Benjamin Darnault is a wine consultant and technician who follows several different projects in the region. And he’s just released two new wines. The wines are good examples of the amazing value you can find in the Languedoc Roussillon, and what’s more, the story behind these wines provides an inspiring model for other grape growers and winemakers in the region who want to redefine the value of their grapes.
You see, the way cooperatives historically value grapes encourages grape growers toward bulk production. The viticulteur is paid by the kilo or per hectolitre. There are certain quality benchmarks, and growers can often sign up for a more demanding “cahier de charge” so that they will be paid MORE by the kilo or hectoliter. But the goal is still to hit certain quantitative benchmarks because you’re being paid for volume. A lot of the best parcels are actually devalued by this system because they produce less fruit. Quality often plays second fiddle to quantity.
But out of this tragedy comes great hope. Benjamin Darnault looks for the parcels that are undervalued by the co-op. He says that these parcels create a quality of grape that would be much more valuable if separated and vinified as a small-production wine. Cooperatives are good at volume, but (save for a few exceptions) they don’t necessarily know what to do with their best parcels. These parcels can make several thousands of bottles of great wine if kept separate, but some Co-ops can’t even fill the pipes with that small an amount.
So Ben creates value by keeping these wines separate. And he’s been successful, finding a large amount of support from the community at Naked Wines who actually financed this first release (a story worth an entire post). It’s all very interesting and I hope you enjoy the video.
I don’t want to pretend that this is revolutionary. Co-ops very commonly try to do an “haut de gamme”. A lot of growers try to make a bit of wine on their own while selling the bulk of their production to the cooperatif. But at the same time, something feels very unique about this story. Maybe it’s the way Ben is interacting with his UK importer Naked. The wine is sold all the way to final customers before he’s ever bottled it. That’s impressive! It gives you a lot of hope for some of the wine communities around here that are having trouble making ends meet. Maybe they can all adopt this sort of model one day.
Here’s the video introduction on Naked’s site:
Benjamin Darnault 2009, Benjamin Darnault, AOC Minervois
Benjamin Darnault Vielle Reserve 2008, Benjamin Darnault, AOC Minervois la Liviniere
John Hegarty’s MW Symposium Keynote – Referring to wine buyers as an audience.