The Limits of Tasting Notes

At Vinisud, I had the pleasure of introducing an alternative wine tasting for the Outsiders.

The Alternative Tasting

Basically, we just did a fun wine tasting where we encouraged people to describe our wines with images that Louise Hurren had picked out for our tasting booklet.  Forcing people to think about a wine with images instead of words gets them to think outside the box instead of falling back on the oft repeated tasting note vocab like rich, balanced, and a laundry list of fruit.

Furthermore, it empowers novice drinkers to review wines without worrying that they’re using the wrong word.  The experts can make us feel inadequate about language sometimes, but they pretty much have no dominion in the land of photo reviews.

Why was this tasting on the Pavillion 2.0 space?

This tasting was held at the Internet space of Vinisud and there’s a good reason for that!  The reason for the prominence of the tasting note is largely grounded in the limitations of print media.  Limited space means we talk in pure descriptors without any conjugation.  But the Internet doesn’t pose the same challenge.  We can have infinite words and infinite photos in full color.  And heck we can even use moving pictures, music, and other media that were previously impossible to include in printed wine journalism.  The Internet provides us with a path to escape the tyranny of the tasting note!

So I did a little presentation on this topic to get everybody thinking outside the box before we got to drinking outside the box:

All the slides are available on slideshare with relevant links to related articles in the penultimate slide.


I’d say everybody had a blast.  Including a lot of wine journalists (showing once again that even they can be fed up with tasting note format).  I originally wanted to do a tasting with music and video and all sorts of crazy stuff.  Thankfully, our group’s organizer Louise had the good sense to rein it in and focus on photos.

We had less than an hour to run the event so it was good to keep it simple and focused.  We got insanely good feedback about the event and it has already spawned several requests for similarly styled “alternative tastings”.  We also got several good ideas from our tasters who offered up ways to evolve the program and make it even more interesting.  Doing physical touchy feely tastings, doing musical tastings, tasting in darkness, drawings instead of photos, and so on.

In terms of tasting notes, I think we all received a wide range of notes.  I got everything from Lego man to Dutch masters.  I got several of the He/She picture that makes me wonder if I shouldn’t change my look.  Some of the outsiders noted that certain age groups tended to pick certain pictures (the more daring ones) more frequently than other demographics.  I’m sure we’ll compile more on this at our next meeting.

Everybody had fun tasting and I think this sort of event gets people to think and talk about wine in a new and stimulating way without feeling overly stuffy or pretentious.  A success!

I’m astonished at how much has changed in the past two years.  One particularly conspicuous example is twitter use in and around Vinisud, a big wine fair that happens every two years.

Twitter at Vinisud

Two years ago, there were a handful of people tweeting at Vinisud.  I actually got multiple journalists to visit the O’Vineyards stand just because we answered their tweets and invited them to come by.  That’s a pretty big score for less than 140 characters. 🙂

This year, in the days leading up to the event, there is a massive flow of tweets about Vinisud, including the tweets of winemakers, interprofessions, syndicates, and the official @vinisud twitter account.  Six people have tweeted about the wine fair in the time it has taken me to write the first three paragraphs of the post you’re reading.  That’s a big change in just two years!

More Twitter Users at Vinisud

In fact, this shouldn’t be surprising at all.  In January 2010, there were an estimated 127.4K twitter users in France based on a study conducted by Sysomos.  By October of 2010, that number had almost doubled.  And in January 2012, we’re seeing about 5.2 million twitter accounts in France.

  • January 2010 – 127,400
  • October 2010 – 225,000
  • January 2012 – 5,200,000

That’s incredible growth.  It also explains why there’s so much more chatter this year.  There are  40 times as many people to do the chattering.  Plus when you think about it, the first 127,000 to adopt are generally in the tech & communications field.  There are 700,000 informaticiens in France.  So the odds are the winemakers don’t really join the conversation until those guys all do it. ;D

How useful is twitter at Vinisud?

And we come to the question, what use is tweeting for winemakers or anybody else at Vinisud?  It’s not Fukushima.  It’s not Arabian Spring.  It’s a wine fair.  Who cares what you’re drinking right now?

Well, two years ago, it was exceptionally useful.  As I mentioned above, we got tasted by the Wine Enthusiast and several blogs solely because of a tweet.  We were on the Cité de Carcassonne’s communal stand and all the other producers were shocked at how busy we were.  We were also rather shocked!  In 2008, before social media (and before we had developed much of a reputation at all), we had virtually nobody come by the stand.

