out of a too-large laundry room.  Not sure about the most expensive. Coche Corton Charlemagne, a bottle of DRC kindly given to celebrate my OBE, the odd bottle of Petrus. As my mentor Edmund Penning-Rowsell, my predecessor at the Financial Times, said, ‘you must never think about the price when you are pulling a cork.’

I mainly buy German wine and French classics with a track record of ageing.

D+: October 2019 saw the launch of the eighth and latest edition of The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson MW. First published in 1971, the original tome was hailed as an instant classic and essential reference work for wine professionals and wine lovers; and been translated into 14 languages. Between the first release and the brand new 8th edition, what are the most unexpected changes for you on the winemaking world scene?

J.R.: Climate change has sneaked up on us in my lifetime and dramatically expanded the extent of the world wine map towards the poles. Who would have thought grapes could be ripened in Scandinavia, Poland, southern Chile?

D+: You have been collaborating with Hugh Johnson for many years. How you share the writing roles – by wine types? Or by origin – do you have favorite? How do you cooperate? How often you argue? About what issues?

J.R.: Since the fifth edition that came out in 2001 I do the updating and Hugh reads through what I write, and writes the Foreword. But Hugh sits in on all the early planning meetings to decide what to drop and what to add. We each have our favourite wine regions!

D+: If we compare the critical assessment of wine by one person (a wine critic\writer) and team\commission (wine competition judges, tasting juries), which of them is more objective? And in principle, what do you think about the role of international wine contests, contests within the framework of exhibitions, etc. Which do you consider exemplary?

J.R.: I’m sure all tasters in whatever context are objective but I’m no big fan of panels of tasters because the results tend to be smoothed out. There will always be someone who doesn’t like the most unusual or distinctive wine. Whereas with a single taster the consumer can get to know their preferences.

D+: In that regard, how do you assess rating/evaluation resources such as Vivino, etc.?

J.R.: It seems very popular but I’ve never used it. My Vivino is JancisRobinson.com where all 200,000 of my tasting notes are! I was a bit cross when they tried to scrape our tasting notes database.

D+: What do you think about the future of the investment as a component of the wine industry? For example, such index as Liv-ex?

J.R.: I’m afraid I am a very naïve wine lover. I believe wine is for drinking, not for investing in. Sorry!  But I do find data such as Liv-ex’s useful background for my writing.

D+: How do you think the pandemic will affect a global winemaking?

J.R.: I think – hope – your article will come out when we are already in the post-pandemic era!



If you are away from the wine topic, then you take an interest in…

– Food, family, friends and books.

You are an exceptional workaholic! What is you working day usual schedule: what time you usually wake up? What are your priority tasks? In what time does the day end?

– I do work very hard during the day, from about 7 to 7 sometimes, the first few hours always devoted to JancisRobinson.com. We are mad enough to publish two articles every day and I always read and edit them. But I never work in the evening – unless tasting wine in the early evening.

How much wine do you taste on average per day?

– One year I reckoned I tasted about 10,000 wines but that was an unusually high total.

Favorite book, film about wine?

– I enjoyed Thirsty Dragon by Susan Mustacich about the Chinese love affair with wine.

If possible, recall the most interesting paradox/funny story that you have observed in the wine world?

– There is so little correlation between price and quality in the wine world.


Jancis Robinson, a person with the special merits in the wine world, a wine critic, journalist, writer, consultant of Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland answered all D+ questions!

Christian Wolf: «MUNDUS VINI feels like a family»


Christian Wolf, Director Degustation at MUNDUS VINI GmbH, told the D+ Editor-in-chief about his career, organizational features of contest-tastings, innovations and plans.

Drinks+: Christian, you have been working in the international wine business for more than 10 years and most of your professional career as a Director Degustation at MUNDUS VINI GmbH. Tell us a few words about yourself. What attracts you in the wine business? Why did you decide to connect your life with the wine?

