So, I’ve been pretty cagey about this but here’s the official announcement:
Ryan O’Connell is moving to California for part of 2012. The company I’m working with in California is looking for new wines and new business opportunities and they think I can help. I think I can help too.
I’m leaving tomorrow. I’ll be travelling back and forth from the US to Languedoc all year, so I’m not totally detached from the vineyard and the region I call home. And my very competent parents will continue their stewardsship of O’Vineyards in my absence.
I’ve started a new blog called kidnapa (because I’m being kidnapped to Napa) which will probably have a lot of articles comparing France and California or just talking about the west coast of the US.
Love That Languedoc will continue (largely as an aggregator site). I am also accepting guest posts so let me know if you’d like to contribute to that blog.
This blog will continue to have posts about O’Vineyards and all the random wine junk I think about that doesn’t fit on my other blogs.
Wish me luck.
At the end of October, a mysterious persona calling themselves Vinconnu appeared on facebook and twitter. They teased prominent members of the French wine blogging community with riddles and hints about their secret identity for over a month until unveiling themselves at a big party in Paris.
The big reveal came as quite a shock to me. It was France’s biggest online retailer cdiscount.com — in brief, a company that once struggled with the onus of being a big corporation with a very mercantile brand personality is trying to make themselves more human and show their dedication to putting good wine on their site.
Why is CDiscount a surprise?
I was surprised for lots of reasons. First of all, winemakers normally have to pay big bucks to get meetings with vendors of this size. Either directly through pay to play schemes that put buyers in contact with sellers or indirectly by investing in marketing and promotional materials that make you seem important enough to talk to them. Here we have the biggest online retailer in France contacting me and because a retailer invited me to Paris. Pretty interesting role reversal.
I’m surprised because CDiscount sort of has a reputation for being a big company that might care more about SKUs and logistics than they care about wine selection. But this event is sort of the opposite of that. This event really reached out to people, and it was playful. Playful is the word I’ve been looking for. At first glance, CDiscount doesn’t seem like the kind of company that would value being playful (or even know how to be playful). But that first glance is clearly wrong. I stereotyped this retailer as being just another big business that doesn’t get my generation, but they’re showing a genuine interest in communication.
Bruce Lee prepares to open champagne with swift chopping motion
CDiscount’s Vinconnu Party
The party was great. I feel like I might sound silly stressing this point over and over, but they were all really friendly. I think the ambiance of an event like this is important. Bigger companies can often give off a sort of creepy vibe when they try to buy friends in the online wine community. So it’s rare for events of this nature to actually have a friendly feel to them. Also, big companies can often stumble when it comes to communicating with people online… they can get very clunky and hamfisted. Actually, I recall some shenanigans on the Passion du Vin forums involving this very same company back in 09. It’s good to see that their communication efforts are so much more advanced now. Things felt much more authentic and we got to meet a team that really does feel proud of the wine and spirits they offer on the site. They’re not just peddling Mouton Cadet and Vieux Moulin. They have the big references, but they’re hoping to also sell bottles of wines like Embres & Castelmaure. Warms the cockles.
Quality of wine
I think they expect most of the bloggers who attended to talk about the quality of the wines. Do some tasting notes. Well…that’s not really my style, but I’ll say the wine selection was great. There were a few real knockouts, a lot of solid wines at fair prices, and a couple wines I don’t care for (but I’m sure those have a big market and are some of the best wines on the site, so what do I know?) There were some classics like Embres & Castelmaure being poured and I got to meet Bernard Magrez who had some of his Roussillon on the table too (although I think he’s a little bit prouder of his St Emilion–nobody’s perfect ).
Successful communication effort?
I think this was a very successful communication effort. Even though I’m totally on board with online sales and great prices (hello, naked wines), I’m not a fan of the corporate “bin end” image that cdiscount cultivated in its early days. An image reinforced by the company’s past indiscretions. And yet they lured me in with a playful mystery and I ended up enjoying myself a lot. They convinced me that there really is a fundamental change in the way they want to be perceived online. I know some of the bloggers who were invited were still smugly disapproving of the company by night’s end (you can’t win everybody every time), but I’m personally very curious about the future of cdiscount. I have high hopes!