So Twitter was useful for drawing attention back then.  It was pretty easy.  Look who is talking about vinisud.  Tweet them an invitation to taste your wines.  The end.

But now that there are more of us, it’s harder to stand out from the crowd.  Is this the point of diminishing returns?

The point of increasing returns?

Interestingly, more users also means more listeners!   Sure it takes more time to stand out of the crowd.  But the crowd is bigger so you get more return for your work too.

So all we have to do is figure out how to stand out from the crowd.  So let’s take a look at the crowd.

Promotion of a group – A lot of the tweets are coming from organized groups like AOC syndicates, winemaker collectives, and PR agencies.

This strategy commonly involves tweeting out the stand of the collective group or the stands of individuals who belong to the group.

For example, the AOC Saint Chinian account seems to have been created very recently and specifically for the purpose of tweeting about their presence at Vinisud and similar events.  There are only a few tweets and they’re generally self-promotional invitations.  They only have a handful of followers, so logically they are not tweeting to those few who already follow them.

They are probably hoping to get the attention of folks who don’t already follow them on Twitter.  And to the extent that they’re mentioned here, I guess that works.

This strategy is relatively common.  You can find it again in the AOC Limoux, Groupe UVAL, and others.  Limoux is notable for being more about social interaction most of the time (but they do this “list every winemaker routine” at conferences like Vinisud and Millesime Bio).

While I think a minority of people use this strategy, it tends to be highly visible because it fills the entire vinisud stream with short bursts of messages from the same people.  As seen in the screenshot to the left.

Some groups like the Outsiders (which I belong to) separate these messages by several hours so that they don’t look quite as spammy.

Conversational Use – I think a lot of people are having simple conversations on Twitter.  Like a form of broadcast text messages.  It can be pretty hard to follow the stream of conversation, especially when multiple people get involved.  But it does allow lots of people to get involved in the same discussion, and that is nice.  Much of the conversation at this point is just “@soandso Are you coming to vinisud?”  But there are more intricate dialogues too.

During the event, I anticipate this form of use will increase as Twitter just becomes an effective way to communicate with large groups (largely thanks to Twitter’s tiny data burden).  This is often the kind of use you hear about in the news whether it’s in the context of vapid “I’m eating a muffin” posts or natural disaster and political upheaval articles.  People use the tool for first hand communication/conversation.

Curatorial Use – Curators use Twitter to present things that they find elsewhere on the Internet.  Obviously I am a big fan of this school (as should be apparent since we’re getting to the end of a lengthy listing of different uses of Twitter at wine conferences).  For an idea of what this looks like, you can look at Andy Abramson, a blogger who is visiting the region in the time leading up to the conference.

I should note that there is a fine line (or no line?) between curatorial use and the group use mentioned above.  In fact, groups are trying to curate their group members.  But it just feels different.  I can’t really put my finger on it.  Maybe some other day.

If you want to stand out from this crowd, you’re going to need to do something eye-catching and different.  Be the best curator, the most entertaining conversationalist, the coolest group, or invent a new use!

constant tweets about vinisud 7 days before the event


This is part of my guide to ViniSud 2012

For lists of winemakers at Vinisud that I know very well, try 7 wines that tell a story or 8 Outsiders at Vinisud.

There has been a big response to the Vinisud guide so far but I can imagine that people would like a list that isn’t curated by me.  After all, I tend to pick my buddies and so you’ll see the same names crop up over time.

Well this list is actually just an email I got from a PR person who specializes in wine.  One day, they’re going to figure out that they can publish this stuff on their own blogs, and I’ll be out of an audience.  But since there’s been good feedback for all the vinisud guides, here’s a list curated by somebody other than me (although I couldn’t resist adding my own annotation in blue text):


Mes clients et moi serions heureux de vous recevoir sur leur stand à votre convenance :

Hall 7
Domaine de L’Hortus – stand 7 A 28 – Coteaux du Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup
great property in Pic Saint Loup. One of the big references

Domaine de Haut-Gléon – stand 7 A 69  – Corbières
Sortie du 1er millésime bio et présentation d’une nouvelle gamme aux noms évocateurs, notamment L’Elementerre en rouge et l’Essenciel en rosé.

Hall 10 
Terres de Mer – stand 10 A 33 – Les Maîtres Vignerons de la presqu’île de Saint Tropez et Le Moulin de la Roque à Bandol “Les Maitres Vignerons de la presqu’ile de Saint Tropez” is an awesome name for an indie band

Chez Les Maîtres Vignerons de la presqu’île de Saint-Tropez :  Grain de Glace 2011 & rosé de l’hiver.

