A Meeting with Michel Rolland

Michel Rolland is a very special person in the world of wine, the true master, with whom it is indecent to meet without having prepared yourself properly. I arrived from Argentina, for a meeting with Mr. Rolland, where I tried the “Andeluna” wine, decorated with his name. The wine left a very good impression in me. When I was looking for it in all the liquor stores I was saying: “Well, I am looking for this wine, because after all I cannot go to a meeting with Michel Rolland, without having tried a wine made by him”...

For already 30 years I've been studying the ancient civilizations and as an archaeologist I've been unearthing the greats. Mr. Rolland is such a remarkable find that not a single researcher could remain indifferent to it. Our meeting was specifically timed to coincide with the full moon, the Day of St. Martin, so that the special days were combined with a special person.


Oleg Cherne: Mr. Rolland, there is an opinion that exists a world of wine along with a culture of wine, and these areas, in general, are not very much crossing with each other. How do You think?

Michel Rolland: There is a truth in what You are saying. Indeed, there is a culture, and there is also a tradition. Besides, a world of business exists, and in fact, the wine that's being sold is not some mythological product, it is just a business product. Very often, unfortunately, the wine is idealized, and many see in the wine, only the fact that it is a great wine... Wine, in reality, is a culture, especially an ancient culture. However, the culture cannot go away from the old world just like that. For example, you are not supposed to produce Bordeaux, unless you have some general idea of culture.
My profession is to make wine. When I participate, for example, in the assemblage of a wine, which is produced in Spain in batches of 7 to 8 million bottles a year, then what high culture can be there? But instead, there is an image. A commercial image.

– So, the amount of produced wine is an indicator of culture?

– This is an indicator for the efforts, care and responsibility, and that's already a part of the culture.

– I heard that it was exactly You, who showed Robert Parker to the world...

– It's not worth it to exaggerate. The story with Parker is very simple. We were born in the same year. When we met exactly 27 years ago, we were still young. At the time such brand as “Robert Parker” did not exist, and the name of Mr. Rolland was not famous as well. We made parallel careers. I make wine and Parker is a critic. But it happened so that we became friends, and I think Robert has great respect for me as a winemaker, and I, in my turn, have great respect for him as a critic. That's why, we are still friends.

– There is an opinion that there is Cabernet Sauvignon and there is all the rest wine.What do You think about that?

– I cannot agree with that. There are also other great wines in the world, not only the ones based on Cabernet Sauvignon. We can certainly say that: Cabernet Sauvignon is a grape variety that can adapt better to either end of the world, than any other wine. When the New World wanted to make wine, what did they plant? They all planted Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot cannot adapt everywhere, the same is with Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir... However, Cabernet Sauvignon can be grown practically everywhere.

– And which one of the autochthonous varieties would you highlight?

– There are a few that I like: Grenache, for example, in Priorat, Spain. Sangiovese in Italy is very good. Malbec – despite the fact that it has a French origin, however, it adapts best in Argentina. I also very much like Pinot Noir. It is unusual for a resident of Medoc, but I very much love it. The great wine, well, simply the exceptional one is made of Pinot Noir.

– Considering Your answers in one of the articles, You enjoy the softer, rounded wines.Is that right?

– When I decided to go back to the sources, when I have just started, the wines were lean, the tannins were very rough, somehow village... It is now that I am telling you about Bordeaux, at that time there were no other wines, other fields for games. And amidst all this mass of wines were singled out several millesimes that subsequently became the standard for the whole world. However, if You look at all these millesimes, you will see that those wines were soft, or such wines “without corners”, the tannins in them were very soft. These wines were powerful, dense, but there was no rigidity. That's why I said to myself: “Well this, probably, is a very good wine. Let's try to do it the same way”.

– Today, when the world in general is oriented on wines that would be drunk in the near future, then can we hope that there would be made any wines with a long history?

– Now this is a real problem for the great wines. The people drink the wine too early. I think that at the heart of this lies to a greater extent the social behavior, than some oenological reasons. But those, whom I call correct consumers, do not make such mistakes. The great wines are all the same designed for a specific class of people...

