Monday, September 22, 2008

Winemaker great - Didier Dagueneau dies.

Very sad news. French winemaker Didier Dagueneau died in a plane crash a few days ago. If you've never heard of him, he made amazing Sauvignon Blanc. He was notorious for being outspoken, somewhat of a hermit, and kept a scraggly beard & untamed hair. But his wines sang and made you glad to be alive.

Here is his more on him from the New York Times...

D. Dagueneau, Winemaker, Dies at 52

By: Eric Asimov

Published: September 18, 2008

Didier Dagueneau, an iconoclastic Loire Valley winemaker whose Pouilly-Fumés displayed a purity and subtlety far beyond most other sauvignon blanc wines, died Wednesday in a plane crash.

He died when the ultralight plane he was piloting crashed after takeoff in the Dordogne region of France, his New York importer, Joe Dressner, said.

Mr. Dagueneau was 52 and lived in St.-Andelain, a village in the Pouilly-Fumé region on the eastern end of the Loire Valley.

Working with sauvignon blanc, a grape that made crowd-pleasing, thirst-quenching Pouilly-Fumés and Sancerres but was rarely taken seriously, Mr. Dagueneau sought to show its potential for greatness.

“He influenced the entire region,” said Jacqueline Friedrich, a wine writer who is working on a revision of her 1996 book, “A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire.” “I’ve been tasting a lot of Sancerres, and I’m absolutely amazed by the evolution and how much better they’ve become. That was absolutely his doing.”

With meticulous, almost radical attention to detail in his vineyards, and with relentless experimentation and perfectionism in his cellar, Mr. Dagueneau produced wines that, on first taste, were a revelation.

His Pouilly-Fumés have an unexpected clarity to them. The flavors are intense but nuanced. In the mouth, they are wines of great texture and presence, but not weighty at all.

If his wines made an indelible impression, his personality doubled it. With his long, shaggy hair, his heavy beard and his outspoken manner, Mr. Dagueneau could be an intimidating presence. He cultivated a rebellious image, and at one time he rechristened the street outside his winery Rue Che Guevara.

He was a provocateur in winemaking, too, charging prices well beyond the standard of the region. On national television he compared the drastically low yields in his own vineyards with the high yields of his neighbors, and he did not hesitate to criticize their wines.

“He was wildly disliked in the area, yet people had a great deal of respect and admiration for him, too,” Mr. Dressner said. “The wines were so apart from what was produced in the area that people couldn’t deny the quality of the wine.”

Didier Dagueneau was born in St.-Andelain in 1956. His family was in the grape and wine business — his uncle and cousins continue to produce Pouilly-Fumé at Serge Dagueneau & Filles — but as a teenager Didier had a falling-out with his father and struck out on his own.

At first he raced motorcycles, but after a string of crashes he returned to St.-Andelain and the wine business, said Michael Sullivan of Beaune Imports, Mr. Dagueneau’s West Coast importer. He did not lose the taste for daredevil activities: he was a committed dogsled racer and later took up flying.

Mr. Dagueneau is survived by two children from a marriage that ended in divorce, Charlotte and Benjamin, who in recent years had worked closely with him; his partner, Suzanne Cremer; and their two children, Aaron and Léon.

When he went into business in the early 1980s, he had no holdings, but he was able to get enough grapes together by renting vineyards. Even as a young man he was ambitious, competitive and perfectionistic.

“He wanted to be the absolute best in the region,” Mr. Sullivan said. “He realized pretty quickly that mediocre was the norm.”

The 1980s was an era of steel tanks, high yields and chemical farming, but Mr. Dagueneau wanted to make wine as his great-grandmother had done. His vineyards were organic, and as soon as he could afford to do so, he acquired barrels to age his wines. He was eventually able to buy almost 30 acres in Pouilly-Fumé, along with a tiny plot in Les Monts Damnés, one of the finest Sancerre vineyards. Just a few years ago he bought land and began to make wine in Jurançon, in southwest France.

While his criticism of high yields might have angered mainstream winemakers, he also alienated younger winemakers in France’s natural wine movement by rejecting their imperatives to use only ambient yeasts in fermentation and to avoid using sulfur dioxide as a preservative.