Christian Wolf: I grew up in the second largest wine growing region in Germany, the Pfalz (Palatina). My grandfather owned 1 ha of vineyards, planted with Riesling, Silvaner, Scheurebe, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Dornfelder as well as some Portugieser. He was a member of a small wine cooperative. During my school time I was working a lot in the vineyard to help my grandparents. On the weekends, I helped them as well working in the wine shop of the cooperative. My grandfather also produced his “house wine”, about 200 liters per year, not very tasty, but it was his own! This was when I began to fall in love with wine. In a professional sense I really started to plan my career in the wine business after finishing school and doing my social service at the wine school Neustadt, which is also a research center for viniculture. The head of it is Prof. Ph.D. Ulrich Fischer, who is today my colleague in the board of MUNDUS VINI. After finishing my study at Geisenheim University, I worked seven years in the wine trade, before I joined the team of MUNDUS VINI and Meininger Verlag.

After finishing my study at Geisenheim University, I worked seven years in the wine trade, before I joined the team of MUNDUS VINI and Meininger Verlag.

What wine makes so special and different from anything else I know, is three things: the people, the influence of the nature, the endless diversity.

I love the people in the wine business, those are different to the people from any other business I know. Of course, everybody needs to earn money with his business, but I love the passion and the collegiality you feel every day in the wine business.


D+: How did you become a part of Meininger Verlag team?

C.W.: This was quite funny. I worked for a major wine importer as the head product manager for the portfolio, which was mainly France with some famous wineries from Champagne, Burgundy, Alsace and some more. A member of the management of Meininger Verlag and one of my former lecturers at Geisenheim university phoned me in the office, asking me if I would be interested in a meeting with Christoph Meininger to talk about the position of Director Degustation at Meininger Verlag and MUNDUS VINI. Before I decided to start at Meininger, I had some really good meetings and discussions with Christoph Meininger and his sister Andrea Meininger-Apfel. As you know, this is the fifth generation of family business. We felt from the start that it will fit 100 percent. And Neustadt, where the publication house is located, is my hometown, so I was really coming back to my origins.

I love the passion and the collegiality you feel every day in the wine business.

D+: What were the first changes at MUNDUS VINI processes with your arrival at the company? Perhaps you developed a plan to improve the system of the competition, supplemented the team, attracted new participants, new wine regions?

C.W.: First of all, I have to say that my predecessors in this position really did a great job. MUNDUS VINI is a fantastic, a unique competition. All the team and the judges feel like a family. Of course, we did some major changes also at the beginning, like implementing a new marketing strategy, building new and more advantages to the participants and also focusing not only on the main wine growing regions, but taking care also about growing regions like Armenia or at the moment Czech Republic.

Mundus Vini 2019 Teil1

D+: Tell us more about your work as a Director Degustation at MUNDUS VINI GmbH. I would like to know more about the team, because organizing, conducting and summing up the results of the competition as we see year after year is a huge job.

C.W.: To be honest, sometimes I am really happy that nobody really knows how much effort we put in this competition. Some may say this is too much looking for the details, but exactly this is what I want to push and which differs us from all the others.

Our team is not as big as someone might think, but as we are working over the whole year with this team, it makes many things very effective and detailed at one time.

The organization for the competition start two years before, the main part about half a year before we start tasting. Inviting the perfect judges for the competition, checking the wine samples, building the flights and the right teams for the specific wines and origins is a part we are investing a lot of time. The communication after the competition is getting more and more important, as we see a lot of wine competitions out there and we improved and expanded our marketing activities and the support to the participants very much over the last five years.

The most important maybe is to have a very good team. This takes of course some time, as all the work for MUNDUS VINI has to be spread over several shoulders. We have people in the team taking care about the judges, other about the delivered wine samples, other about the development of our tasting system and marketing. More and more important is the contact to the wine regions and the winegrowers. If we do not listen to them, we will not be able to help them in the future.

First of all, I have to say that my predecessors in this position really did a great job. MUNDUS VINI is a fantastic, a unique competition. All the team and the judges feel like a family.

D+: From your point of view, what is the most difficult part in the MUNDUS VINI organization?

