Michel Smith - How to communicate with journalists

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, 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
  • participate
  • 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 a l'universite de la vigne et du vin

Christophe Juarez

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.

In brief

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 stands in front of a giant screen with her profile on it

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 Paisshort 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

jacky rigaux

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!

random ideas:

  • 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?

see also:

Oh wow, I forgot how much I love maps.

I’ve been playing around in Google Maps and it’s really fun.  Some of you might know that I’m working on a book about the AOC Cabardes and the wines north of Carcassonne.  And so I’ve built a big directory and I’m defining certain climactic zones.  Blah blah blah.  But I took a few hours here and there to plot it down onto a 3D terrain map in Google Earth.  And it’s gorgeous.

google earth screenshot cabardes wine map

I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to use Google Earth maps in my work.  I’ll have to scour Google Permissions later.  But what I can do is share the work so far.

To view in Google Earth, you have to download Google Earth and then use it to open Cabardes.kml

To view the less awesometastic version, just look at my customized google map of the Cabardes.  You won’t need to download anything.  It’s set so you can make modifications, but don’t do anything cheeky.

Making wine maps is pretty sweet.  If you have any ideas on how to format it or what I should add or anything else, feel free to speak up.  Oh, I took out three of the cooperatives because they produce very little Cabardes and are on the outside of the AOC zone.  If you know the location of the vines that contribute to the Cabardes of those cooperatives, please let me know and I will gladly add the vines to the map.

If you’re wondering what the big splashes of color represent, those are different zones within the Cabardes.  An explanation of this map or one like it will be included in the upcoming ebook Introduction to Cabardès along with a directory of these producers and an introduction to the region’s wine and history.

Remember when I drank dirt? Of course you do.

Well, while I was putting dirt in the bottle, Eduardo del Fraile was putting dirt on the outside!

This bottle was designed to honor Agapito Rico, an important figure in the DO of Jumilla Spain. He was a pioneer in achieving quality wines in this region. The grape that is grown in this land is the Monastrell, a strong flavored grape suitable for arid areas.

via Serious About Wine

There you go. 🙂  I’m not sure if Agapito Rico’s wine goes into the bottles or not.  I’ll keep you posted if I discover more.

I went camping at the Vinolodge set up in Virgile Joly’s vineyard. Always accused of Blair Witch Style, hand-held camerawork, I was really looking forward to using the camp atmosphere to do a Blair Witch parody. . . But it was actually pretty hard to pretend to be scared or uncomfortable in any way. The tents are simply outfitted, but the gorgeous open space and chic furnishing make it feel pretty posh. And reliance on renewable energy doesn’t prevent the tents from feeling blinged out from time to time with the LED mood lighting and fully-stocked wine bar.

So, enjoy my Blair Witch moment. Even if its pretty chimeric. It was just too hard to feel scared or uncomfortable in such a nice tent.

While the tents are really well integrated into the surrounding vines and local wildlife, you really have all the amenities of traditional eco-tourism projects.  I was pretty impressed with how much space we have especially.  This tent is bigger than a lot of hotel rooms in France.  And it has its own porch, foyer, bathroom, etc. almost entirely powered by the solar cells and windmill outside the tent.

vinolodge tent overlooking terrasses du larzac

To take the two photos below, I just had to turn around.  I hope that conveys how closely juxtaposed luxury and nature are in these tents.  You really just have a nice hotel room in the middle of a bunch of trees and vines and shrub and pheasants and everything else the Terrasses du Larzac has to offer.

beds in eco tent at vinolodge view from bed

Why this project is important

I’ve talked a bit about how comfortable it is. What a nice vacation it would make… but with all that advertising fluff aside, I’m most impressed by the long term implications of the vinolodge project.  The potential applications for winemakers and nature-lovers in general are pretty astounding, largely due to the ZERO impact promise of the lodge.

Beyond being one more way to go glamping (glam camping), the Vinolodge offers an innovative way to drop a tent into the middle of any natural environment without impacting the place permanently. Even dirty hippies in sleeping bags have SOME impact on nature. Experienced campers will know that this is referred to as “low-impact” camping.  But low impact is not as cool as NO impact.  How can a big tent structure have a smaller impact than a hippie in a sleeping bag?  I feel like I’m going to have to explain this … and there’s just no avoiding the one big example.   Oh boy. I guess it was only a matter of time before I start talking about poop on my vineyard’s blog.