I can’t wait to see how it develops. First and foremost on the new blog: La Cave se Rebiffe
Jacques Berthomeau spoke at the Université de la Vigne et du Vin in 2011 in Ferrals les Corbieres. This is a synopsis of his talk and my reaction to what he’s saying. This is one post in an ongoing series about the Universite de la Vigne et du Vin.
In his typical way, Berthomeau presents a rambling but cohesive message about the opportunities the Internet provides to winemakers and wine drinkers alike. It’s hard to take notes or outline this speaking style so just consult the video above if you want the most accurate portrayal of his talk.
If you’re short on time, here are some notes:
Starting with a joke about not being a tribun (somebody who gets on their soapbox frequently) like everybody from the Languedoc, Berthomeau sets the stage for a talk about identity. Where is Berthomeau from? And who is he? For many people in the wine business, he’s the author of a famous report on French wine that was published about 10 years ago. Often times, people talk about “le Rapport Berthomeau” which drives the man to say “My first name isn’t Rapport”. So for many people, he’s just this old report commissioned by the ministry of agriculutre. This report made him pretty unpopular because he and his colleagues made crazy claims like “women will drink wine too” and “we should adapt our communication and branding to new export markets”.
The Ministry pulled him off of all wine related projects, stuck him in a closet and put his report on a back catalog of some obsucre website on this thing called Internet. Jacques started a blog and discovered that the closet he’d been placed in actually had a pretty far reach.
He goes on in his talk to explain that his blog works because he doesn’t cater to the wine elite. He just tells fun stories peripherally related to wine, and lots of people want that. People who aren’t obsessed with wine and who have no idea what mineralité means.
Berthomeau then agrees with a point in Juarez’s talk about how some winemakers will have to be at the head of the charge to bring notoriety to the Languedoc. Previously in his presentation, he speaks about Embres & Castelmaure. Toward the end, he mentions me and my little camera (very flattering). And I would like to think I’m one of the lucky ones who carries the burden of representing this region to uninitiated (read: normal) wine drinkers.
Jacques Berthomeau, Ferrals Les Corbieres 2011
There’s a digression about how wine drinking habits are shifting. Even if French people drink less wine than they used to, there are different drinkers now that provide new opportunities. Women. People getting off of work and having a glass at a cafe to relax. These ideas weren’t that common twenty years ago. Wine has new ways of infiltrating our daily routines and it’s presumably up to the aforementioned leading voices to make sure that people think of our region when they’re looking for wine.
Berthomeau takes a moment to address the previous talks during the day. Namely, noting that the new world didn’t invent industrialized or branded wine. The French have been doing it for a while. He talks about how young drinkers or new drinkers often start with simpler wines. But he also mentions that even children are intelligent. You often see kids playing incredibly complicated games or memorizing entire pantheons of pokemon or superpowers, so complexity in and of itself isn’t intimidating to people. But wine has to capture the imagination before people are willing to learn all the complexities.
The Internet, to Berthomeau, is a cheap way to communicate with the grand publique and capture their imagination in a way that a Paris Metro billboard can never replace. His advice quoted from Michel-Édouard Leclerc, “Durez, durez, durez”. Tell your stories, create original content, be happy, be colorful, and little by little you’ll leave the closed community of wine professionals to reach real drinkers!
So don’t just listen. Speak up! If you’ve got an issue and you don’t want to start your own website, ask Berthomeau to publish your thoughts on his website, an espace libre!
It was pretty cool. The Uni is a real home-grown event where some very motivated people in the region (namely Nadine Franjus-Adenis) have organized a conference that addresses issues facing contemporary viticulture.
Nadine Franjus-Adenis hosts the Universite de la Vigne et du Vin
Being local, the conference has a lot of personality and is a bit quirky (which you know I am a fan of). The organizers interrupt speakers every time they use anglicisms. There’s a lot of occitan thrown around between presentations. The whole event is clearly taking place in the Languedoc.
And it also feels a lot less pretentious than other more International events. And the speakers are easily as good here as the ones I see at larger conferences (Wine Futures comes to mind). You don’t need to be a big wine celebrity to be thought-provoking. Which is funny because the theme was actually about being a big wine celebrity.
