Are Winemaker Consultants Good or Bad Wizards?

Good Wizard or Bad Wizard?
Winemaking consultants, “Flying Winemakers”, you’ve probably heard of one or more. The best known is perhaps Michel Rolland, reknown for helping wineries adjust their vineyard and cellar practices to achieve riper wines with bolder flavors. These translate into high scores from major publications such as those of Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator. But are they good or bad?

Wizards of Taste
The simple truth is that today’s winemaking consultants each have a style or trait which characterizes their oenological approach. For us consumers, it’s helpful to understand at least a few of the consultants and their approaches. If the approach appeals to your taste, you have another clue to help you pick out a new wine. Even if you don’t like the approach, this knowledge can be useful in helping you avoid a wine you are unlikely to enjoy.

Winemaker consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt

Stéphane Derenoncourt is a prominent winemaker consultant and a believer in the wine reflecting the place it was grown.

Stéphane Derenoncourt – A “Wine as Expression of the Land” Wizard
A highlight from our spring trip to Bordeaux courtesy of the Millesima 2017 Blog Awards was a visit with Stéphane Derenoncourt during an En Primeur Tasting of his wines. At the time, I was familiar with Michel Rolland and my general impression of all winemaker consultants was that they existed to help wineries achieve higher critical scores and hence more sales. During our first few minutes with Stéphane, I realized I might be all wrong given his explanation of his approach.

When the opportunity arose to ask questions, I swallowed hard and asked Stéphane this:  Imagine I had just purchased a plot of land in Bordeaux and wanted to make wine, but I knew I would need help, why would I hire Stéphane and not one of the other big names? I was afraid of a stinging rebuke, but he responded to the question with patience and grace. He explained that I would hire him if I wanted to achieve the best wine that would represent the spot of earth I had just purchased. Maybe not the highest scoring wine, but a wine that truly reflected that place and that season. His team would help me increase the health of the soil and produce grapes that did not need “adjustments” in the cellar.

(photo courtesy of Frederic Lot of Millesima)

Stephane was genuine and truly generous with his time. (photo courtesy of Frederic Lot of Millesima)

Stéphane found his fame by working his way up from the vineyard and cellar. He is first and foremost a pragmatist. Not all his clients are big shots with unlimited funds. One of his clients in the Haut-Medoc has just 6.5 hectares, 1 tractor, and himself, no employees. His wine sells for 6.5 € per bottle. There’s no way he can farm organically or biodynamically, yet.  But over time, if he takes care to grow high quality grapes, that can change.

Soil is Key
Even in his most glamorous tasting, he organizes his customers’ wines by soil type, the basis of his approach.

Tracking Down Stéphane Derenoncourt’s Customers’ Wines
If wines that reflect the land are your interest, you can track down Stéphane’s customers wines, simply go to the Derenoncourt Consultants website for a full list of properties. As Stéphane told us, not all his clients are super-high-end boutique wineries, some are very accessible. I recently found an affordable Medoc wine in the Derenoncourt stable and will be featuring it in an upcoming post.

To my taste, Mr. Derenoncourt is a good Wizard, I’ll continue to be on the lookout for his customers’ wines.

Maison Blanche Bordeaux wine

Maison Blanche is a modest winery in the Medoc, I’ll be featuring this wine in an upcoming post

Other Winemaker Consultants
If wine that speaks of the land isn’t your thing, that’s ok.  Are you a fan of polished, lush wines? Perfect white wines? Anti-French wines?  There’s a winemaker consultant you might enjoy knowing about.  Here are a couple of good articles that just might help you find that perfect new bottle you’ve been seeking:

Our Millesima Blog Awards 2017 group with Stéphane Derenoncourt

Our Millesima Blog Awards 2017 group with Stéphane Derenoncourt (photo courtesy of Frederic Lot of Millesima)

A special thanks to our Millesima hosts, who sponsored the #MillesimaBA2017 trip for the six blog award winners, including this visit with Stéphane Derenoncourt. Thanks to Stéphane for being a gracious and patient host!


4 Responses to “Are Winemaker Consultants Good or Bad Wizards?”
  1. Interesting insight. Thanks for sharing.
    I worked for Michel ROlland when I was a winemaker, and was alway simpressed by his downto-earth approach to making wine.
    The ‘recipe for making standardized wines that receive high Parker scores’ is a bit of a myth, or a simplification of what the work of a wine consultant really involves.
    See you around the world of wine. Cheers 🙂 Julien

  2. I think in some cases your perspective is accurate. It just depends. I have met and spent time with one of Italy’s more famous consultants, who likes to stay very much behind the scenes. He fits perhaps your newer more open-minded perspective. His work is extraordinary and enjoyed my thousands. Possibly you….cheers!

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] to producing wines reflecting their unique land. To that end, they have enlisted the help of Stéphane Derenencourt to help them in their quest. Because they don’t have the amount of gravel needed to guarantee […]

  2. […] There was a tasting of all Stéphane’s clients wines at one event at En Primeure Our group had to choose a group to taste Stéphane explained his approach and how he consulted for famous and humble alike Stephane was genuine and truly generous with his time. (photo courtesy of Frederic Lot of Millesima) […]

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