Benjamin Darnault Redefines Value – Love That Languedoc

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

Episodes referenced:
John Hegarty’s MW Symposium Keynote – Referring to wine buyers as an audience.

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  • By Robert Dougan, August 21, 2010 @ 9:59 pm

    It great to see these type of episodes again! Fascinating, and inspiring to see so many issues touch on with this project. Naked wines, Co-ops, crediting the grower on the back label (is that right?), conserving old plots of vines, or temporarily out of fashion cepages on interesting soils and in interesting microclimates. That Naked Wines and it’s customers, Benjamin Darnault, the grower, Chateau Maris (is that where the wines are vinified?) and the co-op can all come together to do this is really something. Also great you did the episode on this Ryan.

    The Darnault Minervois la Liviniere sounds intriguing and delicious.

    Sylvain Fadat (Domaine d’Aupilhac) calls their 100% Cinsault – Alain Robert Les Srevières – after the grower/owner of the plot who he convinced (or they decided jointly?) not to pull up the vines. It’s a valid and charming idea to credit the grower(s) if different in what is a rather wine-making fixated world.

    At some point, you or Liz will have to tell us the story around the two paintings in the background (last seen when you talked with Juliet Bruce Jones MW)

  • By Benjamin Darnault, August 22, 2010 @ 1:36 pm


    Thanks again for inviting me to O’Vineyards and giving me the time to talk to your community about my small project.

    In the next 3 years another 15 000 ha of vineyards are going to be pulled out in the Languedoc Roussillon. A good part of these are very old vineyards planted with local varietie in great terroirs. They are going to be replaced by mostly chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.
    150 million euros will be given by the EU as subsidies to push this action Don’t you think there’s something wrong with this ? This pile of desructive money could be used to finance projects more constructive and creative… We’ve got a good one here with this blog.

    But I don’t want to get too negative. I really apreciate Robert Dougan’s comment in La Negly post. We need to keep positive. This difficult time we are going through in the wine industry at the moment should not let us sink into destructive thoughts. We are all wine producers in the Languedoc because we fell in love with it and all believe in its incredible richness.

    Keep up the great work Ryan. Let’s see what we can do.

  • By ashley huntington, November 1, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

    Allez Ben! Formidable!! Salut a Kat. Le Languedoc – deuxieme plus beaux endroit du monde apres Tasmanie!

Other Links to this Post

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