While many French producers have been to the New World for experience, some went the whole hog and set up wineries. CHRISTELLE GUIBERT hears how three of them went about it
One of the top producers in the Rhône, Chapoutier was founded in 1879. Michel Chapoutier took over in 1987 and the vineyards have been biodynamic since
1995. His Australian joint venture, with US importer Anthony Terlato, began in 1998. We started as producers and then became négociants. In 1998, when the French wine industry was booming, négociants wanting to grow grapes were forbidden from buying land. It was sold to smaller growers who didn’t have the capacity to sell wine. So I invested in the New World to manage our property’s growth. I picked Australia for a number of reasons: the seasonal difference allows me to be at each vinification; it’s the second best producer of Syrah; there are still areas free of phylloxera; and I could plant whatever I wanted.
‘Today, the best Australian wines are in Victoria. Our Mount Benson vineyard (onthe Limestone Coast) quickly reached its zenith, so we’ve sold it and I’m investing in cooler vineyards in Victoria, where there are very interesting terroirs. ‘The Australian mentality depends on who you deal with. The rural Australian is reliable, hard working and understands terroir. Urban Australians are idiots – when you hear the phrase ‘no worries mate’, you run away as fast as you can. But I didn’t arrive in Australia with a big mouth and the ‘I’m-going-to-teach-youeverything’ attitude. I went and looked at their methods. Some people said I was going to make a French wine in Australia but I make Australian wines which express the characters of the terroir.’
Guibert’s pick of the wines:
Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier, Lieu-dit
Malakoff Shiraz, Central Victoria 2006
Single-vineyard Aussie Côte-Rotie, full of
black fruit and toast notes. Fresh acidity
with firm tannins. £20 (2005); HpW, Men
Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier, Shiraz-
Viognier, Central Victoria 2006 ★★★★
Rich black berries; round structure, fine
tannin and elegant concentration on the
finish. £11–£12; Har, HpW
Maison Joseph Drouhin was founded in 1880. Robert Drouhin took over in 1957 and continued to expand by buying some of the greatest grand cru vineyards in the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits and establishing a domaine in Chablis. In 1987, he bought land in Oregon. This year is the 20th vintage of Domaine Drouhin Oregon, now run by his daughter Veronique. It has 36ha (hectares): 30ha of Pinot Noir and 6ha of Chardonnay. Drouhin produces four cuvées, of which three are named after her children: Laurène, Louise and Arthur.My father visited Oregon in 1961, and the region reminded him of the Côte d’Or. It has the same altitude as Southern Burgundy and a very similar climate. But at that time, Oregon didn’t have vines.
‘Pinot Noir is complicated. To me, there are only three regions ideal for its production: Burgundy, Oregon and New Zealand. When I completed my oenology degree in 1986, my father was keen to make wine in Oregon, and he suggested I work there. After four months, we were told about this vineyard for sale. We fell in love with it and bought the land in 1987.
‘For the first vintage, we decided to buy grapes and rent a cuverie. If we couldn’t produce fantastic wines we were going to end the project and rent out the land. When we tasted the first vintage, we were so impressed that we went ahead, planted vines and built a winery.
‘People say there is an Oregon before Drouhin and after Drouhin. We brought a massive focus here. Only 20 producers were in Oregon when we arrived but this has increased massively. But we’re still the only French producer. In Burgundy, some people didn’t understand why we were going to Oregon to make Pinot. Today, there is recognition of what we do.
‘The methods of production are very similar to Burgundy. We didn’t know the terroir and how to plant the vines so we used our Burgundian savoir faire and
philosophy. Unlike Burgundy, where it’s forbidden, we irrigate young vines before they start producing grapes. We went a year without irrigating and the vines died.
‘What surprised me about Oregon is that we can make wines very similar in style to Burgundian Pinot even though the terroirs are very different. In Oregon,
there’s no limestone, only volcanic rock, and it took us time to understand the soil. The Pinots have a bit more colour and spicy character. I try not to compare my wines with those of Burgundy but they are my references.’
Guibert’s pick of the wines:
Domaine Drouhin, Arthur Chardonnay,
Oregon 2006 ★★★★★
A very French style of Chardonnay; lots of
beautiful, delicate fruits and some
minerality. The oak is very well-integrated.
£14–£16; Ben, M&V, Vik, WDi, You
Domaine Drouhin, Laurène Pinot Noir,
Oregon 2005 ★★★★
More spice and complexity than Burgundy
Pinot. Ripe red cherry notes with a good
structure. Good purity and freshness with
silky tannins. £28 (2004); BBR,
M&V.Jean-Marie Bourgeois Henri Bourgeois Estate is one of the most highly regarded grower houses in Sancerre, and now produces 1.5 million bottles a year, after owning only 2ha (hectares) of vines in 1950. Today, Jean-
Marie Bourgeois runs the 65ha estate. He branched out to New Zealand in 2003. Sancerre is a small appellation, and because of the strict AC system, it is impossible to enlarge the vineyards. To keep the estate within the family, we needed to expand. Today, importers are looking for producers with a larger portfolio. Investing in New Zealand has built not only our image but our sales. ‘In 1989, John Buck from Te Mata invited my nephew and I to New Zealand. We were surprised to taste some good wines despite the poor growing and winemaking conditions of the time. We went back in 2000 and fell in love with a vineyard on flat and foothill land. ‘Marlborough terroir is very different to Sancerre. It’s limestone free, but we can produce very good wines without limestone; the production methods are similar – we just need to adapt the way we work the vines to extract the natural soil element and minerality.
‘We were very anxious at first about the reaction of Marlborough producers and our compatriots back home. We spent a lot of time listening to local producers and from the first visit they welcomed us with open arms. We have built a very strong relationship – much stronger than with our neighbours in Sancerre.
‘We are making a Sauvignon Blanc with a Marlborough terroir, not a Sancerre. The wines express the essence of the vineyard and the way we work in the winery. I was very emotional when I tasted the first vintage, 2003. I wasn’t expecting a wine to taste so good from only two-year-old vines.
‘I’m rediscovering my passion for winemaking in a new terroir, with the freedom to plant grapes and make wines without French restrictions. It’s much easier to make wine in New Zealand – we make it with our heart, not on paper.
‘Since we started, I haven’t made a many of changes, just a few tweaks. Two years ago, we introduced mussel shells under the vine plants. People laughed, but it will bring limestone to the soil and it’s a weed killer.’
Guibert’s pick of the wines:
Clos Henri, Sauvignon Blanc,
Marlborough 2006 ★★★★
Fusion of Old World/New World styles.
Fresh, vibrant nose with intense lime and
herb. Good acidity with pure Sauvignon
character and amazing minerality.
Obvious Sancerre influence. £14.40; CPy
Clos Henri, Pinot Noir, Marlborough 2006
Lovely silky tannin, wild raspberry notes
and spice. Round palate, well-integrated
oak. Shows more richness and complexity
than Bourgeois’ Red Sancerre. £17.90; CPy.
Written by Christelle Guibert