Mr. Dagueneau did not smash all idols. He greatly admired Edmund Vatan, a legendary Sancerre producer, and Henri Jayer, the great vigneron of Burgundy. “He thought of Vatan as his godfather, and he worshiped Jayer,” Mr. Sullivan said. “They were extremely close, like father and son.”

Mr. Dagueneau was eventually able to build his own winery, a scrupulously clean structure that has been likened by visitors to a cathedral. As Ms. Friedrich told it in her book, he conceded that the expense was “disproportionate.”

“I didn’t want to wait and do it bit by bit,” he told Ms. Friedrich. “You’ve got to move quickly. Life is short.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bottle Shock, The Movie

Just saw Bottle Shock, a delightful movie, which is about the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting of American versus French wines with the spotlight on Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay from California. Alan Rickman and Dennis Farina are both great in the movie, and it also features beautiful scenery around Napa Valley. The movie centers around relationships of the Barretts (owners of Montelena), but here are all the other wines that participated in the 1976 tasting (courtesy of

1976 Paris Wine Tasting - California Trumps France

The 1976 Paris Wine Tasting was organized by French wine tasters, and was meant to capitalize on the US bicentennial publicity. The tasting was done blind, and organizers expected the French wines to win handily. Here are the results.


From the US:
1973 Chateau Montelena - 1st (winemaker: Mike Grgich)
1974 Chalone Vineyard - 3rd
1973 Spring Mountain Vineyard - 4th
1972 Freemark Abbey - 6th
1972 Veedercrest - 9th (no longer in operation)
1973 David Bruce Winery - 10th

From France:
1973 Meursault-Charmes - 2nd
1973 Beaune Clos des Mouches - 5th
1973 Ramonet-Prudhon Batard-Montrachet - 7th
1972 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet - 8th

Cabernet Sauvignon

The Cabs were tasted second, and judges were explicitly trying to choose French wines at this point

From the US:
1973 Stag's Leap - 1st
1971 Ridge Montebello Vineyard - 5th
1971 Mayacamas - 7th
1972 Clos Du Val - 8th
1970 Heitz Cellars 'Martha's Vineyard' - 9th
1967 Freemark Abbey - 10th

From France:
1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild - 2nd
1970 Chateau Haut-Brion - 3rd
1970 Chateau Montrose - 4th
1971 Château Leoville-Las-Cases - 6th

Here are the judges and scores from the Chardonnay tasting (courtesy of Ch. Montelena)...


Vintage Wine Place Total Points No. of first place votes
1973 Chateau Montelena 1st 132 6
1973 Meursault-Charmes (Roulot) 2nd 126.5 0
1974 Chalone Vineyards 3rd 121 3
1973 Spring Mountain 4th 104 0
1973 Beaune-Clos des Mouches (Drouhin) 5th 101 0
1972 Freemark Abbey 6th 100 0
1973 Bâtard-Montrachet (Ramonet-Prudhon) 7th 94 0
1972 Puligny-Montrachet ler cru “Les Pucelles” (Dom. Leflaive) 8th 89 0
1972 Veedercrest 9th 88 0
1973 David Bruce 10th 42 0

These were the tasters and their scores* for Chateau Montelena

Place Points Taster
1st 18.5 Mr. Claude Dubois–Millot – Directeur Commercial “Le Nouveau Guide”
1st 18 Mr. Aubert de Villaine – Co-Gérant, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
1st 17 Mr. Raymond Oliver – “Le Grand Véfour”
1st 17 Mr. Jean-Claude Vrinat – “Taillevent”
1st 16.5 Mr. Christian Vanneque – Chef Sommelier, “La Tour d’Argent”
1st 16.5 Mrs. Odette Kahn – Directrice, Revue du Vin de France
2nd 14 Mr. Pierre Tari – Château Giscours, Secrétaire Général, Syndicat des Grands Crus Classés
4th 10 Mr. Pierre Brejoux – Inspecteur Général, Institut National des Appellations d’Origine
7th 3 Mr. Michel Dovaz – Institut Oenologique de France

*Scoring was based on 20 point maximum