Domaine Saint André de Figuière – VIGNOBLES & SIGNATURES – stand 10 B 20 – Côtes de Provence

Hall 11 
Château Les Amoureuses – ASSOCIATION 2 000 VINS D’ARDÈCHE – stand 11 A 24

Vignerons Ardéchois – UVICA – ASSOCIATION 2 000 VINS D’ARDÈCHE – stand 11 A 76

Ortas Cave de Rasteau – stand 11 B 16

Nouvelle gamme Ortas de Crus du Sud pour le circuit traditionnel : Châteauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, Tavel, Vacqueyras, et un IGP “Petit As”. I’ve never heard of IGP “Petit As”, but it instantly became my favorite denomination name after “La Clape” (for mostly the same reasons).

Domaine Alain Jaume & Fils – VIGNOBLES & SIGNATURES – stand 11 B 17
Châteauneuf du Pape, Lirac, Vacqueyras (nouveau membre du Club en 2012)

Domaine Brusset – stand 11 C 16
Cairanne, Gigondas…

Cave de Tain l’Hermitage – stand 11 C 76
Un engagement fort pour un développement durable (rapport disponible auprès de Murielle Chardin-Frouin)
Développement de l’oenotourisme, avec notamment le parcours “Sur les pas de Gambert” this walking trail has signposts with qr codes and stuff. cool idea.

Les Vignerons de Rasteau et de Tain l’Hermitage VRT – stand 11 C 76
Lancement en GMS d’une gamme Ortas dans les 3 couleurs : un Côtes du Rhône Villages, un Rasteau sec, un VDN. Des vins issus du sourcing de la Cave de Rasteau.

Mas Amiel – stand 11 D 16 Legendary vin doux producers in Maury.

Domaine Pierre Gaillard – VIGNOBLES & SIGNATURES – stand 11 D 87
Côte Rôtie, Faugères, Banuyls (nouveau membre du Club en 2012) My mom is doing an off event with them on Tuesday

Hall 12 
InterVins sud-est – stand 12 A 68
Dégustation en avant-première du TOP 50. Ces 50 vins sélectionnés parmi 14 IGP (jury du 30 janvier à Orange) sont la vitrine des vins IGP du sud-est ; ils sont issus d’une véritable mosaïque de terroirs viticoles. Des vins dans les 3 couleurs, vins de cépages et d’assemblage.

Château de la Selve – Association 2 000 vins d’Ardèche – stand 12 A 36

Château de Gaudou – stand 12 E 29 -Cahors


“Un dimanche à la campagne” : dimanche 19 février de 13 à 19 h avec le Club Vignobles & Signatures
Le Domaine de l’Hortus (Coteaux du Languedoc Pic Saint-Loup, à Valflaunès), membre du Club Vignobles & Signatures, organise “un dimanche à la campagne”. La famille Orliac, propriétaire de ce domaine, fera visiter le vignoble ; les 17 propriétés formant le Club Vignobles & Signatures feront déguster leurs meilleurs millésimes et les nouveaux vins 2011 (invitation et plan d’accès joints).

Dégustation permanente à Vinisud du TOP 50 des IGP du sud-est : hall 12 stand A 68 InterVins sud-est
Dégustation en avant-première du TOP 50. Ces 50 vins sélectionnés parmi 14 IGP (jury du 30 janvier à Orange) sont la vitrine des vins IGP du sud-est ; ils sont issus d’une véritable mosaïque de terroirs viticoles. Des vins dans les 3 couleurs, vins de cépages et d’assemblage.

This is part of my guide to ViniSud 2012

Like all the great music and art festivals, Vinisud draws a lot of talent to the area where it’s held (Montpellier).  So every day, after the fair ends, the party is just beginning for other people.

The French refer to afterhours parties and tastings as “OFF’ events.  This is a run down of all the OFF events I’ve heard about so far.  Feel free to add your own in the comments section or email me if I’m missing some.

If you find this list helpful, consider tweeting about it or sending a link to your friends by email.

