Wow, I’ve missed writing to you all, but I hope you know that if I’m not writing to you, it’s because I’m working my little butt off to produce the best wine you can ask for!
As you may have seen from previous posts, my Dad and I just go back from a long trip to the French wine country. We visited Champagne, the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. Two weeks driving around in our Suzuki Swace all through the countryside was both invigorating and exhausting. Each day we visited anywhere from 1 to 4 wineries, meeting with winemakers, Proprietors and tasting some of the most incredible wines the world has to offer.
While in France, the tasting was imperative, but understanding the history and culture of each region, style of winemaking, their thoughts on terroir and wine tourism were enlightening.
Let’s dive into these topics:
Many french wine regions have had such strong roots in the wine world with wineries dating back centuries. We met with Nicolas Maillart in Champagne to find out he was the 10th generation of winemakers in his family. You can’t find that just yet in the states.
Family is everything in France and in French wine country. 90% of wineries in France are like family heirlooms. Their families have owned these wineries since the 14 and 1500s. It’s very rare to find a winemaker who is first generation in France because it’s hard to get a plot of land.
If you’re new to the wine industry in the US, you can find land and build a vineyard, you just have to get the right permit. In France, every vineyard plot is accounted for in their AOC regional requirements as established by the government. The process to get an additional portion of land surveyed and approved to be a part of the AOC can take years and years; it’s nearly impossible. The only way is if an owner of a plot of land dies and family does not want to take it over, or if it is sold by the family that owns it.
So why does the AOC matter? The AOC matters because it provides an expectation of quality for the consumer. In France, if it’s AOC, it’s almost always going to be a great wine. It’s a standard expectation of excellence. There are winemakers who don’t believe in the AOC system and choose to plant what they want where they want and make wine. However, in a history entrenched country, it makes it harder to sell your product.
There are certain requirements by the AOC laws which include harvest time, varieties allowed and aging requirements. But there is room for variation depending upon the region. For example, in Champagne, it needs to be aged for a minimum of 15 months after fermentation before it can be considered Champagne. How long after that is a stylistic choice. Another example is grape variety. In Champagne you can choose from three main grapes (and others but that makes things too complicated so for this sake, let’s just stick with the main three): Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. A winemaker can decide how much of all of these varieties they choose to put in their wine. And thirdly, in Champagne, winemakers can determine how they blend their Nonvintage wines and how many vintages they keep on reserve to control the quality and consistency of their Nonvintage.
In Bordeaux, though they have a required variety, they do not have the same aging requirements as Champagne. They can also determine which types of aging vessels they choose to use: what type of oak, what level of toast, how much new versus neutral. This can all shape the wine.
I’ve talked about this term because it’s extremely valuable in our winemaking style. And yes, I took this from the French. In France, their goal is to showcase their wines based upon the plots of land from which they come. In Chinon, we tasted 11 different Cabernet Franc wines from 11 different plots. One was grown on clay, another on limestone, another on schist, and another on tuffeau just to name a few soil types. They were all from the same producer, and each of these wines were vastly different. Most of them were even identically vinified, the only difference in flavor came from the soil.
The truth is, even though terroir directly translates to “soil,” it has become so much more than that in the wine world. Terroir refers to the soil, the vinification process the winemaker uses, the history of the family, the culture surrounding the wine from that region and winery, and the story that makes the bottle so enticing. Terroir is everything that makes a wine what it is.
The last important topic I wanted to touch on was this one, because it’s so prevalent in the US, but it’s lacking in certain parts of France. I think it has to do with their cultural foundations in service. You know that when you walk into a French restaurant, the service is not what you come for, rather the food. In the US, you have to be on point with both or risk getting a bad Yelp review. To the French, eno-tourism is either everything or nothing. It depends on the region they’re from and how they choose to sell their product.
When we were in Savennieres, the winery we visited was heavily weighing on its eno-tourism. They sold most of their wines to wine club members, directly to consumers and through tastings. They wanted to create an experience to share the region with their clients.
In Champagne, it was half and half. The large houses of course having tours and tastings where the smaller houses just had their importers and didn’t even have a real tasting room.
In Bordeaux, same thing. Half of the tours were truly geared towards tourists while the other half were not.
Overall, I think we gained a lot of knowledge about the wine world and what information we wanted to bring back to all of you. We realized how much we want to express the importance of terroir, while also sharing our passion directly with you in a tasting room someday hopefully soon. We learned about options to better our winemaking strategy and tie in our family history into each and every pour.
So at this point, I’ve heard from half the experts. The other half of the story is all of you. Tell me, what do you want to see AJA become? How can we excite you more about our wines. What experiences have you had at wineries that make you want to keep coming back? You are the people I want to share my story with and share my wines with. You are who are produce my wines for. So tell me, what do you want in AJA?
Hope you have a great week, and I’ll chat with you soon!