2011’s theme – Riche et Celebre
The theme was “Riche et Celebre?”, a playful choice because virtually all of us in the wine business know how impractical it is to think that all winemakers could become rich and famous.
Essentially, it was about the importance, for wines and wineries, of being known, of having an identity. In French, the process of being first “connu” and then “reconnu”… there was a lot of talk about the need to work together as a group and have a collective identity. Lot of debate about whether to promote under the banner of terroir, of cepage, of appellation, of brand (eg. Sud de France)… and so on.
People presented on a variety of subjects linked to the theme of notoriety. There were a number of things I disagreed with, but that’s healthy for a real exchange of ideas. I hate those conferences where everybody agrees.
Actual speaker synopsis
I started writing these up and some of them got very long so I’ll give them their own posts. Follow the link to read my thoughts on any particular speaker.
I had the pleasure of hearing Jacky Rigaux speak at the Université de la Vigne et du Vin in 2011 in Ferrals les Corbieres. This is a synopsis of his lecture and my reaction to what he’s saying. This is one post in an ongoing series about the Universite de la Vigne et du Vin.
Jacky Rigaux, Université de Bourgogne – Terroir is the best way to promote French wines.
A rather professorly lecture that reminded me of my political science days at Tulane University. The main message was that France can only maintain/increase wine sales by focusing on terroir. Rigaux drew a clear line between “vin de technologie” and “vin de lieu”. Other dichotomies included “mineralité” vs “sucrosité”. And finally “culture” vs. “business”. And the speech concludes with the notion that wine should be marketed to illuminated niche markets. He has this beautiful notion of a multitude of niches creating islands of resistance against homogenized, industrial wine.
I felt the presentation was engaging and full of good quotes and anecdotes (“Cepage is a first name, but terroir is the family name”), but it was slightly reductionist. I tend to overcomplicate things and I shy away from people who try to explain things too simply. In Jacky’s view, industrial wine and the notion of blind tasting were sort of invented in the 1970’s, mostly by the new world. As Berthomeau would point out later in the day, the French have mass produced wine, sold it by brand, and deviated from terroir since long before the 70’s. And actually, Rigaux himself concedes that Bordeaux’s chateau denomination has been promoting personal brand over geographical origin for quite some time. (He’s from Burgundy so he can’t help but slam Bordeaux at least once in his speech. :D)
Another thing that bothered me a bit was that the pairings of culture and business are not mutually exclusive. You can create a wine that preserves and champions culture all while doing great business. I know that Rigaux is smart enough to realize that. But he really seems to believe that we should favor terroir to the detriment of everything else, and I’m not sure that’s our only option. I think terroir/lieu/place is unavoidable and can stand above everything else. It’s not terroir vs. technique. It should be technique services terroir. Similarly business can serve terroir and wine style (minerality/sucrosity) can serve terroir. It’s never an either/or issue. It’s usually an issue of the relationship between all these parts. And ultimately, I’d even say that good wine is an end in and of itself. And it’s impossible to create a single monolithic standard for what makes wine good. It’s about context and enjoyment, points which would come up later in the day!
blind tasting is part of the scientific method’s effect on winemaking
cepage est un prenom, le nom de famille c’est le terroir
does Bordeaux’s classification system count as terroir or branding?
The largest Aussie producer has more hectares of vines than ALL of Burgundy
is it silly to fuss over terroir when most French drink wine out of ridiculous, unsuitable glasses that hide all the wine’s traits?
It’s got me thinking about doing my own video in this music video or movie teaser style. I looked back on 2011 to see what other music videos and wine themed teasers were catching my attention. Here are the top three:
So the question now is … should I make a music video for O’Vineyards or Love That Languedoc? I really like the idea. I’d be proud to have a cool video like the ones above. But I’m not sure it’s the best way for me to spend my time this winter. Other projects take precedence for now. But still… I’d like to do it. I also wish I had one of these camcorders. /drool
2011 has been a very peculiar year. Throughout the year, virtually all of France’s wine regions were reporting very advanced vine growth and early harvests (Bordeaux, Loire, Languedoc among others), and some of those predictions came true while other areas are now reporting perfectly normal harvest dates.
