The story of how a diverse group of individuals all arrived at the same conclusion… they wanted to make wine and they wanted to do it in the Languedoc-Roussillon. The only thing they had in common, except, perhaps, the courage of their convictions, was that they were “Outsiders”…”… and all were talent-hunted by Louise Hurren.
What Do an Englishman, an Irishman, a Dutchman, a Frenchman, a Kiwi and a Scot Have in Common?
Given that they are all making wine in the world’s biggest and most diverse wine region, the answer – to what sounds like a twist on the old joke – may not be all that easy.
An independent PR professional in the Languedoc got it straight away, and coined a word to describe these winegrowers, all defined by experiences in other places, and often in other professions as well… the Outsiders…
Outsiders: “a thing or person not within a boundary”
She is Louise Hurren, a Brighton-born modern languages graduate who came to the Languedoc in 2002 after a career in advertising and public relations. It was a life-change move for her. “I had been working with corporate clients,” she explains. “This was my chance for a really personal project, to do my own thing.”
Hurren’s ‘own thing’ began to take shape when she started visiting wine fairs and vineyards for expatriate magazines such as Living in France and France Magazine. “I was writing about wine from a layman’s perspective” she says, “just dipping my toes in. Then I added substance to my interest by taking the WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) intermediate and advanced courses. And along the way I met a lot of really interesting wine makers from all sorts of backgrounds.”
One of them was an Englishwoman called Katie Jones, from Leicestershire, at that time still Marketing and Sales Manager of the well-known Fitou wine cooperative, Mont Tauch.
Katie Jones then staked her future on 3 hectares of hillside farmland, kilometres from anywhere in the wilds of Roussillon, where she now makes her own highly acclaimed wines. (www.domainejones.com)
“A lot of these winemakers were looking for an innovative, new approach to marketing their wines”, Hurren continues, “and that is when I began thinking of setting up the Outsiders.”
How Does She Choose Her Outsiders?
“They all come from somewhere else. They all have a new and different vision, and a story to tell. Most of them come from different backgrounds. And they all have a will to succeed, to share, and to work together. They all also have a certain quality and reputation. I invited Katie to join because I figured that after 16 years with one of the leading wine cooperatives, she probably knew what she was doing.”
No story can be more dramatic than that of Jonathan and Rachel Hesford. “The tipping point for them came when they watched that plane fly into the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11,” Louise explains. “With that they lost their home and their job, and were pushed into thinking about what they really wanted to do with their lives.”
Jonathan had a career in IT under his belt, designing command and control systems for submarines, and trading systems for Merrill Lynch – and now he makes award-winning wines in Roussillon (www.domainetreloar.com).
“But the Outsiders is very much a mixed bunch” Hurren adds, “with some French members, who are as much ‘outsiders’ as the foreigners. I have great respect for Brigitte Chevalier of Domaine Cébène, for instance. She used to work for the famous Bordeaux producer and négoçiant, Jean-Luc Thunevin, and then stepped away from all that to come and make her own wines in the Languedoc.”
The Faugères appellation is about as far removed from St Emilion as you can get, and Brigitte Chevalier’s organic wines are already winning high praise from top wine critics such as Jancis Robinson (www.cebene.fr)
“Similarly, there is Château Anglès, run by the Fabre family. Eric Fabre was the Technical Director of Château Lafite Rothschild in the Médoc for eight years before coming down to do his own thing in the Languedoc. His son Vianney, who worked for one of the leading Champagne producers before joining the family, adds energy and enthusiasm to the group La Clape is an exciting terroir, and it’s great to have an old-school French family with such an established reputation in wine, on board.” (www.chateauangles.com)
Ryan O’Connell of the Domaine O’Vineyards near Carcassonne was a natural for Hurren. “We found each other on the internet. He’s very present there, and it was only a matter of time before we hooked up. His naturally infectious, bubbly personality and great can-do attitude are a huge bonus.”
Ryan is the Outsider very much on the inside of the internet. He moved to the Languedoc with his American-French parents in 2004, and applied his limitless energy to putting O’Vineyards, and the relatively unknown Cabardès appellation, on the map of cyberspace. Like most of the other Outsiders, their 17 ha estate signposted a life and career-changing moment.(www.ovineyards.com)
Domaine Sainte Rose
“Ruth and Charles Simpson are a good example of our diversity,” Hurren continues. “They are an ambitious Irish-Scottish couple with a high-flying background in marketing, who bought the Domaine Sainte Rose near Servian nearly ten years ago. Their approach is very businesslike, and they bring a very focused vision to the group.”
Unlike their fellow Outsiders making wine in areas blessed with Grands Vins, Crus, or even Terroirs d’Exception status, the Simpsons are creating a ‘new tradition’ of what they call ‘affordable luxury’ Country Wines (IGP), with a nod to the new world. (www.domainesainterose.com)
Château de Combebelle
The Outsider with a lot of insider knowledge is Catherine Wallace, who came to Saint Chinian armed with more than 20 years experience in the wine trade. “I met Catherine at a Women in Wine tasting in London a few years ago” Hurren remembers, “and I was struck then by her sensible, two-feet-on-the-ground attitude. She has huge amounts of energy: she runs her medal-winning Château de Combebelle almost single-handed, farms her vines according to biodynamic principles, and will also be sitting her Master of Wine exams this year.” (www.combebelle.com)
A good personification of Outsider-ism is the Panmans of Chateau Rives-Blanques in Limoux, who have lived and worked in over a dozen countries on all the continents of the world before settling in the Languedoc. Rives-Blanques is known for a number of interesting, off-the-beaten-track wines. “They have an excellent reputation, a lot of good contacts, and a mature vision. It’s also quite an Outsider thing to be specialising in white wines in a region known for its reds,” Hurren says. “I love them for their joy and fizz” she adds, not making it entirely clear if she means the people or their gold-medal winning Crémant de Limoux. (www.rives-blanques.com).
One thing all the Outsiders have in common is a fresh look at the status quo, and the courage of their convictions. They cover the length and breadth of Languedoc-Roussillon, making wines that are as diverse as they are themselves. And no one embodies the Outsider mentality better than Louise Hurren herself, who pulled the whole thing together.
That is probably because it takes one to know one.
Source: French News Online
Author: Caryl Panman