C.W.: Hard to say. As I mentioned before, we spend a lot of time in finding and inviting the perfect judges. Short time before MUNDUS VINI it is the most difficult to build the tasting panels and the flights for the competition. And you always have to take care to see “the whole thing”, if you get lost in too many details, it will not work.

D+: What is the dynamics of the growth in participants’ number over the past few years?

C.W.: At the first MUNDUS VINI Tasting about 20 years ago we tasted around 3,000 wines. With the start of the Spring Tasting in 2014, which is in perfect time short before ProWein, we increased to a total number of wines of 11,000 wines a year. MUNDUS VINI has established itself as one of the major international wine competitions.


D+: What new wine-growing regions, from which countries have been actively participating in the competition in recent years?

C.W.: Since two years we see increasing numbers of wine samples from China, but also from the Scandinavian countries like Denmark or Sweden. In times of climate change those areas are getting more and more suitable for wine growing. As a competition taking place on European mainland, I feel very happy that we are attracting more and more wines also from “New World” countries like Australia, Chile, New Zealand. But since five years we really see significant numbers of wines from Eastern Europe. In quantity but much more in quality. Wines from Armenia, Czech Republic and some others are coming more and more into the competition and the quality is very good. We will hear a lot more from this wines in the next years.

D+: As for the jury members. Professionals from all over the world several times a year come to take part in the international competition and do tremendous work in a blind tasting of all around the world wines’ (many of them more than for 20 times already). What can you say about judges? Did you update the list? Perhaps, the jury members have been supplemented in recent years.

C.W.: As mentioned before, MUNDUS VINI feels like a family. Over the 20 years we built up a unique team of judges from more than 50 countries at the moment. They all have different background, come from different cultures, are different age and so much more things. But when we meet in Neustadt/Germany, we are one family. Just to give you an example: we all know about the situation in Israel and Lebanon. Since so many years we have some in the jury from both countries. I do not want to say that we are the “United Nations of Wine”, that doesn’t really fit. But we are a place where politics doesn’t mean anything, just the people that we are.

At the first MUNDUS VINI Tasting about 20 years ago we tasted around 3,000 wines. With the start of the Spring Tasting in 2014, which is in perfect time short before ProWein, we increased to a total number of wines of 11,000 wines a year.

In my five years there were a lot of changes in the group. Some, as you mentioned in your questions, were part of MUNDUS VINI since the beginning and we are so thankful that they believed in our idea at a very early stage. But of course, we have to change the group year by year. For the Spring Tasting in February 2020 we accepted 270 judges, 40 of them are with us for the first time.

To say it in one sentence: over the last five years MUNDUS VINI is getting more female and younger.

You know, still most of the people in the wine business are men, but this Spring Tasting 40% of the group is female.

Mundus Vini team

D+: Last year, MUNDUS VINI expanded the geography of the competition. German winemakers presented their wines in the Scandinavian market at the MUNDUS VINI NORDIC competition. Why Northern Europe? Are there any plans for further expansion on other continents?

C.W.: The MUNDUS VINI NORDIC competition is organised in cooperation with the German Wine Institute – Wines of Germany. Most of the German wine export goes to the US, Netherlands and Great Britain. But if you sum up the export volume to Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, the Nordic countries are number 2 after US. The aim of the competition is to have more attention to German wine in the Nordic countries. Special about the competition is, that we only invited judges from those four countries. MUNDUS VINI always wants to give an international judgment on the wines, which is perfect. But with this competition, which only aims to a specific region, we wanted to give the “Nordic” taste into. And I worked very well.

For the year 2020 we decided not to do it in the “Nordic” countries, because we believe that a biennial rhythm makes more sense.

This year we are going to organise MUNDUS VINI EAST, which focuses on the Eastern European markets, supplemented by countries like Belarus, Russia and some others.

Some people in those countries know very well about German wine, but we see a lot of more potential for German wine. Those countries are growing and it is not very far to go there.

The current economic situation with the US, a decreasing Chinese market, a lot of regulations and tariffs is not very satisfying for the German wine growers. With MUNDUS VINI EAST we believe to “open the eyes” of the German wine growers for high interesting consumers and the chance to have German wine more and more well placed in those countries.

