Christophe Juarez spoke 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.
Christophe Juarez, France, ton vin est dans le rouge – Adapting to the modern wine world
Juarez enumerates many changes in wine consumption that result in a need for change in wine production or at least wine marketing. In many ways, his presentation served as a counter point to Jacky Rigaux‘s. While Jacky was a bit academic and high minded in his search for what a winemaker ought to do, Juarez focused on what a winemaker has to do. It’s a much more pragmatic outlook. Although it’s still a bit simplistic. But sometimes a message has to be simplified to be conveyed.
Where Rigaux said “Cepage is a first name while terroir is a family name,” Juarez will say “Cepage is unavoidable.” We can have cute witty notions about how terroir is more important than grape variety (I feel this is true), but ultimately, most new world wine drinkers want to know the variety and care much more about that than where the wine is from.
Juarez doesn’t deny the marketing potential of place. In fact, he concedes that France is a huge selling point. People love France. But he also notes that having too many regions spoils the pot. If most people only remember a dozen different wine brands, is there place in the market for somewhat obscure AOCs? If there will only be a dozen denominations in the public conscience, should we spend energy on branding Corbieres, Minervois, and so on? Or should we just focus on a bigger brand like South of France and a grape type?
Juarez will also say that the grower/author is crucial to promoting a place. The place is only worth what it produces in his estimation, and the men and women who tend the land are key to that equation.
He also notes that brands have an advantage over individual people because brands are eternal. Mortals will die, but brands can persist. Brands can identify a style and go on in perpetuity.
He also warns against a “surenchere vers le haut”. If we create high value brands hoping that they will drive the whole market forward, we might be disappointed. For one thing, premium value brands have a hard time pulling up entry level brands. Additionally, shifting markets and economic hardship might result in a general move toward bargain brands instead of luxury brands.
All in all, the presentation concludes that we have to create quality wine with consistency and a mastery of bottling and other technical elements. I think the conclusion falls into the land of caricaturization. It ends up being all about creating a reliable product that people can buy without being afraid. I’d like to think that wine is art and that sometimes people buy bottles not knowing what to expect. But maybe that’s impractical. Tough questions at the Universite de la Vigne et du Vin!