Events that require a reservation or paid entry are marked as such.  Note that virtually all of these events are meant for wine buffs.  Especially the ones that are invitation only.  You should probably only attend if you’re in the trade or press, or if you can demonstrate a pretty professional enthusiasm for wine.  The dinner events are probably more open to amateur visitors.  Don’t get mad at me! You know I don’t make the rules. 🙂

Sunday OFF Events

Le Vin de Mes Amis – 14h-19h – Domaine de Verchant 34170 Castelnau le Lez
Cost 10€
Vin de Mes Amis blog
PDF of invitation vdm 2012 pdf
A huge list of very good wines.  A lot of the usual suspects from Changer l’Aude en Vin, but tons more to boot.  See page 2 of the Vin de Mes Amis PDF for details.  I heard that this might be at Trinque Fougasse O’Nord but the invitation says Domaine de Verchant. Look into it if you’re interested!

Haut les Vins! – 10h-20h – Chateau de Flaugergues (in Montpellier)
official website
list of participants
A large group of winemakers from all around France, and a couple from Portugal, Spain and even Serbia.  This gang will be doing their tasting at a Domaine that is actually located within Montpellier’s city limits.  My buddy Benoit will be pouring his zero dosage Champagne and lots of other good winemakers are in attendance.  It’s open all Sunday so if you get to Montpellier early, this is a great way to ease into ViniSud.  But don’t party too hard as you have three days of salon ahead of you!

ViniFilles – 18h30 – Jam 100 rue Ferdinand de Lesseps 34000Montpellier
invitation required
This group of Languedoc Roussillon winemaking women are having a rock show and tasting at the Jam.  There’s a buffet and ample wine.  The bands playing are Les Gazelles de Bruxelles and La Mal Coiffée.  But there is a guestlist so you have to contact them if you want to get in.

Chateauneuf du Pape, Tavel & Rasteau – 19h – Chateau de la Banquiere Vauguieres le Haut 34130 Maugio
dinner & music
invitation only
The AOCs Chateauneuf du Pape, Tavel & Rasteau are organizing a nice dinner with music and winemakers from the three appellations presenting their wines around a buffet dinner.

Monday OFF Events

G-Night, Occupy Grenache – 19h-2h – location not yet announced (underground ;D)
PDF of invitation G-Night Invite Vinisud 2012
Facebook event page
A night devoted to Grenache.  Run by the same people who organized the Grenache Symposium at La Verriere.  Should be fun.  The location is still a surprise so I expect they’ve got something fun in store to reveal it closer to the date.

Le Vin de Mes Amis – 10h-19h – Domaine de Verchant 34170 Castelnau le Lez
Cost 10€
Vin de Mes Amis blog
PDF of invitation vdm 2012 pdf
Les amis this time around are Jean Yves Bordier with butter and cheeses from Saint-Malo, Irene et Julienne Daniaux with glass art, and Antony Cointre a roving chef.  And a huge list of very good wines.  A lot of the usual suspects from Changer l’Aude en Vin, but tons more to boot.  See page 2 of the Vin de Mes Amis PDF for details.

Haut les Vins! – 10h-18h – Chateau de Flaugergues, Montpellier
official website
list of participants
If you’re not in town on Sunday, they’re doing it all over on Monday.

Contains Sulfites…Mais Pas Trop! – 18h – Le Ban des Gourmands, Place Carnot, Montpellier
Official blog
RSVP required on the official blog
This hilariously named group of reasoned winemakers are doing an event on Monday night at a restaurant. It might be a sit down dinner… the invitation just bills it as an Intergalactic journey. 😀  Reservations should be made before the 10th so hurry up!

Mas de l’Ecriture – 18h-20h30 – Chez Boris (brasserie)
invitation only, for wine trade and press
A 12 year vertical of Mas de l’Ecriture. Pretty stunning opportunity, but very limited space in the venue.

Tuesday OFF Events

Mardi Gras des Gaillardises – 11h-20h – Aeroport Hotel Maugio/Montpellier
blog post about the event
facebook page
25 winemakers will present their wines at the Aeroport Hotel which is easy to get to by using the regular airport shuttles from the Parc des Expositions.  There are some really top notch producers from all over France.  And of particular interest to my blog readers, there are a couple of Internet superstars including my mom from O’Vineyards, Iris Rutz-Rudel from Domaine Lisson, Isabelle Perraud from Cotes de la Moliere, Amy Lillard from La Gramiere, and Lilian Bauchet from Les Bachelards.   So if you’ve been reading our blogs and wondering if the wine is as good as the words, here is your chance.  Full list of vignerons available in the link above; you’ll see there are some heavy hitters.