D+: What would be your advice to those who plan to taste wine blindly, how to develop the necessary skills, is it worth relying on knowledge and experience, trust only sensations, or use all this together?

C.W.: First of all, it is very important to know the different aromas. If you have never smelt and ate a banana, how can you find it in your description of a wine??? The easiest way is to find some friends, buy some bottles of wine and taste them. In a second step, buy a “neutral” wine, get some apple in one glass, some banana in the other, some cherries and so on. This is how we train sensory skill on our consumer wine fairs.

If you are interested in getting more knowledge, I know so many wine merchants all over the world offering wine tastings, wine dinner and some also wine courses. Don’t be shy, if you don’t taste, you will never know.


D+: When you are not in a process of organizing a tasting, what do you like to do most – is there a hobby?

C.W.: We are in the lucky situation to have the vineyards and the forest (Pfaelzer Wald) in front of the door. I love hiking with my family through the vineyards and especially on the Pfalz forest. There we have the so-called Waldhuette (forest cottage), which are offering wine, small snacks and typical Palatinate food. You always meet friends or you find some new.

Before I started at Meininger Verlag, I loved skiing, but as I have full program with the Spring Tasting in February and ProWein in March, it is impossible now.

I love hiking with my family through the vineyards and especially on the Pfalz forest. There we have the so-called Waldhuette (forest cottage), which are offering wine, small snacks and typical Palatinate food. You always meet friends or you find some new.

D+: What kind of wine do you drink with your family? Favorite wine region (Germany, World).

C.W.: OK, I am German, a grew up in the Pfalz region, which is famous for its great Riesling wines from some of the best single vineyards in the world. But during my work at a fine wine merchant, which focuses on France and German sweet wines, I really felt in love with German Riesling sweet wines. If you ever tasted a matured Mosel Spätlese or Kabinett, you will understand.

Some of my favorite red wines come from Burgundy, I love the fineness of Pinot Noir. But for my private consumption, the most important thing is the story of the wine. I want to know and to understand the soil, the vineyard, the vintage, the idea of the wine maker, the history, let us call it the “terroir”, which is much more than only the geography. If you want, call me an “intellectual wine drinker”.

D+ file:

MUNDUS VINI was founded by Meininger Verlag 18 years ago and has been one of the most important wine competitions in the world. A highly qualified international jury comprising oenologists, wine-makers, professional wine traders, sommeliers and expert journalists, among them Editor-in-chief of Drinks+ magazine, taste the wines, sparkling wines and fortified wines in ‘blind’ tasting rounds.

The 11,000 wines that are submitted every year are clear proof of the importance this competition has now achieved in Germany and all over the world.

 Photo Credit: Ad Lumina

Christian Wolf, Director Degustation at MUNDUS VINI GmbH, told the D+ Editor-in-chief about his career, organizational features of contest-tastings, innovations and plans.

Robert Joseph: «Marketing, communication and distribution – especially direct-to-customer – will all become even more important than ever»

Robert Joseph – one of the most experienced and successful representatives of the wine world. He is the wine critic of the London Sunday Telegraph and award-winning author of more than 28 books on wine, including French Wines, Bordeaux and its Wines and The Complete Encyclopedia of Wine. He also contributed to the progress of winemaking by founding the world’s largest International Wine Challenge competition. Robert Joseph appears regularly on television and radio. Decanter magazine named him as one of the 50 people who would influence wine drinking in the 21st century. Robert Joseph is an editorial consultant and columnist for Meininger’s Wine Business International. Joseph shared his thoughts, knowledge and forecasts with the Editor-in-chief of Drinks+ magazine.

D+: Mr. Robert Joseph, you have a unique experience in many areas of the wine world. What is important for you now and what kind of activity in the wine business is the most attractive today for you?

Robert Joseph: Creating new wines (I’m working on a project in Georgia), and discovering ones that are new to me.

Robert Joseph2

D+: It had been almost a year since you finished the work on your book ‘The Future of Wine Has Changed’. It was a difficult year for the wine world. What would you add or change now, given the situation today?

