The Inside Tale on Winemaking OutsidersThe story of how a diverse group of individuals all
arrived at the same conclusion... they wanted to make wine and
they wanted to do it in the Languedoc-Roussillon. The only thing
they had in common, except, perhaps, the courage of their convictions,
was that they were "Outsiders"..."... and all were talent-hunted
by Louise Hurren.
Given that they are all making wine in the world's biggest
and most diverse wine region, the answer - to what sounds like
a twist on the old joke - may not be all that easy.
An independent PR professional in the Languedoc got it straight
away, and coined a word to describe these winegrowers, all defined
by experiences in other places, and often in other professions
as well... the Outsiders...
Outsiders: "a thing or person not within
She is Louise Hurren, a Brighton-born modern languages graduate
who came to the Languedoc in 2002 after a career in advertising
and public relations. It was a life-change move for her. "I
had been working with corporate clients," she explains. "This
was my chance for a really personal project, to do my own thing."
Hurren's 'own thing' began to take shape when she started visiting
wine fairs and vineyards for expatriate magazines such as Living
in France and France Magazine. "I was writing about wine
from a layman's perspective" she says, "just dipping
my toes in. Then I added substance to my interest by taking the
WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) intermediate and advanced
courses. And along the way I met a lot of really interesting wine
makers from all sorts of backgrounds."
One of them was an Englishwoman called Katie Jones, from Leicestershire,
at that time still Marketing and Sales Manager of the well-known
Fitou wine cooperative, Mont Tauch.
Katie Jones then staked her future on 3 hectares of hillside
farmland, kilometres from anywhere in the wilds of Roussillon, where
she now makes her own highly acclaimed wines. (www.domainejones.com)
"A lot of these winemakers were looking for an innovative,
new approach to marketing their wines", Hurren continues,
"and that is when I began thinking of setting up the Outsiders."
"They all come from somewhere else. They all have a new and
different vision, and a story to tell. Most of them come from
different backgrounds. And they all have a will to succeed, to
share, and to work together. They all also have a certain quality
and reputation. I invited Katie to join because I figured that
after 16 years with one of the leading wine cooperatives, she
probably knew what she was doing."
No story can be more dramatic than that of Jonathan and Rachel
Hesford. "The tipping point for them came when they watched
that plane fly into the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11,"
Louise explains. "With that they lost their home and their
job, and were pushed into thinking about what they really wanted
to do with their lives."
Jonathan had a career in IT under his belt, designing command
and control systems for submarines, and trading systems for Merrill
Lynch and now he makes award-winning wines in Roussillon
"But the Outsiders is very much a mixed bunch" Hurren
adds, "with some French members, who are as much outsiders
as the foreigners. I have great respect for Brigitte Chevalier
of Domaine Cébène, for instance. She used to work
for the famous Bordeaux producer and négoçiant,
Jean-Luc Thunevin, and then stepped away from all that to come
and make her own wines in the Languedoc."
Brigitte Chevalier, Domaine de Cébène
The Faugères appellation is about as far removed from
St Emilion as you can get, and Brigitte Chevalier's organic wines
are already winning high praise from top wine critics such as
Jancis Robinson (www.cebene.fr)
"Similarly, there is Château Anglès, run by
the Fabre family. Eric Fabre was the Technical Director of Château
Lafite Rothschild in the Médoc for eight years before coming
down to do his own thing in the Languedoc. His son Vianney, who
worked for one of the leading Champagne producers before joining
the family, adds energy and enthusiasm to the group La Clape is
an exciting terroir, and it's great to have an old-school French
family with such an established reputation in wine, on board."
Ryan O'Connell of the Domaine O’Vineyards near Carcassonne was
a natural for Hurren. "We found each other on the internet.
He's very present there, and it was only a matter of time before
we hooked up. His naturally infectious, bubbly personality and
great can-do attitude are a huge bonus."
Ryan is the Outsider very much on the inside of the internet.
He moved to the Languedoc with his American-French parents in
2004, and applied his limitless energy to putting O'Vineyards,
and the relatively unknown Cabardès appellation, on the
map of cyberspace. Like most of the other Outsiders, their 17
ha estate signposted a life and career-changing moment.(www.ovineyards.com)
"Ruth and Charles Simpson are a good example of our diversity,"
Hurren continues. "They are an ambitious Irish-Scottish couple
with a high-flying background in marketing, who bought the Domaine Sainte Rose near Servian nearly ten years ago. Their approach
is very businesslike, and they bring a very focused vision to
Charles and Ruth Simpson, Domaine Sainte
Unlike their fellow Outsiders making wine in areas blessed with
Grands Vins, Crus, or even Terroirs d'Exception
status, the Simpsons
are creating a 'new tradition' of what they call 'affordable luxury'
Country Wines (IGP), with a nod to the new world. (www.domainesainterose.com)
The Outsider with a lot of insider knowledge is Catherine Wallace,
who came to Saint Chinian armed with more than 20 years experience
in the wine trade. "I met Catherine at a Women in Wine tasting
in London a few years ago" Hurren remembers, "and I
was struck then by her sensible, two-feet-on-the-ground attitude.
She has huge amounts of energy: she runs her medal-winning Château
de Combebelle almost single-handed, farms her vines according
to biodynamic principles, and will also be sitting her Master
of Wine exams this year." (www.combebelle.com)
A good personification of Outsider-ism is the Panmans of Chateau
Rives-Blanques in Limoux, who have lived and worked in over a
dozen countries on all the continents of the world before settling
in the Languedoc. Rives-Blanques is known for a number of interesting,
off-the-beaten-track wines. "They have an excellent reputation,
a lot of good contacts, and a mature vision. It's also quite an
Outsider thing to be specialising in white wines in a region known
for its reds," Hurren says. "I love them for their joy
and fizz" she adds, not making it entirely clear if she means
the people or their gold-medal winning Crémant de Limoux.
Limoux, Languedoc Roussillon
One thing all the Outsiders have in common is a fresh look at
the status quo, and the courage of their convictions. They cover
the length and breadth of Languedoc-Roussillon, making wines that
are as diverse as they are themselves. And no one embodies the
Outsider mentality better than Louise Hurren herself, who pulled
the whole thing together.
That is probably because it takes one to know one.