Travel to some parts of the world, like South Africa and Argentina, and it seems you can’t bump in to a winemaker that has not worked with Michel Rolland at some stage in their history. As a wine consultant he really does rule the world, currently working in over 20 countries. But he could not do so without his team of winemakers and viticulturists – like Julien Viaud, who happens to be both. We caught up with him at Vinexpo
As both a winemaker and viticulturist Julien Viaud is unique amongst wine consultant Michel Rolland’s team.
Despite popular belief there is not a Michel Rolland “recipe” when it comes to making wine around the world, insists one of his winemakers and only viticulturist, Julien Viaud. Each winery, terroir and climate is judged on its own merits.
It is easy to think of Michel Rolland as this one man winemaking machine travelling the world, like a modern day Alan Whicker, constantly tasting, blending and moving from one continent to the next with a bag full of test tubes and magic Rolland yeast ready to make his next wine. The reality is somewhat different. He is clearly a busy man, but there are actually six Michel Rollands travelling the world. Himself and a team of five consultants and winemakers working directly with him or on his behalf with wineries and in vineyards the world over.
Either way the Rolland winemaking machine covers a lot of ground and most other winemaking continents on the planet. From the Americas, through Europe, into Russia, down to India and then over to Asia and the depths of southern China.
We caught up with one of his team, Julian Viaud at last week’s Vinexpo where he was helping to promote the work the Rolland team is doing to help develop Grands Chais de France’s Bordeaux wines by working across five of its chateaux in the region.
How long have you been working with Michel Rolland and how did you link up?
I have been working with him for 11 years now. Previously I had been the general manager of a small winery in the south of France, Domaine des Chȇnes, which was such a good experience as I learnt everything there is to do in a vineyard and in a winery. I spent four years there and started off not knowing anything and finished up working for Michel Rolland. I think it is because I was able to bring both winemaking and viticulturist skills to his team. I am the only one in the team that can do both. After all you need to have good grapes first before you can make good wine.
How do you and the rest of the consulting team work with Michel Rolland?
I think people are surprised to find out that there are only five people working with Michel Rolland. Particularly when you realise we are consulting for 300 different vineyards in 23 countries. The team is split so that we can cover all the vineyards we represent. It is mainly split between those who can speak English and those who can speak Spanish. But whatever projects we are on, we all work collaboratively and it is a very connected team.
Which countries do you personally work in?
I am currently working in China, India, Russian Lebanon, Italy and Bordeaux. It is really interesting to see the differences between the countries. But you have to remember the two most important factors when working with any winery, regardless of where they are, is its terroir and the people. They are different everywhere you go. You have to be good at learning and understanding new cultural skills and how to connect with the people where you are working.
How do you mean?
Well take India. You have to realise that they have a different way of understanding language. Particularly when you are talking to them about their wines and what we think we need to do to help them. You have to do it in a way that they see as being positive.
You are working in China. Whereabouts?
We are in Shandong, which has a tropical climate and also produces plums and table grapes.
Is there a Michel Rolland recipe for making wine?
Not at all. We have no rules. Our philosophy no matter where we are working is to make good wine that you can drink and sell. After all being able to sell the wine you make is the most important. So if you are in an area that makes good fruity wine then that is the wine you have to try and make. We look for ripeness and wines that are good to drink. But it also depends on the budget that we have as well.
Can you explain the work you have been doing with Grand Chais de France and its Bordeaux chateaux?
Yes, we started working with Grands Chais de France’s five Bordeaux chateaux in about 2008. We work very closely and collaborate with Grand Chais de France’s winemaking team across what are very different properties. It is important to make clear that we are not making the wine, but are there to offer an independent view. Something from outside the company. Whilst they are concerned about every day issues, we can come in and give them a different view. We want to help them make wines that are the true expression of that region and that terroir. But they are the winemaker, we are the consultant.
How does that work?
Our philosophy is to go deeply in to all the details, where we might make lots of little changes that all add up to make a better wine. Grands Chais de France is very committed to making great quality wine. Every year I will present three blends from a property, the first being the best quality, the second is OK and the third is slightly less quality. It always goes for the first blend.
Can you sum up the work of Michel Rolland?
vin really are no rules to what we do other than try and make the best quality wine we can. So to do that we all have to be able to adapt, and do the work that is needed in that property or winery. Even if the soil is the same, where it is will be different based on the hours and exposure to the sun, the climate is always different. It is great working with someone who still absolutely loves his job and just wants to keep on going. That’s his future and we want to be part of his brand and to keep it going.
- This is an extended and adapted version of an article first produced for the Vinexpo Daily.