– In England, the investments in wine are very well developed, when people invest money in the long– playing wines, so to speak.Do You think that this is really a competent investment of money?

– Not only the English, but also the Russians are doing the same. Just the English stole the march on everyone else by several years, because such large auctions like Christie's and Sotheby's showed great interest in this. If you want to find a lot of interesting wines, then now you have to go to the United States. Although Russia and Asia are also very interested in wines, and this market is expanding. This is called a mere speculation. Is this good or bad? If a product shows, and becomes a subject of speculation, then it's still a good sign for that, who actually made this product.

– Which wines would You recommend as the most favorable for investment?Do You have any advice for the people, who want to invest in wine?

– It is necessary to buy those wines, which have received 100 points from Parker.

– But do You agree with all these assessments that Parker is giving?

– The thing is that the assessment is always something personal. Therefore, at some point one and the same taste can be evaluated differently. Wine sampling – this is really a very difficult art. So, the good tasters are not those people, who never make mistakes, but those who make mistakes, however, less frequently than others. Exactly the same case is with Parker.

– What will You say about the “Pape Clement” 2005 wine, which received 100 points from Parker? I have an opinion that this wine will repeat the way of “Petrus” (“Chateau Petrus”).

– I wish that to it! You know, I love this wine. Actually, I made it! (Laughs)

– The 2004 wine is also very strong, but did You try “Pontet Canet (“Chateau Pontet Canet Grand Cru”) 2005, which is certainly one of the ten best wines for investment?

– Yes! I made this one, as well.

– I'm not so much an expert on wine, than rather an expert on water, but I think it's the best water I've ever tasted.Actually, I think that many still do not realize what a particular wine this is.

– I'm not a magician, but it just happened so. When I arrive at Chateau Pontet Canet and look at these vineyards, I realize that this is one of the most beautiful estates in Médoc. And also the terroir here is even better than the Rothschild's.

– Among all the Grand Cru, which I have visited to this moment, in fact, none of them impressed me with its wines.Yes, these are good wines, this is a good history, but it seems to me that they are selling more their history than their wines.

– That's right. They sell history. And it is good that you have noticed it.

– What other interesting wines could You mention?

– There are a lot! I would point out my wines from Saint– Emilion, of course from the area of Cheval Blanc. I also like “Chateau Povi”, “Chateau Troplon Mondo”. These wines are regularly at the level of the first.

– If people want to buy wine and try it after 15 years, what wine would you recommend?

– Of course, the ones that I mentioned. After all, there are wines that can be drunk only after 15 years. But not all wines can be drunk after 15 years. So for “Chateau Pontet Canet” 2005, an aging of 15, 20, 30 years is the best for it.

– Well, of course, now it's just hard to drink, it's so powerful!

– Exactly. It is now better not to drink it.

However, if you take “Bron de Cru” 2005, for example, you can drink it.

– Yes, it's a good wine, but it does not possess that density... This wine cannot be kept as long as “Ponte Canet.”

– And do You like wines that are made in America and Australia?

– I consult a lot in America, they know me well there, like also in Argentina. There are many good wines, but I would single out “Colgin” of Allan Scott Wines & Estates Ltd. This wine is not mine. But from mine – “Screaming Eagle”. From the family of the seven most famous wines of the Nappa valley I have a special relation to five. I also very much like the Australian wines on the basis of Shiraz. If you look at the “Granja” wine, at all these old wines, then there are very good ones. But I still think that the wines in Australia have an average quality. The great wines there are less.

– As for Shiraz I agree, these wines are very strongly highlighted in Australia.Are there any particular wines that you would single out?

– No. What confuses me in Australia... Take Parker and his “Wine Spectator”. A stable rating from 90 to 100. How many were send? 200 boxes, 150 boxes, 225 boxes of 12 bottles, that is, very little. Such a small quantity of good wine can be done almost anywhere. For comparison, “Pape Clement” is produced in a series of 10,000 boxes.

