robert's blog

A modern success in old Burgundy

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David Duband remembers the breakfast when his father popped the question.

It was 1991, and the young Duband was serving his obligatory year in the French military at a regional gendarmerie near his home in the Burgundian backcountry of the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits.

His father, Pierre, cultivated about 50 acres of vineyards in the Hautes-Côtes—the cooler high, western slopes above the Côtes de Nuits that typically produced less-ripe, simpler wines—and sold the fruit to a local cooperative. But on that morning, his father was planning to purchase an acre of nobler vineyards in nearby Nuits-St.-Georges.

“Do you want to make the wine?” his father asked.

“Yes,” Duband responded, though—like his father—he’d never made wine. He enrolled in a crash winemaking course, got permission to leave his military post for harvest, and went to work, using the cellar below the family house.

Terroir and Technique in Beaujolais

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Mathieu Lapierre on what's important-- and 'natural'-- in wine

Marcel Lapierre was known for two things: producing delicious, aromatic Beaujolais wines on his family’s home turf of Morgon and pioneering a “natural” style of winemaking from the 1980s on.

Since Marcel’s death in 2010, his son, Mathieu, has filled big shoes, carefully making wines that are often sulfur-free until bottling and that frequently score 90 points or higher in Wine Spectator blind tastings.

Wine's Orient Express

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A chat with China's top wine dealer 

Robert Yang is a Chinese wine success story—the self-made man who brought the chain wine shop to the world's most populous country.

For nearly 20 years, the former hotel manager rode China's wave of thirst for Western wine & spirits, by becoming a distributor, retailer, Internet impresario and direct importer. His company called 1919 (a Chinese word play for "I want wine. I want wine.") has grown from one store in Sichuan Province's capital Chengdu in 2005 to a network of 1,000 shops in 600 cities with annual sales expected to top $2 billion this year. 

Mountain Men

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Climbing the heights of Pic St.-Loup

I’ve visited a lot of vineyard estates, but when it comes to inspiring awe, few compare to the Ermitage du Pic St.-Loup in southern France.

Size makes a lot of the difference. On a clear day around Pic St.-Loup—a craggy 2,159-foot-high, sharkfin-shaped mountain in the Languedoc region—the sky seems as big and blue as it gets. In all directions are the rugged lands of the Ermitage.

Southern Star Rising

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A difficult birth for France's newest appellation

The 2016 vintage was a rollercoaster for France’s newborn appellation, Languedoc’s Pic St.-Loup.

In September, nearly 2,500 vineyard acres on the lower flanks of the jagged mountain “Pic,” some 15 miles north of Montpellier, achieved the independent appellation status its winegrowers had sought for more than 20 years. On the surface, the change is subtle: Red and rosé wines that had been labeled as the subappellation Languedoc–Pic St.-Loup will become simply Pic St.-Loup with the 2017 vintage.

Wild About Burgundy (and DRC)

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Edmond Asseily doesn’t make halfway decisions. He goes all in.

As a young high-flying currency and metals trader in Europe in the 1990s, Asseily dove into Bordeaux’s top growths—amassing thousands of bottles in his Paris cellar, studying châteaus and drinking every vintage he could find.

“Within seven years, I drank everything you could drink in Bordeaux back to the 19th century,” he says. “I was on a learning binge.”

But Asseily, now 48, wanted more. Tall and lean, the French-Lebanese hedge-fund manager has an intense personality, fluency in seven languages and a hyperactive curiosity.

A well-dressed Sicilian

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Salvatore Geraci is one of the world’s most well-tailored winemakers.

With his soft-shouldered suits from Naples and handmade shoes and shirts from London, the 60-year-old architect and wine producer is also one of Sicily’s most colorful characters.

“Coco Chanel said, ‘Fashion fades. Style endures,’” says Geraci in his new “garage-wine” vineyard in Passopisciaro, on Mount Etna’s north face. “I want to make wines of style.”

It is a compelling scene: Geraci waxing about style, smartly attired as a country gentleman in an old double-breasted blazer, while in the middle of dilapidated vineyards on Etna’s rustically terraced volcanic slopes.

Heirloom Etna

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Michele Faro loves plants. Especially old ones.

Faro, the production manager of his family's large and successful Sicily-based plant nursery, fell in love with Mount Etna vineyards 15 years ago. In 2005, he began buying up very old, low-yielding vineyards to start his boutique wine label, Pietradolce.

Today, the most striking thing about Pietradolce is its vineyards—not the rows of young, head-trained ("alberello") vines in front of its sleek new lava-stone winery on Etna's north face, but the small old vineyards on the slopes behind it. Here, ungrafted Nerello Mascalese bush vines were arranged haphazardly on lava terraces a century ago.

Benanti's "Brutal" Comeback

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Twin brothers Salvino and Antonio Benanti, 42, have spent their lives side by side: growing up in Sicily, studying at business school, working banking jobs in London and then returning to Sicily to take over the family winery.

In 2012, their father, Giuseppe, handed them Benanti, one of the most important precursors for quality wineries in the now-fashionable region of Mount Etna, on the slopes of the island’s volcano. At the time, Benanti had lost some of its identity, producing too many wines of varying quality.

The brothers knew what they wanted to do and wasted no time.

My "Drinking Problem"

Friends, I’ve got a drinking problem. I am not drinking enough wine to keep my wine cellar current.

You see, almost 16 years ago, when I moved to Europe, I began collecting wine. Not really collecting wine so much as amassing.

Collecting implies a strategy. I’ve been much more random than that. For years, as I traveled through France, Italy and beyond, I bought wines—the more obscure the better.

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