Some people are harvesting early
Some readers never scroll down to read the whole post, so I’ll start off by saying some regions are harvesting early this year. And some microclimates within the Languedoc Roussillon are significantly early as well.
As Carol Emmas mentioned in Harpers, many regions overestimated the advancement of their vines. Especially the Languedoc Roussillon seems to have normalized its harvest dates. Emmas quotes Pascal Fulla and me and we seem to agree about harvest dates being pretty normal this year. Emmas also talks to Gavin Quinney at Bauduc who says harvest will only be 10-12 days early (a significant drop from the 3 week advance earlier in the year).
It might be interesting to look at the specific areas where these winemakers are. Pascal Fulla and I are both in relatively special areas of the Languedoc. Tiny appellations that are known for slower ripening than the lower plains of the region. So maybe that’s why our harvest dates don’t seem so exceptional while other people in the region are still looking at very early harvests.
I’d also point out that some of my varietals are very far ahead and others aren’t at all. So the global harvest date doesn’t necessarily change even though some later varietals are coming in early.
Blogs are awesome
I guess this post got really nerdy. But if there is a general interest point to take away, it’s that blogs are cool. We can check in with winemakers and get real updates about weather in vineyards around the world. We have access to so much information and we get true insight into the vineyard’s growth cycle. Sometimes that information can be misleading, but if you’re interested, then you can learn at the same pace as the winemakers.
Grape harvest in the south of France
The grapes are changing color and that reminds us that harvest time is right around the corner. We get exceptionally busy around harvest, but we leave the door open and let tourists come to the vineyard and see exactly how harvest goes down. Some people actually roll up their sleeves and work for a bit too! It’s the perfect way to get immersed in the wine from the region while you visit Carcassonne.
Who is this workshop designed for?
This is great for anybody who is curious about how wine is made. You don’t need to know a lot about wine. It’s interesting to every level of wine drinker. We’ve actually had visitors who don’t even drink wine but still love the tour because they get to see a really fascinating process that defines the life of our entire region for an entire month. Wine is really the backbone of the Languedoc Roussillon and visiting a vineyard is a quintessential experience!
All that said, if you do already know a fair bit about wine, this is a great way to take it to the next level. You’ll see soooo much in a short period of time. It will certainly be time well-spent.
When is harvest 2011?
Harvest should start around the second week of September.
But this is the toughest part of planning the harvest workshops. Folk lore says that harvest starts 45 days after the grapes change color. And they’re changing color right now. According to that, you can expect harvest to start around the second week of September. But that’s not set in stone. On the bright side, if you come right before harvest, there is still a lot of interesting stuff going on. We’ll be tasting the grapes to see whether they’re ready to be harvested. We’ll be setting up the winery for harvest. And we’ll be doing some last minute work to prepare the parcels that are going to be machine-harvested. You might also get to peek in at our extremely limited white wine production (just a couple of barrels).
Harvest should end around the second week of October.
But even toward the end, there are lots of interesting things going on. Vinification for example! How do we turn that grape juice into wine? In many ways, the end of harvest is the most interesting time to visit because you’ll see freshly picked grapes (generally the Cabernet Sauvignon comes in last) side by side with the first grapes we picked (and they’re generally finishing their fermentation by the end of harvest). The downside is that we’ll be exhausted so you’ll meet a much less energetic version of the O’Connell family. But we love to receive people and share the harvest so don’t be shy!
What do you see and do at harvest?
You’ll see everything. There are no closed doors. You’ll see how we pick the grapes and bring them into the winery. You can see the sorting table in action. You’ll see how we bring the grapes up to the tanks without any pumps. You can see us mix yeasts or sulfites that will be added to the fermentation tank. All this is open book. Last year, a group from Barcelona took some brilliant harvest photos that really showcase how much access they had to every step of the process.
A lot of tourists choose to participate actively in some of the easier jobs. Spend fifteen minutes at the sorting table to contribute to the quality of O’Vineyards 2011! Help pick a row of grapevines. Or do more technical stuff like learn how to take sugar density measurements on the incoming juice and calculate the potential alcohol level. Whatever tickles your fancy (within reason… we have to be careful about insurance issues).