R.J.: In fact, the publication was delayed, and I am happy to have the chance to reconsider some of my assumptions. The one thing of which I am sure is the growth in digital communication (online tastings, Augmented and Virtual Reality) and distribution. I honestly believe that the supermarket ‘wall of wine’ will soon be a thing of the past.

D+: The future of wine has changed, and not only wine, many industries have fundamentally transformed their businesses. However, if we talk about the wine business, as a part of the global economy, in your opinion, changes that have occurred are positive and expected?

R.J.: We have seen relatively few changes, compared to other sectors. In most countries, most wine is still sold in supermarkets in glass 75cl bottles. There has been a general resistance to producing premium still wine through blending across regions and even the cheapest wines tend to have vintages.

But changes are happening. On the one hand, the natural wine phenomenon, whilst being initially associated with amateurish production of faulty wines, is evolving into something quite interesting and it is clear that just as Nouvelle Cuisine reduced the use of flour, cream and butter in cooking in the 1970s, natural wine will encourage lower-intervention winemaking.

There are more innovative premium blends, especially in the US where red blends (not based on French recipes) are now selling at up to $100. In Europe, categories like Vin de France are similarly and simultaneously allowing more experimentation and more production of higher volume wines with consistent quality and style. Multi-vintage wines are arriving too, even from wineries as prestigious as Opus One, but they are still treated with suspicion.

I honestly believe that the supermarket ‘wall of wine’ will soon be a thing of the past.

In packaging, while heavy bottles quite reasonably upset those who care about the environment, there is a move towards more environmentally friendly options such as (lightweight and almost infinitely recyclable) aluminium cans and kegs that allow wine to be served on draught in the on trade.

All of these changes are positive. Many traditionalists dislike the arrival of innovations such as wines aged in whisky and rum barrels or fermented using beer yeasts… As far as I’m concerned anything that sparks an interest in wine is to be welcomed. Especially at a time when global consumption has flattened (before coronavirus) and shows little signs of short-term return to growth.


D+: In the context of climate changes, we are already producing new wines, changing the wine legislation that regulates production, and new wine countries with higher wine quality than before are entering the market. In your opinion, for the most part, we are at the stage of adoption of the changes and will we adapt or at the stage of their denial – and, accordingly, will we try to fight with them?

R.J.: This will vary. Many traditional wine models face an existential crisis. Merlot is increasingly unviable in Bordeaux. It will rarely if ever be possible to make the 12% red Burgundy of the 1980s. Will Pinot Noir be sustainable there in 30 years time?

Attitudes will vary from region to region and producer to producer. New sub regions will develop. In the hills of the Cote de Beaune when I lived there, grapes often struggled to get to 10%, and the wines were rarely noteworthy. Now, Burgundy expert Jasper Morris recommends examples grown in my old village.

60% of the marketing budget should be spent on brand building, rather than discounting – in order to foster ‘price elasticity’ in the mind of the consumer.

Burgundy will be slow to abandon its current – and historic – single-variety model. Bordeaux has always been a blended wine and the region has already allowed producers to use a slightly different recipe. Franciacorta has done the same. Other regions will follow.

D+: In your speeches, you noted that buying wine there is a big gap between consumers and those who have deep technical knowledge about wine. What exactly needs to be done by the producer to fill this gap and sell, bring the wine to the consumer?

R.J.: There is a need for much more empathy in the wine industry. Professionals need to put themselves in the shoes of consumers with little wine knowledge or the desire to acquire it. These people should pause to consider how little most of them know about tea or coffee, or possibly beer or spirits.

Once they acknowledge the lack of innate wish to know more about wine, they will be able to think about how to communicate more successfully – to have conversations with their customers rather than deliver lectures.

Robert Joseph on tasting

D+: You note that the wine market is extremely diverse and saturated, and it is very easy to get lost for the brand. According to your articles, just a good quality is not enough to sell a bottle. More attention should be paid to the wine marketing. Please tell us in more detail how to act in this situation? What percentage of the marketing budget should be spent on promotion, what resources should be used, in your opinion?

