Jancis Robinson tastes Naked Wines

I got to see a lot of British friends while I was on Naked Wines UK Tour this summer.  Even Jancis Robinson, the queen bee herself attended our London tasting.  And she had exceptionally positive things to say about the innovation at Naked Wines and also the quality of wine.

Overall quality of Naked Wines

“There are no duds, even if most of the offerings are of solid rather than mind-blowing quality – but the range is really interesting (see, for example, boutique Chileans, dry Germans, the stunning value Strathbogie Pinot and Slovenians). And if you search for GV (good value), you will find some VGV and the odd VVGV. But please be warned that not all of these wines will still be available. You can check at www.nakedwines.com.”

Jancis correctly points out that the entire range at Naked is solid quality and there are many hidden gems with very good value.  She also acknowledges that the listed prices are 30% higher than the discounted price available to the thousands and thousands of Naked Angels, paid members of the site.

Impression of the Winemakers

“We were allowed in early at the beginning of the tasting session and it was rather sweet to see this collection of mainly young men, all in the same Naked Wines T-shirt, chatting excitedly with each other, rather like freshers on their first day at university.”

I did like this bit about how the winemakers (myself included) were standing about the room before the tasting like a bunch of first years at university. 🙂  It’s a remarkably accurate description as the whole tour reminded me a lot of college.  Roaming around a new environment with a bunch of great people I just met.  Free shirts.  A bit of drinking. 🙂

O’Vineyards Tasting Notes

I don’t cater my winemaking to specific journalists, but it’s always really nice to hear that very accomplished wine pros who have been around the block like what I’m doing. 🙂

O’Vineyards, Trah Lah Lah 2008 IGP La Cité de Carcassonne 16.5 Drink 2011-2015
Made by Ryan and Joe O’Connell. 65% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep crimson. Nicely integrated. Sweet start and attractively dry, lively finish. Still a bit chewy but chock full of life. 13.5%
£12.99 Naked Wines
O’Vineyards, O’ Syrah 2008 IGP La Cité de Carcassonne 16 Drink 2011-2014
Dry and minerally. Really rather smooth and well mannered.
£14.99 Naked Wines

And I’m not the only one she liked. As mentioned above, no duds in this tasting. The Languedoc did exceptionally well as we represent an important part of the Naked Wines portfolio. Winemaker Ben Darnault got one of the many Good Value awards in Jancis’ notes for his highly drinkable “Very Languedoc” Minervois. And Hegarty-Chamans put forward some nice wines that raised her brow. Always interesting things to drink in the Languedoc. 🙂

While writing my book, I had to make a lot of decisions about self-publishing, format, layout, sales channels, imprints, and a lot of stuff that never really occured to me until I was up to my neck in publishing information.  I found one article from Jancis Robinson’s site particularly useful.  It was written by Monty Waldin, who you might know from Channel 4’s Chateau Monty or his extensive reference work for biodynamic wines.

monty waldin a corking wine adventure book coverThe article describes Monty’s journey through self-publishing (subscribers only) and it really helped inform my decision-making process.  My book is different in many ways but I faced a lot of the same decisions.  Anyway, for other winemakers who are considering writing a book, check out that article.  And also How to publish your own wine book (free for all).

Then I saw that Monty commented about my book.  He said some nice things about me and the book, and I’m flattered that he’s flattered.  But all that fluffy stuff aside, he said some really cool things about wine books being self-published.  Gives you a sort of global perspective of how things are changing.   He recalls the period where wineries would commission wine writers to devote a book to their Domaine.  Off the top of his head, he mentions Chateau Yquem, Chateau Margaux, and Daumas Gassac (Languedoc in the house).

These differ from my book since they are full length and each one is really centered around a single estate.  But back in the day, you would have been crazy to spend the hefty chunk of cash to promote your region generically.   Like buying a thousand billboards and having them just say “Drink wine.”  without any mention of your own estate.

But today  the costs are different.  The metrics have changed.  I can put out a shorter book and make it about the whole appellation and it’s not exorbitantly expensive.

Monty’s comments appeared in the subscribers section, but I imagine nobody minds if I relay his comments here for you to read.

Flattered Ryan O’Connell found my article on e-publishing useful but even more pleased to see a wine-grower like Ryan putting e-pen to paper.

Professional wine writing is in flux at the moment, seen as an extravagance by most newspapers and book publishers.