Mas de l’Ecriture – 18h-20h30 – Chez Boris (bistrot)
invitation only, for wine trade and press
A 12 year vertical of Mas de l’Ecriture.  Note the venue changes from the similarly named Chez Boris Brasserie to Chez Boris Bistrot.  But still limited space.

So OFF that they’re ON

There are a few events that are structured like OFFs or have the spirit of an OFF, but they’re actually going to take place within the walls of ViniSud.

The Outsiders will be teaching you new ways to communicate about wines.

on Monday afternoon at 16h @ the Pavilion 2.0
on Tuesday morning at 10h @ the Pavilion 2.0

This is part of my guide to ViniSud 2012

The 2012 edition of Vinisud includes a space devoted to the web called Pavilion 2.0

I’ll be spending a lot of time there.  Additionally, I’ll be doing a presentation with some of my buddies from the Outsiders

on Monday afternoon at 16h
on Tuesday morning at 10h.

Each presentation will consist of a 10 minute talk about new opportunities in wine communication afforded by the Internet, followed by a tasting workshop where we’ll encourage people to talk about our wine with images instead of words.

Facebook event page

Invitation to the event

It should be a lot of fun.  It’s a focused, high-energy event.  Each producer is bringing just one wine to be tasted so it’s a small sampler platter of the Outsiders that will hopefully inspire you to visit the stand of your favorite producers.  And we might revolutionize the way you think about wine writing while we’re at it. 🙂

Every two years, I meet lots and lots of people at ViniSud who are there for their first time.  If you’re not a part of the trade specialized in Mediterranean wines, it can be an overwhelming experience.  Even professionals who are native to this region organize their salon far ahead of time and have meetings booked all day.  So for Languedoc newbies, it’s easy to get lost.

This year, I’ve written a couple posts that might help out the odd journalist or tradesperson who doesn’t have their whole trip planned out.

This is part of my guide to ViniSud 2012.

Vinisud is a massive wine trade fair in Montpellier.  It’s easy to get lost in the sea of mediterranean winemakers, so I’ve compiled a list of southern French wines that I think are genuinely interesting.

If you ever feel overwhelmed, just take a deep breath, pick somebody from this list and visit them.  I’m sure they’ll treat you well.  I picked people who are pretty spread out across all the halls so wherever you have your wine-induced panic attack, you’ll be near one of these producers.

If you find this list helpful, consider tweeting about it or sending a link to your friends by email.

  1. Chateau de Nages  – Michel & Tina Gassier – Hall 11
  2. Chateau de Gaure – Pierre Fabre – Hall 7
  3. Clos du Gravillas – John & Nicole Bojanowski – Hall 9
  4. Chene Bleu Rosé – Nicole Sierra Rolet – Hall 11
  5. l’Oustal Blanc Naick blanc – Claude & Isabel Fonquerle – Hall 6 (tuesday afternoon only)
  6. Domaine des Homs – Jean Marc & Anne de Crozals – Hall 10
  7. O’Vineyards – That’s me. – Hall 1

chateau de nages Chateau de Nages Vielles Vignes 2011
Tina & Michel Gassier – Costieres de Nimes
Hall 11 Aisle A Stand 99

This wine is one of the strongest arguments I’ve ever tasted for exploration of organic and biodynamic practices at my own vineyard.  That’s a pretty hefty statement, so let me explain myself.  I am  not convinced that organic wine is inherently better from a moral or ecological perspective.  I am therefore only interested in it to the extent that it can make my wine taste better.  Gassier makes my style of wine, big, dense, rich, etc. while preserving a certain level of freshness and acidity that keeps the wine from becoming overbearing.  He also has a relatively huge property.  Something like 6 times as big as O’Vineyards.  So if he can do it, I can.  And he swears that his wines have benefited from it.  So I’m intrigued.  More at the Gassier blog or Nages website.

chateau de gaureChateau de Gaure Campagne Chardonnay 2010
Pierre Fabre – Limoux
Hall 7 Aisle A Stand 74

Pierre Fabre started making wines a bit south of my vineyard at almost the exact same time.  On top of making fantastic wines, he’s a great artist and every vintage gets a different painting of his.  He’s recently released a new white wine where the label is painted by his five year old son!  It’s a great wine with some real value and the painting hilariously looks like his style at first glance.  He’s got a huge smile and loves to share his wines with strangers. more at gaure website or blog


clos du gravillasClos du Gravillas Lo Vièlh Carignan
Nicole & John Bojanowski – St Jean de Minervois
Hall 9 Aisle B Stand 46