– That is the Aussies win, but only if they are doing a small amount of wine?

– Yes, and that's already another profession. They can make great wines, but in small quantities. This means that they cannot be really represented on the market, only a small group of specialists will know about them. The problem with the Australian wines is that you cannot find on the market even those wines that get high marks.

– Is the situation in the U.S. different?

– Yes, there they do 2, 3, 5 thousand boxes, and they get a good quality.

– What do You think about South Africa?About Pinotage grapes?

– I make wines in South Africa, and I like the “Bon Novel” wine, it is based on Cabernet Sauvignon. But there you can also find good wines made of Merlot and Pinotage.

– Are You doing something in Russia?

– No, still no one has invited me.

– So, what are You working at lately?As I see, You don't very often go to Bordeaux.

– That's right. I'm now consulting about a hundred estates around the world, sixty of which are in Bordeaux. Half of my time I spend in Bordeaux, and half abroad.

– Do You think that the wine after Obama's arrival in America will become better?

– (Laughs). I do not know, but I am convinced that the more difficult will make it worse, than when Bush was. Besides, I do not even know what Obama likes to drink.

– Is it possible to change the world with the help of wine?

– This is some higher idea about wine.

– Who would You recommend from the oenologists in the world, whom You respect as masters?

– First of all, I respect all of them. I think that there are very good specialists and masters in the world. But as a rule, the world is arranged so that highly respected are those who are already gone. Or those who are already old and do not do that more. Well, for example, around me some admirers have appeared lately, so, perhaps, I'm already old... At my time, I admired Emile Peynaud, who is considered the founder of oenology, and in general, he was my professor and we loved him very much. He's just the man who invented the modern oenology.

– What do You think about the perspectives of the development of quality wine– making in the world?

– Note that in the last 15 years, the quality of wine was very much improved. The people have never drunk such good and quality wines, as it is now.

– But at the same time the amount of low– quality wines increased...

– And that's what, I think, is simply impossible to avoid.

– One critic said that the good wines on the market are no more than 30%.What do You think about this?

– I believe that this critic is too generous. My statistics – 5% very good wines, 15% – good, and everything else is of no interest. You do the math... The world produces 280 million hectoliters of wine. 20% – it's about 56 million hectoliters of good wine. That amount fulfills about 800 million bottles. This is 5%. Think about it, and believe me that 5% is a lot. I believe that with 800 million bottles I'll have work for the rest of my life.

– You will have it for sure, but my thought is that a good wine is a real quality liquid for a quality human existence.

– Of course, I agree with that. I myself am a living example of that.

– But, unfortunately, You are very different from the ordinary people, You can just be some reference point.

– But that's exactly the purpose of my game. Of course, not when I started all this, but what purpose do you need to have in your life after all? I, Michel Rolland, for sure am one of those rare oenologists or even the only one who has made so many wines. I mean different quality and different levels. And according to the measure of movement of my professional career, I have gradually sifted all the unnecessary. Naturally, I won't clean up the good, if there is bad!

– One oenologist said that there is wine, a real quality wine, and there are wine drinks... I explore not only the wine, but all liquids, as each liquid is very important to us.In my opinion, it is better not to drink any wine than to drink a bad wine.The same is with water.

– I'm not sure that the quality of wine affects the human qualities and the body. But for me, not to drink bad wine is clearly an intellectual point. I'm just lucky that I can try good wine. That's why, what is the point to try bad wine?

– But the thing is that when a person is drinking quality water, it stays in him.When it stays, also the energy of this drink stays.And this energy enters the kidneys.It feeds the bone marrow, and thus, nourishes the brain.The food does not nourish our brains, only the liquid nourishes our brain.Our brain must always have food, and the food is the liquid...That is the food for the brain is either the intellectual work, or the liquid, but the work of the brain depends precisely on the quality of the liquid.

– Well, then, in view of the high quality wines that I have drunk in my whole life, my brain must be developed first class! (Laughs). Well, at least it should be nourished...


18 february 2009

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