R.J.: Speaking on our recent Real Business of Wine webcast, advertising and marketing expert, Tom Lewis estimated that 60% of the marketing budget should be spent on brand building, rather than discounting – in order to foster ‘price elasticity’ in the mind of the consumer. Price promotions do the opposite, making them associate the brand with low, discounted, prices.

Prices and margins are not talked about enough in wine. In other sectors, it is common to add 20 cents for marketing on top of every dollar it has cost to produce a product. This 20% marketing budget is common for sparkling wines and spirits; with wine the figure is closer to 5%.

In the 1980s there were 20,000 Bordeaux chateaux. Today there are less than 6,000 and I expect that number to halve within the decade.

A main reason for this is pricing which is too often based on what neighbours charge, or what is ‘acceptable’ for the appellation or varietal. Apart from the minority whose acknowledged quality allows them to escape this fate – or those like Bottega in Italy with its packaging and marketing skills – this is inevitably a race to the bottom.

Selling in supermarkets which demand low prices and discounts doubly exacerbates this situation. Branded – but weakly marketed – wines sit on shelves alongside the retailers’ well-packaged own labels. And often lose the battle.


D+: Recently, we see the tendency that not-so-typical wine regions of England, Denmark and Holland, Thailand begin to produce wines. Brands from Eastern Europe enter the world market, new wines appear (for example, the so-called crossover wine products). Does this mean that competition in the wine market is in the most active phase? Or the competition will be intensified?

R.J.: Competition will not slow, as new regions and styles emerge. But I expect the number of producers and distributors to reduce. There are many cheeses in the world, but far fewer dairies than wineries. As craft breweries succeed, they are bought by bigger businesses and I expect to see this continue with wine. In the 1980s there were 20,000 Bordeaux chateaux. Today there are less than 6,000 and I expect that number to halve within the decade. And a post covid-19 financial crisis would speed that process.

Small, agile producers (under 10,000 cases) with low costs and local sales and/or high value sales elsewhere will survive and may prosper.

D+: Do the new products, wine producing countries affect the tastes, preferences of wine lovers? Can you predict how tastes and demand will change in the near future? What will become especially fashionable, popular?

R.J.: If I could predict anything with any accuracy, I’d be a lot richer. But I foresee continued polarization between esoteric ‘natural’ and ‘traditional’ wines and more crowd-pleasing examples designed to satisfy public tastes rather than historic models.

D+: In connection with the climate changes and taste preferences, which of the once outsider wines can take a leading position?

R.J.: Good question. One obvious answer is blends from countries with heat-resistant varieties. This could include countries like Greece and Turkey. On the other hand, obviously, as temperatures rise, cool climate regions – like Britain and northern France – will benefit.

D+: How, in your opinion, did the development of social media influence the wine business?

R.J.: Hugely, because it has allowed smaller producers to communicate alongside bigger ones, and consumers to learn from each other.

D+: What do you think about the impact of journalists, Instagram bloggers on wine consumers’ opinions? Can coups of such magnitude be expected as Parker did for Bordeaux or Spurrier for California?

R.J.: I believe that Parker was a unique phenomenon. There was never anyone with his global influence in any sector. Spurrier’s role in helping to boost California was also a one-off. Black swans are, by their nature, unpredictable, but media and communications have changed since the 1970s and 1980s. More recent Judgment of Paris-style tastings have had less impact.

D+: Which of the world’s oenologists do you consider to be the most talented, or perhaps even genius? And what is his merit?

R.J.: There are so many – too many to choose one. It is unfashionable, I know, but I believe that Michel Roland has had a very positive impact on the wine world internationally. His contribution to great wines like Chateau Ausone, Ornellaia and Araujo and to regions like Mendoza in Argentina cannot be overstated.

D+: What style of wines is especially close to you?

R.J.: I have a very wide range of tastes, but particularly enjoy Burgundy, Gernman an Austrian whites, the Rhone and Italy. I probably drink Bordeaux less than many traditional wine professionals.


D+: Please tell us about your wineries where you are a co-owner: Greener Planet and Le Grand Noir. What wines do you produce and from which vineyards? Who are your customers? What countries are targeted? What is your role in brand development?