St Jean de Minervois is famous for its muscat, but I’m sending you to the crazies up on the hill that make a pure Carignan.  They famously defended the grape to Jancis Robinson and other journalists who sometimes looked down on the variety.  You can taste a 100% Carignan done right and decide if it’s worth all the fuss.
chene bleu vinesChêne Bleu / Domaine de La Verrière Rosé
Nicole Sierra-Rolet – Southern Rhône
Hall 11 Stand C64

This year, you can taste a rosé made for red wine drinkers.  It’s direct press and serious business.  If you go to their stand and say “Go ahead, make my day,” they’ll pour you their Clint Eastwood styled rosé.  🙂

To their merit, Chêne Bleu was one of the few wineries that sent me an email so good I just wanted to publish their words:

Chêne Bleu takes the Clint Eastwood approach to winemaking – it’s not an adventure if someone’s done the same thing already – so when we set out to make a rosé, we wanted it to be different from the norm and to stand proudly alongside our critically acclaimed reds and whites. This rosé is not for knocking back by the pool. It’s one of the few direct press rosés made; and we call it our ‘anti-rosé rosé’ because we believe that even those who aren’t usually rosé fans will love its ‘chewy’ texture, long finish and ability to stand up to lovely rich Mediterranean food and spicy Eastern dishes. Through the years it’s won accolades all over the world including designation as a ‘Vin Mythique’ in La Revue du Vin de France. Come by the stand and, if you use the password ‘Go ahead, make my day’, you can see if you agree with us, and the critics, in a taste test alongside some spicy food.

oustal blancL’Oustal Blanc Naick Blanc
Isabel & Claude Fonquerle – la Liviniere
Hall 6 Aisle A Stand 13 (Tuesday afternoon only)

A brother from another mother, the high end reds at l’Oustal Blanc remind me of a more mediterranean version of my own wines.  But what’s really intriguing is their 100% Grenache Gris.  A white wine for red wine drinkers.  This is one of the whites that pushed dad and me over the edge and made us decide to harvest our white grapes and make a white wine in 2012.  Claude will only be at ViniSud Tuesday afternoon.  You can also catch this wine at an OFF event we’re doing together on Tuesday at the Aeroport Hotel.

domaine des homs at millesime bioDomaine des Homs Paul 2011
Anne & Jean Marc de Crozals – Minervois
Hall 10 Aisle A Stand 8

I met these winemakers because we both make Cabardes wines, but I think their true specialty is their organic Minervois estate.  In a blind tasting I once confused this wine with a 60 € bottle from a more notorious estate, and the Cuvée Paul is thankfully much more affordable. 🙂  It’s a minervois that manages to capture ripe fruit without getting overbearing.  And they were some of our first neighbors to have us over for a drink when we got to the region.  So cheers.



Joe draws wine from a barrelO’Vineyards Stranger, Stranger 2007
Joe, Ryan and Liz O’Connell – Cabardes
Hall 1 Aisle B Stand 21

I’d be remiss if I didn’t invite you to come visit my family’s stand.  My parents, Joe and Liz O’Connell, don’t usually get a chance to talk because I am always blabbing for them online.  But at Vinisud, you can meet the silent majority of O’Vineyards!  And they’re coming with a special treat.  Ask about the “Stranger, Stranger” and they’ll give you a taste of a 100% Merlot they only made in 2007, in commemoration of all the strangers who helped us when we first moved to the Languedoc.  This wine always cheers us up, and it was the first bottle my dad reached for when the New Orleans Saints got knocked out of the NFL playoffs this month.

This post is part of my guide to ViniSud 2012.  It is specifically about my vineyard’s activities at Vinisud. If you’re looking for a list of all the winemakers at Vinisud, consult the official list on the vinisud website.

If you’re in Montpellier on February 20-22, there are many ways to interact with O’Vineyards while we attend Vinisud.