How to book a harvest tour
You should email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what day or days you can come by. We’ll tell you what’s likely to be the best day to visit. Also tell us if you want the tour (25 Euros / person) or the more involved harvest workshop (95 Euros / person, lunch included and more time with the winemakers).
Basically, La Conf is unhappy with the way the CIVL spends its money. They characterize the expenditures as opaque, wasteful and overly representative of large-scale wine producers. They refuse to pay any more and demand that past dues be reimbursed.
The immediate question is why they don’t just abandon the CIVL. But it’s not that simple. While they can opt out of the the CIVL cotisations by making table wine or vin de pays (or even IGP wine I think), AOCs are a different story. For example, as a producer of AOC Cabardes, I have to pay a few Euro per hectoliter to the Cabardes ODG (the office that runs our AOC).
And the Cabardes pays over 1 Euro per hectoliter of that to the CIVL who represents the interests of all the appellations (more on this below). In other words, if an individual in the Cabardes region wants to make AOC wine, that individual will be contributing money to the CIVL.
It’s true that I could just stop calling my wine AOC if I vehemently disagreed with the CIVL. But I am sensitive to the fact that some winemakers have older properties and have been producing an appellation wine for generations. It’s almost their cultural right to keep making the same wine under the same name. Whereas organizational bodies like the CIVL are relatively young (the CIVL was created by a regional decree in 1994; other bodies like Sud de France Export are even younger).
La Conf is angry because they feel that they cannot make Appellation wine without paying the CIVL and that this money is used to promote high-volume wineries more often than it uses the money to promote small, indie winemakers. And they can’t stop funding this group without taking Cabardes off their label or drastically rewriting their AOC charters and having them re-approved by the INAO.
My thoughts on La Conf’s objections
For the sake of my readers, I’ve summarized my views in a list. For those without the time or English skills:
It’s not a HUGE deal.
The CIVL does a pretty good job representing small producers
This issue should be debated in-house at the AOC, not publicly with the CIVL
You can read the details below.
Is this a big deal? Not really.
The first thing I should point out is that this seems like an issue being blown out of proportion. La Confédération paysanne de l’Aude or La Conf is a group of small scale producers who feel ignored. By definition, this is a small scale problem. I get pretty plaintive sometimes too and I rattle on about how I’m a due-paying member. But the dues are paid per hectoliter. So a small producer like me is paying something in the order of 80 Euros to the CIVL each year. Not a huge deal. Unless you’re a larger scale producer. But then… you wouldn’t feel unrepresented.
Does the CIVL ignore low-volume wineries? Not really.
This is a legitimate question, but I’m actually going to side with the CIVL. While it’s true that a lot of their promotional efforts have a more visible direct impact on large-volume wineries, it’s not the CIVL’s modus operandi. They’re not Captain Planet villains intentionally trying to steal money from small winemakers.
Sometimes, it definitely feels like they care more about the big boys, but that makes sense. The CIVL isn’t allowed to play favorites. They’re supposed to promote the entire region at once. Or an entire appellation at once. If you come up with a great idea for just your vineyard, they’re not supposed to help you with that (that’s my understanding). But they can do an event that promotes a whole region like putting Languedoc wine billboards in the Paris subway (totally made up example).
The most visible projects are often the ones that target the general public (like my subway billboard example). Creating regional awareness with the general public increases shelf value at supermarkets. But that billboard probably won’t inspire as many devoted wine lovers to buy a 20+ Euro bottle of wine from the region. So, to this extent, some of the CIVL’s most visible efforts help big boys more than small wineries.
But other times, I feel that the CIVL is trying to showcase the fact that our AOCs have small elite producers. It’s just hard for them to do that because they’re not allowed to play favorites.
I do feel them actively trying to find better ways to spend their money. For example, this year, they’ve changed the way they alot money to appellations. In the past, the amount of subsidies and help you could get from the CIVL was proportional to how much AOC wine you produced (and thus proportional to how much you paid them). Now, they’ve removed this restriction and simply award subsidies and loans to the best projects presented to them. This is hugely beneficial to small appellations like the Cabardes and it’s actually a major set back for larger appellations like the Corbieres. Now, money goes to the most deserving project instead of falling to the biggest wine producing area.