R.J.: Both wines are unusual in being created from scratch by a wine writer with the consumer in mind. I often like to say that the Le Grand Noir – which I love to drink at home by the way – are made for people who wouldn’t read the wine books I used to write. They are designed to be delicious, above all, but also consistent in style and quality – something many wine enthusiasts don’t actually want. They are also easy to drink – without cellaring or decanting or matching with particular – or any – food. Finally, they come in a wide range of styles – 14 – but all from the same place and vineyard landholding.


To achieve this, we took a Champagne approach, blending wine from the different altitudes, soils, aspects and microclimates of the 7,000ha of vineyards we work with in the Minervois region of Languedoc in Southern France. Most if our wines fall under the IGP / Vin de Pays designation, which allows us loots of freedom to experiment with blends and styles. I’m proud to say that they have been good enough to be served in Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy Grill in London, while being affordable and easy enough to drink to take on a picnic .

Greener Planet was a different project in which we set out, in the same region, to make attractively-priced wines that were both organic and good for the environment and community. When we launched them in 2007, I think we were a little too early, but now may be their moment. Stylistically, they are more obviously terroir-focused than le Grand Noir, and are not aged in oak, for example.


D+: How do you think the pandemic will affect the winemaking? Perhaps there are aspects that we are not aware of, but which are visible to professionals like you?

R.J.: It is too early to say how the pandemic will affect the industry, but in winemaking it may accelerate the mover to automation – for producers who can afford the investment. For the industry as a whole, everything depends on economics. One scenario suggests a repeat of the wild excesses of the 1920s after WW1 and the ‘Spanish Flu’. Another is that we will have a big economic crash. Unfortunately, I expect the latter is more likely, especially as we were already ‘late’ for a downturn on the 10-year cycle we’ve seen in recent history.

If this is the case, the likelihood is that strong brands (which will include distributor own-brands) will get stronger. Small, agile producers (under 10,000 cases) with low costs and local sales and/or high value sales elsewhere will survive and may prosper. Producers in the 10,000-150,000 case range will suffer, unless they have built unusually strong brands and distribution.

with sheep

Marketing, communication and distribution – especially direct-to-customer – will all become even more important than ever.

It’s our tradition, after serious questions, to give a short blitz of a personal plan. If you don’t mind, we would ask you to answer in just a few sentences:

If you weren’t in the wine business, you would be …

I would probably still be a journalist or lawyer or researcher. I love discovering new things and ideas and questioning the status quo.

How your working day is built: what time you usually wake up? What are your priority tasks? In what time does the day end?

I wake quite early – at around 6.30 am and often start to work at 8am. My days vary, and often I’m still working at 8pm.

Favorite wine that you can drink on week-ends and the most expensive – which you drink on special occasions?

I love Grenache blends – from our le Grand Noir GSM to Chateauneuf du Pape and Spanish Garnachas. For special occasions, it would have to be red Burgundy – possibly from Volnay or Vosne-Romanée

The most interesting wine region for you.

Probably Italy – because of the diversity of its wines.

Favorite book?

Hugh Johnson’s first book – WINE – now out of print was the one that turned me onto the subject, way back in the 1970s.

A film about wine?

I’m not sure I love any of them. The best, in my opinion, including Sideways, were not films about wine. They were good stories set in a wine environment. The recent Netflix ‘wine movie’ Uncorked is actually an enjoyable film about family. I loved the way wine was savoured in Babette’s Feast. Out of the documentaries, I might go for Sour Grapes.


Reading, walking, photography, listening to music…

Photo: fenavin.com, static.businessworld.in, 5starwines.it, unisa.edu.au, chrisvonulmenstein.com, cdn1.i-scmp.com, indianwineacademy.com, media.gettyimages.com, nationmagazine.ru, i.promecal.es, cdn4.i-scmp.com, guns2gewurztraminer.com

Robert Joseph, one of the most experienced and successful representatives of the wine world, shared his thoughts, knowledge and forecasts with the Editor-in-chief of Drinks+ magazine.