Michel Smith 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 reactions to it. This is one post in an ongoing series about the Universite de la Vigne et du Vin.
michel smith, christine ontivero, & francois druel
Michel Smith had a list of suggestions and requests. He thinks that winemakers who follow this advice will inevitably become better communicators and more interesting subjects for journalists.
His list was sort of numbered but I had trouble separating things (this presentation was after lunch ;D ) so I’m just going to list everything together as it appears in my jumbled notes:
- Prendre conscience de son espace; you are somewhere but not anywhere
- have a geographic, architectural, historical notion of where you are
- you don’t have to be born in a place, but if you choose to live there, you should familiarize yourself
- faire connaitre, faire savoir
- osez forger une histoire, dare to create a story, how did you come to this place, what was it like before your arrival, how will you change the place, how will the place change you?
- cherchez une coherence, seek coherence, a sensical, simple story, don’t overcomplicate
- be aware of presentation but don’t overcomplicate
- no gilding the lily
- quality assurance, make good wine or else nothing else matters
- be open to meeting your client
- be open to meeting anybody
- be open to your neighbors
- regroup, become a part of the community
- communicate together
- don’t talk shit about your neighbors, especially to journalists
- never send a bottle to a journalist without a little note that says hello, also include price and mention any side projects you have going on (Interestingly, I asked Michel about his own winery the other day and he responded with all this information and took the time to have a conversation with me. He practices what he preaches!)
- if, as Berthomeau said “le vin est delocalizable”, terroir is not. Lieu, terroir or whatever you want to call it is permanent and irreplacable.
- don’t recite your story, share it. live it every time you tell it
- speak of wine as if it is a child, unique and special
- remember that journalists are just people, treat them like you treat other people and they will appreciate it; no red carpets, but a little human friendliness and hospitality, the same you would afford to anybody you’re going to work beside
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!
I attended the Université de la Vigne et du Vin in Ferrals-les-Corbieres, a small village in the heart of Languedoc wine country. This post is a summary of my day. A full pdf of the event program can be downloaded.
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.
Louise Hurren’s summary on facebook is very accurate:
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.
Jacky Rigaux, Université de Bourgogne –
Terroir is the best way to promote French wines
Christophe Juarez, France, ton vin est dans le rouge –
Adapting to the modern wine world
Jacques Berthomeau, Ministry of Agriculture & Blogger –
Share your stories and use the Internet
Francois Druel, web consultant –
The Internet is cool
Christine Ontivero, PR –
What Press Agents do
Michel Smith, Jouranlist/Blogger and Winemaker –
How to communicate with journalists
Panel Discussion: Individual versus Collective Identity
- moderated by Hervé Hannin, director of Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Vigne et du Vin
- Jacques Berthomeau, as above
- Elodie Le Drean, filiere vin Sud de France Developpement
- Jerome Villaret, delegue general CIVL
- Xavier de Volontat, vigneron independant & President AOC Corbieres
- Frantz Venes, Chateau Massamier la Mignarde
Volem Dire al Pais – short film interview series with Michel Cano conducting interviews and film/editing by Alexandre Pachoutinsky
Wine tasting with Frederic Senechal from L’Auberge du Vieux Puits (Gilles Goujon three michelin starred restaurant)
coverage of l’Universite de la Vigne et du Vin
Other articles about the event:
Photos of Universite de la Vigne et du Vin
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?