Since Jancis published my article a well known female wine writer has been in contact to say is doing what Stephen Skelton MW and myself have done, which is to ditch slow- and low paying publishers for fairly risk-free print-on-demand self-publishing using lulu dot com (Stephen’s books are on Viticulture and UK Vineyards, mine on biodynamics). Said wine writer also appears to relish the greater freedom she will have editorially over what is published by going it alone.

In the old days some of the wealthier wine producers commissioned wine writers to write books about them. Off the top of my head such books already exist in English on Chateau Yquem (Olney), Mas de Daumus Gassac (Mackenzie) and Chateau Margaux (Faith) – but all three tomes could perhaps do with a revision having been published in the 1980s (or earlier) and to be published on paper an in e-form.

What Ryan has done is an example of how technology is allowing smaller, lesser known producers to do what only the big boys and girls could do until recently.

“lavishly illustrated”
“takes advantage of the medium”
“an enterprising first stab at self-publishing”
–Jancis Robinson, Vintner turns e-author 21 Dec 2010

What a trip.  Seven years ago, I was reading the Oxford Companion to Wine and daydreaming about being a winemaker.  And today, the editor of that book and one of the world’s foremost wine writers is bigging up my writing on my little old wine region!

And she knows that I want other winemakers to do the same thing.  I want them to write testimonials for their own regions.  And she sees it as clearly as I do as she wonders “How many more wine producers will be moved to invade the territory that used to be the preserve of professional and many semi-professional wine writers? It could be a perfect activity for the winter months in between those sales trips to Shanghai.”

Of course, Jancis isn’t worried about her job security.  But all the same, I think this is a perfect time to address the notion that I’m encouraging winemakers to take wine writer turf.  I see this more as an opportunity to expand the world of wine writing.

I’m not asking winemakers to steal ground from wine writers.  If we tried to write our own version of the Oxford Companion, we’d do an awful job.  Because we lack objectivity and distance from the subject.  Instead, we have to conquer new lands.  Invent new genres or reinvigorate types of writing that were abandoned in the past century.

So what if, in general, winemakers lack the objectivity to write excellent wine manuals and reference books.  That subjectivity makes us perfect authors for authentic portraits of every wine region on earth.  Every appellation, AVA, DOC, DAC, or plain old neighborhood that makes wine has inspired hundreds of winemakers and farmers.  It’s time for farmers to start giving back and sharing our love of our land with the world.  If you’ve ever been touched by a place, it’s time to write your book.   And we’ll win over new readers who weren’t ready for the reference books and tomes.  We’ll enchant them with medieval castles and gorgeous pictures of limestone on clay.  And the next thing you know, they’ll be drinking wine every day and then they’ll want to read more objective books from the critics and pros.  That’s my dream world anyway. Let’s make it happen!

And yes I appreciate that we don’t all have time.  It’s ridiculous that winemakers have to leave the vineyards they love so much for the Shanghai sales trips Jancis alludes to.  But that is life.  We are expected to wear many hats and perform many jobs.  And I think some of you may be ready to be authors.


Jancis just did a write up on varietal days (eg Cabernet Day, Grenache Day, Champagne Day) and I’ll admit that it seems like every day of the year might soon have a varietal celebration associated with it. Like patron saints of wine-drinking.  Not just Saint Vincent anymore.

Jancis’ Article on Grape Days

In her article, I pick up on two very different messages.  On the one hand, Jancis acknowledges that the celebration of certain varietals seems a little commercially motivated.  For example, Cabernet Day was conceived and brought to fruition somewhat autocratically by Rick Bakas, the social media engineer at St Supery, and it’s a day devoted to a varietal that already has a lot of notoriety when it comes from the right side of the tracks (in this case the right side is the Left Bank).  People ask “Does Cabernet need a day?” and I kind of get that vibe from bits of Jancis’ writing.

On the other hand, she managed to use this day in a very personal way.  She opened a bottle of Figeac and toasted the passing of its winemaker who was so proud of his unique contribution to Cabernet Sauvignon on Bordeaux’s Right Bank.  And this is why Cabernet Day was good.  We found ways to personalize and celebrate delicious wines.

My Thoughts on Grape Days

And I think this mirrors my experience.  I’m going to reiterate how happy I am with the Cabernet Day celebration we had at O’Vineyards and around the world. We didn’t know how the day would turn out, but we ended up surrounded by neighbors and friends and enjoying some really delicious wines that showed off totally different expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon.

And people around the world cheered us on.  Americans trapped in the office in the early afternoon could see us sipping as the sun set in the south of France.  And as the French started to get sleepy, folks on the west coast of the United States popped corks in their time zone where the party was just starting.

