Interview with Didier Dagueneau

In September 2007, Oliver Styles interviewed Didier Dagueneau for Decanter magazine. The following is an excerpt from the transcript. This part of the interview took place over lunch in Sancerre restaurant La Pomme d’Or. Jean-Dominique Vacheron of top Sancerre producer Domaine Vacheron was also present.

The wine served was Coche-Bizouard, Meursault, Goutte d’Or 2004.

Didier Dagueneau – My first English client was Lay & Wheeler and it was Mr Richard Wheeler who came to taste at my house. It would have been the 1983 vintage, I think – it might have been ’84. He came. ‘Bonjour, monsieur’ – I didn’t speak a word of English; I had one cuvé, enamel, of 75 hectolitres; I had INAO glasses; he arrived, took my details, I served him a glass, he smelt it, spat it out; the tasting was over. I was wretchedly unhappy, really unhappy. It took the time to taste a wine. I had nothing else.

I used to go to Burgundy, and there, they got out their Chambertin, and then their Charmes-Chambertin, then Clos de Beze, and Grillettes Chambertin. I said, ‘bloody hell, we’ve also got soil differences that are just as, if not more, marked than that’, and that’s what gave me the desire to make different cuvés from different types of soil in different parcelles.

Oliver Styles – Did you ever start with the family?

DD – No, no. I was a sidecar driver. I was to be a professional driver. Why did I stop? I was pretty quick between having two crashes…And pretty lucky. I was quite lucky, but one day luck abandoned me. It was about the time my first son was born and I had to feed my family.

I fell into wine when I was very young. When I was 14 I was doing harvests. I finished school, ran down the road to my house and asked where the pickers were. I went to find them in the vineyards and there you go. I fell into it. So when I stopped the sidecar I went into wine. I still had a few scores to settle with my family so I said I’m going to make wine but make it better than them – that was my first motivation. I then went travelling around the world and said I’m going to make the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world – not at all pretentious for a guy with two years’ experience.

OS – And why Sauvignon Blanc?

DD – You haven’t got a choice. You don’t even ask yourself the question. If you want to make wine here, it’s Sauvignon. What wasn’t heresy 20 or 25 years ago, but which is becoming a heresy now is to think about using other varieties. I think that if climate changes continue in this way, we’ll have to find something else. Rather than saying ‘we’ve got to add acid or whatever’, [we should] find varieties that bring an acidity, that have an acidity that’s cleaner than the blanc fumé. We’ve got a few trials going on – one day, when you come back, you can taste them. We’re trying out Riesling and some Petit Meslier. The Petit Meslier was a variety you used to find even here, in the Sancerrois, and in the Auxerrois as well – in Chablis – and in Champagne. That variety brings an incredible acidity. So we planted a little bit and vinified it seperately, to see what it did. So people will say you should have one appellation and two grape varieties [Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir] – ok, but they should also authorise 5-10% of another, or two other, varieties that you can’t commercialise separately. It’s got to be controlled – you don’t want to people to do what the hell they like but it would give a good base of acidity – much better than using tartaric acid.

OS – Have you ever thought about trying to be president of the INAO?

DD – We had Masson, who was president of the Pouilly region who’s not an idiot. He was at the INAO but he stopped. It’s a bit stupid not to have someone local who’s there to defend [the area’s] interests.

OS – But you didn’t want to try for it?

DD – I can’t even join the Pouilly winemakers’ union – they don’t want me, so probably not the INAO. No, the minister of agriculture, I’d like to try that.

No, it’s true, there are things to be done. Not least to defend French wines, which are regarded as alcohol but it needs to be considered a cultural product, which is what the Spanish and the Italians are doing.

What’s dramatic is that they say wine is alcohol. You’ve got to put strong alcohol in a certain category but, hell, wine is a cultural product.

OS – Do you think your son will continue your wines?

DD – I would have liked him to work with me but apparently he wants to set out on his own. I told him, ‘if you want to set out on your own, I’ll help you, I’ll tell you what I think, I’ll help you as much as I can, but if you think you’re going to use my kit, in my winery and sell your wine to my clients it ain’t going to work like that. I’ll help you out, I’ll lend you my kit, at the start you’ll make your wine in the winery but afterwards you’re going to have to buy your own kit and do your own wine – that’s setting out on your own. Or we work together. And working together isn’t like 80% of the young guys – ‘I got the Mercedes coupé, or the 4×4 thingy, all that, do a quick tour of the wines to see if the workers need a hand’ – that’s not it.

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