And we have been successfully working with the CIVL to fund just such a project. I don’t want to divulge too many details until it’s all official, but it should be really fun. We presented a solid, uncanny idea to promote a small AOC and they were all about it.
And even though I named the Corbieres above as an example of a big appellation, you shouldn’t worry about them. Because they presented a creative project too. The Corbieres is pushing for an extensive web presence, with a facebook page, twitter account, and all that jazz. They crowd sourced a new logo for the Corbieres and all kinds of cool stuff and the CIVL is helping to fund that initiative.
And full disclosure, the CIVL is sponsoring VinoCamp this weekend under the title “Les AOCs du Languedoc” and “Corbieres” in particular. This is a drop in the bucket (a few hundred euros) but it shows that they’re open to spending money on reaching specialized small audiences of wine lovers. This sort of event will not increase supermarket value for the big producers. This is the sort of sponsorship that will help inspire the purchase of premium bottles from small producers because it’s a small targeted audience.
Should we blame the CIVL? Not really.
Even if you disagree with the CIVL’s spending policies, should you really be blaming them publicly? Who forces us to pay part of our AOC money to the CIVL? Technically the winemakers of each appellation force themselves. We get to make our own charters and enforce our own rules. Each AOC gets to self-regulate to a great extent. The INAO is a national body that approves and oversees the enforcement of those rules, but the laws themselves are generated by the winemakers who are also the subject of those laws. So if we (the members of Cabardes ODG) really wanted to, we could agree to stop paying the CIVL. There would probably be a big backlash from the CIVL, other appellations, regional government and even the INAO. But I’m pretty sure it’s feasible. I think Fitou did this? Feel free to correct me if you know better!
While I understand La Conf’s complaints and I get similarly whiney about some CIVL initiatives (see Grands Crus du Languedoc), I think the proper channel for that debate is within the ODG. If an AOC-producing winemaker really feels that their AOC’s money should not be shared with the CIVL, they should take that up with the AOC (where they are a voting member) and not the CIVL which really can’t be expected to give back the money they have already spent.
I’ve got an analogy. As always, my analogies are overstretched and potentially offensive to everybody involved. So here it goes! Imagine you live in a democratic country and pay taxes there. And you realize one day that your country spends lots of money on healthcare. You’re a scientologist or something so you hate some of the medical practices that the government is paying for with your money. The way I understand it, you should go to the government and demand change. What you should not do is go to the hospitals and start yelling at the nurses and demanding lots of money from them.
If you’re concerned about changing things, you go to your self-regulating ODG and fight for change.
By fighting this battle with the CIVL instead of within the ODG, you drag everybody’s name through the mud. The winemakers look petty. The organization looks corrupt. The region looks doomed. I feel like this isn’t the best way to handle grievances with the way promotional money gets spent in the region. And Lord knows I have grievances.
This is a slightly ironic view to hold… since I’m blabbing about it on the Internet instead of in a private email to Robert Curbières and his colleagues. But this is just a blog and La Conf seems to be intent on taking the CIVL to court. Also, I try to acknowledge that both parties are putting forth some effort. Their intentions are good in both cases. And both efforts are fundamentally flawed in some ways. But at least there’s effort.
On the 28th of March, Parisians can taste the products of some of France’s most notorious winemaking bloggers. Antonin from Vindicateur and Eva from Oenos are organizing this epic wine tasting at l’Hedonist which will include seven properties.
All the details about the seven winemakers (only six on the invitation, but they promise seven in all!) can be found at Oenos by clicking the invitation above.
Most of these are in French (because we’re in France). Also THREE of these are names you might recognize from my growing list of Languedoc Roussillon winemaker blogs. Iris, Clos Romain and I are all proud Languedociens. Two Beaujolais. A Perigord. And I have no idea where Olivier B makes his wine.
Anyway, a lot of people read our blogs and think “I’d like to taste that wine one day”… well if you’re in Paris, that day is March 28th. Go out to l’Hedoniste. Meet Antonin and Eva. Drink our wine. Be merry.
How to find us
Domaine O’Vineyards is just a few kilometres north of Carcassonne. GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910
Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou until the D118 (the last straight road) and the Dyneff gas station on the roundabout.
Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which goes up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire.
At the last juction, bear left at the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.