O’Vineyards official stand

Cité de Carcassonne – Hall 1, Allée B, Stand 21

We have a space in the Cité de Carcassonne space in Hall 1, Allée B, Stand 21. When you come into the conference through the main entrance, go straight forward and Hall 1 is the first building you’ll pass through. We’re one of the first stands you’ll see and we encourage you to start or end your day with my parents who will be at the stand. If you want to taste the wines with me (Ryan) then you should email me or tweet me ahead of time so that I can make sure I’m at the stand to meet you. But my parents are really awesome and you’ll enjoy meeting them too! 🙂

Mardi Gras OFF event

Aeroport Hotel  (google maps link)
34130 Maugio, Montpellier
Tuesday Feb 21
from 11:00 to 20:00.
Hors d’oeuvres offered.
contact anytime for more info: 33(0)6 30 18 99 10

We’re also participating in an intriguing off event in a private conference room in the aeroport hotel.  This is really really close to the airport so it’s very convenient for those of you coming from far away.  And there are regular shuttles from Vinisud to the airport, so it’s easy to get to from Vinisud.  It’s a laidback group that offers a more relaxed atmosphere than Vinisud (which can be very business oriented and sort of rushed with all the appointments you have to make).  Come by for some excellent wines from all over France and a bite to eat.  The uniting principle of this group is that most of the members have worked closely with Pierre Gaillard at some point in their careers, although a few of us (like O’Vineyards) are more friends of friends.  Anyway, it goes until 8PM so you can come by after the salon and meet some great winemakers who understand the value of a soft sell.  This is a room full of unique and interesting wines that will charm you without an onslaught of export figures and volume commitments.

The Web Pavillion

Pavilion 2.0

This year, Vinisud has an area devoted to the web.  Presumably, it will have wifi access.  And there will be several presentations devoted to the Internet’s effect on the wine business and the mediterranean.  They’ve invited several bloggers and online wine communicators so it should be a fun area.  It’s also relatively anglophone so brace yourself for that.

I will be here for a large portion of the fair since they picked me to represent France this year.  I also have a couple of my short talks scheduled in this space over the length of the fair.

Outsiders: A left field tasting

Monday February 20th, 16h
and Tuesday February 21st, 10h

We’re doing this presentation twice.  The first ten minutes (when I talk) will likely be similar.  I want to introduce the notion that the Internet allows us to communicate about wine in a variety of ways that conventional print media does not permit.  And then we’ll encourage you to taste several wines made by the outsiders and try to pair them with photos, sound, video and so on instead of boring old tasting notes.

Wine communication on a tiny budget

Date to be determined

A joint presentation with Charles Perez from Mas Becha, me, and maybe some others.  Still ironing this out.  We’ll basically show examples of massively successful communication efforts realized on miniscule budgets.  A must see for bootstrappers everywhere.

This article compares research findings about wine tourism in Champagne and the Languedoc.  If you’re looking for a vineyard to visit in Champagne, I suggest Tarlant who organized my entire trip there.  If you’re looking for a vineyard to visit in the Languedoc, I suggest mine because I want to meet you. 😀

While I visited Champagne last weekend, the Reims Management School was hosting a Fête de la Recherche (and it always sounded like they were telling me to do research “Faites de la recherche!”).  One of the first research projects they presented was a study of wine tourism in the region.  Keenly aware of my interest in oenotourism, my host Melanie Tarlant signed me up to attend.

Steve Charters, MW, RMS

Steve Charters presents at RMS

Steve Charters, Aurélien Rouquet, and S. Jolly from the RMS presented two studies.  One surveyed 28 producteurs recoltants about their thoughts on offering oenotourisme in an effort to determine what was being done already and what people would be willing to do.  The other study focused on surveying tourists who actively participated in oenotouristic activities.

I’ve asked the RMS to send me a bit of detail about the studies as methodology seems of vital importance on this issue.  But in the meanwhile, I can already talk a bit about the big points they brought up.

Quick ideas that I found interesting:

  • The majority of Champagne is sold domestically
  • Champagne producers that export successfully are less likely to be interested in tourism
  • Champagne producers farther to the south are more likely to be interested in tourism
  • Some producers fear they might have more to lose than to gain
  • Many wineries value product tasting more than overall experience

Some disorganized personal conclusions on my part:

Champagne’s touristic activity isn’t as developed as I would have thought.  There’s a lot of cool visits to do, but tourism is largely dominated by the negociant houses especially close to Reims.

If it already sells, why do tourism?

Personally, I love the touristic side of the vineyard.  It’s fun to meet consumers.  And I think it adds value to the wine as people learn about where wine comes from and develop a closer relationship with their producers.

But most businesses are going to look at the short term and ask how much money do I make and how much do I spend developing wine tourism?

So it makes sense that wine producers who already sell their wine successfully at high prices tend to lack the motivation to look into tourism.  This turns out to be a bit ironic since the ones who sell their bubbly most easily tend to be located closer to cities and villages with high touristic appeal.  For example, many of the more notorious growers are often located closer to Reims and Epernay which receive more tourists.

