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Wednesday, 23 March 2011

French Artisan Wines and Terroir - Interview with Patrimoine des Terroirs Founders, Alain Vautherot and Céline Malfait

One of the most interesting aspects of writing a wine blog for me has been the opportunity to make the acquaintance of many artisan wine-makers and producers and gain a real understanding of some of the subtle nuances of terroir which one simply cannot expect to find in more everyday wines or from those whose job it is simply to sell the stuff.

Artisan wine-makers face particular challenges in that, by definition, they do not make wines in mass-market, supermarket-friendly quantities yet they are not able to command the kinds of price premiums that are attached to top Bordeaux or Burgundy, for example.

Sitting in the mid-level, the domain of independent wine merchants, they face perhaps the biggest challenge in persuading people to pay a bit extra to buy their wines, as they have neither the name of a world-famous Chateau nor deep pockets to spend on marketing and promotion.

One solution that I have seen increasingly is for groups of artisan wine-makers to combine forces on the business side to benefit from some economies of scale on promotion, marketing, distribution and admin without having to sacrifice any of their values as winemakers.

This is, broadly, the idea behind Patrimoine des Terroirs and, having reviewed a number of their wines and been impressed, I wanted to find out a little more about the organisation.

The name translates as "Heritage of Terroirs" and it was set up in 2006 by founder Alain Vautherot with a vision of promoting the wines of the 30-or-so winemakers from almost all regions in France including Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone and Provence who make up the group.

A common feature of all the wines I have had from Patrimoine des Terroirs is a richness and depth of flavour that speaks of a natural approach to vineyard practices and an attention to detail in the winery, as well as a good linear structure of complex fruit acidity that makes them very food friendly.

They are currently looking for representation in a number of markets, including the UK, but I started by asking Alain and Céline about what the organisation actually does:

PdT: Formed in 2006, Patrimoine des Terroirs is an ethical group of independent winegrowers; our goal is to promote the richness, diversity and history of French wines to professionals both in France and abroad.

We are able to offer a full range of wines, Champagnes and spirits from throughout France - sustainable, organic, biodynamic and Fairtrade wines.

We promote the incredible diversity of each region; you can buy a wide range of fine French wines direct from the vineyard, made by passionate and independent French wine-growers. Our selection of wines uniquely combines premium quality and reasonable prices.

We carry out commercial and marketing initiatives (wine fairs, events, reception of buyers, marketing documents) and our logistics operations allow producers to enjoy the benefits of our scale with a single warehouse. This allows us to offer mixed pallets and therefore reduce storage fees and shipment costs.

TL: Describe your role at Patrimoine des Terroirs ? What happens on a typical day ?

PdT: Firstly, our role is to organize the life of Patrimoine des Terroirs: to keep in touch with our contacts, to track the sales of our wines in different markets, organising events, fairs, deliveries of samples and/or the preparation of orders. As a single point of contact, we try to be close to each partner. Secondly, we help our producers in their commercial and marketing policy.

TL: What are the main aims of the organisation ?

PdT: We share the same values, and the same objectives - to make quality wines. We believe that to make a great wine, we have to respect our terroirs, work our soil. We take great care to allow the environment, as well as the land, to express itself and present its full richness.

We guarantee an ethos of quality, authenticity and respect for our terroir; we are very proud to keep offering the widest and best diversity, as well as great service in order to promote together real and independent producers; it's an "Authenticity Wine Label".

TL: How would you describe the key characteristics of a typical Patrimoine des Terroirs wine ?

PdT: They are produced with consideration for the environment, have an excellent price-quality ratio, have some characteristics of flavour which make the wine particular and different and have some characteristics such as a typical blend or a specific grape variety.

Domaine Sangouard
TL: What gave you the idea and the motivation to establish Patrimoine des Terroirs ?

PdT: During our childhood, our parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts taught us how to appreciate good things, to discover local specialities, to listen to and discover nature. But can we  now find that quality that our relatives used to talk to us about ?

Patrimoine des Terroirs is our motive: to share with people this quality, this savoir-faire, all these specialities that we appreciate so much.

Our ambition ? To demonstrate to a wide audience what our French soils and gastronomic culture has to offer.

Our goal?  To never disappoint anyone, to give everyone the proof that it's still possible to make "good things" and bring people to the pleasure of tasting and sharing.

TL: What do you look for in a winemaker before inviting them to join Patrimoine des Terroirs ?

PdT: To be a member of Patrimoine des Terroirs, it's first about being an artisan with the will to promote their terroirs and to develop them. It's also a constant research to work with a respect of the spirit of nature, favoring good sense over chemical practices, following a certain rigour of approach and striving for progress.

Being an association representing a group of producers, we also have the possibility to exchange ideas and experience - not to work as an individual, but to share the results of experimentation, knowledge and discoveries, for everyone's benefit, from the domaine to the client.

The domaines are all united by common origins: their passion is to make wines that are related to their personality, their land.

Bringing to people a pleasure during tasting is above all else how our success is measured. Each member engages himself to receive, transmit, welcome and share the essence of his passion, in the best climate of friendship, and offer to the enthusiast, the wine-lover and to professionals all the richness of his wines.

All domains demonstrate their passion through a constant improvement of the quality of their wines, from their work with the vines to the final bottling, respecting the identity of their appellation and the personality of the creator.

TL: Patrimoine des Terroirs is now five years old - where do you expect it to be in another five ? And at fifty ?

PdT: During the next five years, our wish is to expand internationally and to build strong and effective relationships with our partners for the long term. Our goal is to increase our sales to 500,000 bottles per year. To build strong business relationships that will help us to promote the wines, to develop relationships between producers and wine professionals in order to explain each domain, their wines and their specific qualities.

Moreover, we would like to be recognized as an authentic label of quality with environmental values which are seen as "real French terroir wines".

At fifty, we hope that the new generation will follow our values and approach.

TL: What factors or changes do you see having the greatest impact on your business and wine-making in general over the next few years ?

PdT: The economic crisis and the wish by consumers to find more natural products is in general opening new doors for us.

Firstly, we offer the possibility for wine merchants to order either in mixed pallets from different producers or to have a pallet from just one producer. This allows us to reduce distribution costs, to increase the sales of each wine and to reduce the impact on cash flow.

Secondly, Patrimoine des Terroirs reduces its emissions and environmental impact through having a single warehouse and with all our producers following sustainable and / or organic practices. Our wish is to work in the spirit of the respect of the nature in our vineyards, cellars, and during the deliveries of our wines.

TL: What has been your greatest success so far and what was the greatest challenge you have had to overcome ?

Our greatest success is our increase in sales over the last six months. Our approach, our concept and our domains have been appreciated by more and more buyers, journalists, bloggers such as you, Tom, and we are obviously very happy about that.

For example, we now sell wines in Mongolia, Brazil, USA, Belgium, Sweden, Hong Kong, South Korea, Germany, Czech Republic and China, and we are having active discussions with importers in Australia, Ireland, Denmark and Singapore.

However, the most important thing for us is to be recognize for our authenticity, our quality and the values we share. Moreover, we aim to be always the best in our values, in our concept to be recognized as a Authentic Wine Label and to stay in the leading position for that.


Patrimoine des Terroirs - http://patrimoinevin.canalblog.com/

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