I’m just so happy.  I want to say I’m proud, but it’s hard to be proud in the face of such a massive, humbling event.  Next to the work of all those winemakers (and don’t forget how much promotional work goes in on the part of Rick Bakas and all the event organizers around the world), what did I really do?  I just threw a little party and drank some good wine.

And next to my neighbors who have been working here for generations or names like Thierry Manoncourt who made Jancis’ Figeac, a newly arrived winemaker like me starts to feel pretty small and unimportant.

These days can be important

Anyway, I know it seems like the varietal days are piling up fast, one after the other.  And I personally have to question who decided to put them all right before the northern hemisphere’s harvest, a very busy time of year.  But I hope that varietal celebrations don’t become trivial.  I hope that people go beyond novelty.

Whether you use these days as an excuse to open a special bottle that you really cherish or you use them as an opportunity to explore a varietal you don’t know very well, the important thing is that you’re attaching real emotions to these wines.  Drinking wine is fun, but it’s also effortlessly profound.

Next up: Grenache Day

Anyway, enough waxing poetic.  Grenache Day is coming up on September 24th.  I don’t make any Grenache, but I love to drink it.  The Languedoc-Roussillon does a great job with it. I’ve been looking forward to the day ever since it was proposed at the Grenache Symposium held at Chene Bleu.  I’ve been told that some other folks in the region are already organizing stellar events.

I personally will strive to swing down to Domaine Gayda and check out their Grenache Day celebration.  A workshop with Vinecole followed by a cuve tasting at Gayda with the winemaker.  If I can’t go there, I’ll surely be celebrating at dinner with some of my favorite Grenaches.  After seeing all the energy and enthusiasm at the Grenache Symposium, I know just how important September 24th is to all the people involved with this grape.  From the growers to the winemakers to the writers and the sales people and NEVER FORGET the drinkers… And I hope you all find a way to make the day personal by opening a special bottle of Grenache or by raising your Grenache awareness.

Thanks again to everybody who makes these celebrations possible.  Amazing, tireless winemakers, promoters, and wine-lovers.

We are very proud to discover that Tamlyn Currin, a writer at JancisRobinson.com, has included us in a review of some of the top winemaking “Estranhièrs” in the Languedoc-Roussillon.

We’re in very good company and this is the kind of content that makes you want to subscribe to Jancis’ purple pages.  It’s a great compilation of winemakers for people who are eager to discover the amazing diversity of the Languedoc Roussillon.

Tamlyn has also written some of my favorite reviews for my wines to date.  The Mojo has “sassy red berry fruit” (Awesome. I’ll be using that a lot.)  The Syrah has “Damson by the bucket load” (That’s a type of plum. One that we actually grow on the vineyard.)

And the Proprietor’s Reserve review goes back and forth between long, narrative sentences and sharp, captivating notes. The review matches the wine.  I’m very proud of my parents and me. 🙂

O’Vineyards, Proprietor’s Reserve 2006 Cabardès 16.5+ Drink 2010-2015

Six barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 barrels of Syrah and 12 barrels of Merlot. Fermented and aged in new French oak for 18-20 months.

A perfume that made me close my eyes, just to breathe it in. Sweet damson, spiced dried fruit, figs and wet tea leaves. Rich and chocolatey, with plenty of dark plum tang and cinnamon. This tastes much more American than Languedoc – something that is more or less what I have noticed in all their wines. Very long. Velvety. Hedonistic. (TC) 13.5%

Toward the end, I wonder if I’m really making American-styled wines and whether or not making new world wines is mutually exclusive with being true to the Languedoc terroir. But I don’t want to dwell on that right now.  I want to dwell on velvety hedonism.  I really love these reviews and I’m so happy to be featured on Jancis’ site. She wrote a lot of the reference material that got my dad and me into wine in the first place. And Tamlyn is a charm.

The rest of our reviews have been incorporated into the website for each wine: Mediterranean Mojo, O’Syrah, Trah Lah Lah, Les Americains, and Proprietor’s Reserve.

To discover the other estates reviewed in the article “Estranhièrs in Languedoc-Roussillon“, you’ll have to subscribe to the Purple Pages!   You’ll get to read about some of my good friends in the Languedoc and Roussillon.  The estates included in the reviews are Rives Blanques, Domaine Treloar,  Domaine Ste-Croix, Domaine Jones, Chateau D’Angles (which we actually considered buying in 2004!), and Chateau des Estanilles (who has a long overdue Love That Languedoc episode in the pipes).

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.