A camper creates waste. And even the old “dig a hole and bury your business” solution has an impact. It’s low impact, and you can wipe with leaves and a variety of other gross stuff to lower your impact more, but you’re still leaving a lasting mark on the environs.  But the vinolodge tent has its own waste processing and storage. Whenever they want, they can decide to break down the tents and within a couple days the whole camp has disappeared leaving NO permanent mark on the environment. Not even poop buried everywhere around the tent.

This means that the tents allow for campers to go where even hardcore low-impact types weren’t allowed before. Like my vineyard. Or a well-protected national park. Or remote locations after natural disasters. The vinolodge (frequently referred to as a geolodge) quickly inspires a lot of important big picture ideas. It goes far beyond the long list of novelty eco tourism that ranges from cramped tree houses to glorified camping car parking lots.

What does it mean specifically for vineyards and the Languedoc?

I think that it offers an unprecedented access to the terroir that we like to brag about so often. A wine drinker who stays in one of the vinolodge tents becomes familiar with the local flaura and fauna in a way that is simply extraordinary. You can hear things at night, you can smell things in the morning, that you just don’t get access to unless you live on a vineyard. Heck, a lot of winemakers would benefit from staying in their own vines once or twice as many of us live quite a ways away from our vineyards.

Imagine having 10-12 of these lodges set up throughout the Languedoc Roussillon. A person could choose to stay at a series of vineyards and really discover the nuances between the microclimates, soil topography, what goes bump in the night, etc. I think that people who really are keen on learning the difference between one terroir and another will appreciate this first-hand access and experience. And I wouldn’t really be comfortable taking regular campers in year round… but the vinolodge makes it feasible and even attractive.

For every good idea I have, I get at least three ridiculously bad ideas.  And some of those bad ideas make it far beyond the planning stages.

So, last week, I was joking about the rhetoric we terroir-lovers tend to use.  We get very wrapped up in the importance of a wine reflecting a sense of place and we can often minimize the efforts of the winemaker.  We say that winemakers should only act in order to produce good fruit that reflects the place where they’re growing the fruit.  Anyway, we can get a little carried away with the rhetoric.  So in the spirit of making fun of myself, I bottled some vineyard dirt and put it up  for sale on the website.

The idea, unfortunately didn’t stop there. Once I had a bottle of dirt, it was pretty much unavoidable: I had to do a dirt tasting.

Tasting notes: dry, abrasive attack; strong minerality; dead leaves; low alcohol; significant sediment; muddy finish

So, without further ado, Ryan O’Connell from O’Vineyards tastes some dirt and makes fun of himself.

If we can learn anything from this ridiculous exercise, it’s that the perfect wine is not 100% vin de terroir or 100% vin d’effort but some clever middle path between these two extremes.

Buy now 🙂

Couleur bouteille

“La qualité des terrains se communique aux végétaux qui y sont placés ; elle forme ce qu’on nomme goût de terroir” [Fourcroy, Conn. chim. t. VIII, p. 276]

Enfin, pourquoi nous cassons nous la tête pour faire du vin représentatif d’un terroir?  On peut simplement mettre du terroir dans une bouteille.

dirt bottleJ’ai sauté quelques étapes pour sauver du temps et surtout maintenir l’authenticité du terroir.  Voilà pour votre plaisir dégustatif, une bouteille remplie de terre argilo-calcaire, récoltée à une température ambiante de 28 degré centigrade, avec une hydrométrie assez sèche.

Toutes ces qualités, qu’on peut attribuer à une topographie intéressante (amphithéâtre en élévation sur les pieds de la Montagne Noire), ressortent merveilleusement de ce vin grâce a un travail de chai qui favorise la non intervention.

On peut aussi envisager une étiquette “Argilo Calcaire 2010, AOC Cabardes”.

Comme toute mes idées ridicules, celle ci peut vous tenter à en acheter pour du vrai ou comme gag pour un ami passionné du vin.  Par contre, comme toutes mes idées ridicules, ca coûte assez cher pour l’envoi.  Alors 3 euros au chai, mais 13 euros par courrier dans la France.

On peut le faire en bouteilles recyclées, couleur chêne ou ou verte .

Couleur bouteille

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.