Similarly, I’d expect wine producers around Hautvillers to lack motivation to explore oenotourisme, because Hautvillers already has so many tourists.  The village houses the Abbey where Dom Perignon made the first Champagne blends and so there’s a steady flow of traffic consuming local wines at the bars, restaurants, and cafes.  So strangely, they don’t need to do tours.  Tourists will go and drink their wine after doing a tour of the abbey.  Or at least that’s the impression I got.

It’s pretty fair to generalize and say that growers located in the south (farther from Reims and often more dependent on Pinot) have to fight a little harder to sell their Champagne, and that might explain their motivation to explore wine tourism.   Even though they’re farther from the cities that draw the most tourists, they’re willing to fight for it because they need to find innovative ways for people to discover their wines.

Still a lot of improvements to be made

The study found that growers tended to be split into three groups, with some very skeptical producers, some that saw potential, and some who were already eagerly advancing their touristic activity.

Charters specifically cited Champagne Charlier as a leading light in the field of vineyard and winery tours.  That said, the online presentation of their offer looks roughly equivalent to my own vineyard’s (if a little less developed, dare I say).  And I’ve only been at this for a bit over a year.  So there’s still a lot to be done up there.

Should tourism be controlled as closely as production

However, after getting a feel for Champagne’s dual interprofessions (the negociants and growers have separate interprofessional groups), I imagine you can’t make tooo many waves.  Growers expressed a general concern about the overall quality of tours preserving the luxury/prestige image of the Champagne region.  And this makes sense.

Consumers think very highly of Champagne already.  A poorly executed visit could lower a consumer’s image of the region very easily.  Should oenotouristic activity for a carefully protected denomination/brand like Champagne be controlled as closely as the production?  A very good question.  While I would find it laughable for the Cabardes ODG to interfere in the way I run my business, I sort of understand if some Champagne growers think tourism should be developed with certain minimum standards in their region.

But denominations are often promoted as a way to define terroir.  It’s all about the product.  This notion I’m expressing exposes the political notion of denominations like the AOPs which I’d argue are created to protect growers and help them promote their wines as a group.   The beautiful language about terroir goes hand in hand with the political elements.  But the political elements are primary (in my mind).  So even though tourism doesn’t strictly affect the quality of the wine being produced or how representative it is of the terroir, there is an argument for setting minimum reception standards.  But where do we draw a line and say no more bureaucracy past this point?  Hmmmm…

How it applies to the Languedoc

First of all, I think it’s really encouraging that the Languedoc isn’t sooo far behind in this realm.  French wine tourism, on the whole, is still not as good as it should be.  The Languedoc still has a chance to actually surge ahead of almost every other wine region.  We’re still in this!

Additionally, we probably don’t have the same handicap of high tourism areas already selling their wines well.  A lot of beach tourism doesn’t really come to the region for big red wines (partially explaining the shift to rosés at vineyards nearer the coast).  Also, areas with great tourism like Carcassonne and Limoux are not yet world-renowned so we have a vested interest in greeting people well and changing their perception of our wines.  As a result, we really have no excuse!

Furthermore, I think negociants in the Languedoc region could take a much more active role in tourism.  As seen in Champagne, well-executed tourism increases the perceived value of the product (even when the perceived value is already high).  Negociants are perfectly situated to reap the rewards of this kind of activity and don’t face the same sort of constraints as producers/growers.  It’s interesting to see the dynamic between cooperatives and negociants, a subject that I’ll speak about more later, affects tourism as much as it affects production.



This Friday, there are a couple cool events about wine communication and sales online. There’s one in the morning in the CIVL’s Narbonne HQ. And the evening will be at a Chateau in Laure Minervois.

Here are the invitations:
Minervois BUCE invitation
Corbieres BUCE invitation

It’s organized by the same gang that does the Université de la Vigne et du Vin which I wrote about in 2011.

How to find us

Domaine O’Vineyards, located in the North Arrondissement of Carcassonne, is just minutes from the Carcassonne train station, the Medieval City, and the Carcassonne Airport.
GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387

Wine, Dine, Relax at our Boutique Vineyard
Unique thing to do in Carcassonne
Wine Cellar. Winery Visits. Wine Tasting.
Wine & Food Pairing

North Arrondissement of Carcassonne
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910

  1. Best by GPS.
    Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou using the D118. At the end of the last straight part of D118, you will come to a roundabout with the Dyneff gas station.
  2. Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
  3. Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
  4. At the last juction, bear left. the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
  5. After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.