Interview with Paolo Michaut.
Ambassador of the Maison M. Chapoutier in Australia.
The following interview was conducted with Paolo Michaut, one of the instigators of this coming event. Paolo works for the Maison M. Chapoutier in Australia thanks to a VIE contract (Volunteering for International Experience).
How did you become interested in the viticulture sector? What academic path did you follow?
When I was younger, I worked for more than 8 years alongside my uncle. He worked for Nicolas (a French wine retailer created in 1822). As I wanted to get into this specific area of study, I integrated the École Supérieure d’Agricultures d’Angers from which I graduated with a Master’s degree in Œnology, Viticulture and Marketing. I now work for the Maison M. Chapoutier, owner of the Maison Trenel in the Beaujolais region.
Why did you choose to work for the Maison M. Chapoutier?
In 2014, the Maison M. Chapoutier bought out other vineyards, which included Maison Trenel, an establishment well-known for its production
of Beaujolais Nouveau near Mâcon, in the centre-east of France. The Maison M. Chapoutier has a very long tradition as it was founded
back in 1808 and this is what triggered my interest. It is now run by Michel Chapoutier, who belongs to the seventh generation of this
winemaker family. He took over the family business in 1990. He has always tried to help his customers discover wines produced in different
terroirs. Nowadays, the Maison M. Chapoutier is represented in over a hundred countries and produces wines ranging from 15 to 600 dollars. I
firmly believe that if we do not succeed in providing restaurants with quality, low cost wine, we might lose the relationship of trust we
have with our customers who may end up drinking something else than wine. It is one of Michel Chapoutier’s audacious gambles.
From a French point of view, what does wine mean to you?
Wine has been part of the French culture for centuries. This drink has always been a part of our meals. It is important to pair wine with gastronomy. From a French point of view, there will always be a wine to be served alongside a specific dish.
The Beaujolais Nouveau is a ʺfriendlyʺ wine! It is not the kind of wine trying to achieve complexity and it does not have a great cellaring
potential. However, it perfectly embodies French culture. It is a light table wine which does not overshadow the taste of the food with
which it is paired.
In the French wine-making tradition, the Beaujolais Nouveau is not considered as a grand cru. However, it is one of the best-selling wines in the world. Can you tell us how this wine was created, in region which has ten crus amongst the most subtle?
Beaujolais Nouveau is a wine traditionally produced annually to celebrate the end of harvest. This young wine — or en primeur, as one
would say using wine terminology — is intended for immediate drinking and does not usually improve with age. It is a purple-pink wine
reflecting its youth, bottled only 6-8 weeks after harvest. The local tradition dating back to the 15th Century, of releasing this wine so
soon after vintage gained so much popularity that ‘the race’ was born. In 1985 the official release date became the third
Thursday in November – it was a triumph of marketing and promotion worldwide! It is above all a festive, easy drinking wine to
be enjoyed for what it represents rather than to be critiqued.
How do you bring French and Australian cultures together in your job? Did the Maison M. Chapoutier incorporate its French expertise into the Australian production method?
The Maison M. Chapoutier opened in Australia in 1996, in reaction to the AOC* terroir stipulations, which are very restrictive in terms of its requirements. To make a ʺChampagneʺ it is mandatory to respect very precise specifications in order to for you to call your product “Champagne”. In the 1990s, Michel Chapoutier came to Australia to have a look at the soil, to see if the Victorian terroir would be suitable to cultivate the variety of vine necessary to produce Shiraz. This grape variety is the Australian equivalent of our French Syrah.
By settling in Australia, the Maison M. Chapoutier wanted to apply the terroir approach in a country where wines are defined by the variety of vine rather than their soil. Michel Chapoutier is not the only French winemaker to settle out of France, but he is one of the first to have bought vineyard plots abroad. Dominique Portet, from the Bordeaux region, also settled in Victoria by choosing the Yarra Valley. Nowadays, a lot of French people come to Australia to work in the wine industry as it is a very dynamic country for this sector, in its production as well as its knowledge of its tradition.
*AOC stands for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, which means Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)
During the Beaujolais Nouveau event which will take place at the Alliance Française in St Kilda on November 17th, there will be a raffle. The first prize is a tour of the Australian Maison M. Chapoutier estate. Can you tell us more about this winery tour and how it can be fruitful?
When I discussed this event with Alliance Française and the FACCI, I thought it would be interesting to invite the winners to an area
near Heathcote, where the Australian Maison M. Chapoutier winery is, to show them where and how our wine is produced. Making wine can seem
quite easy. However, it is complex to grow the grapes. This winery tour will also take the winners to our Shiraz land parcel and allow them
to try their hand at viticulture!
Where will this visit take place?
A bit past the Macedon Ranges, a hundred kilometres from Melbourne. This area is filled with granite boulders that remind French tourists of Brittany. Australian tourists in turn are reminded of this place when visiting Brittany.
Are there any good restaurants in this area you would recommend?
There are some excellent restaurants in country Victoria. In the Heathcote area, there are some terrific local cheeses. The winner of the
first prize will not leave on an empty stomach. We are preparing a wine tasting paired with a cheese tasting.
La fin de bouche?
The festivities associated with the Beaujolais Nouveau should not be considered as the celebration of any particular wine. Instead, we should see this as an opportunity to celebrate the winemakers’ hard work throughout the complicated year that 2016 has been! We have all seen pictures from the Terroir de Chablis, on which you can see winemakers who have been up since 5 am, lighting fires against the frost! Celebrating the Beaujolais Nouveau is a way to honour the love of winemaking and working the land. It is more like a general celebration of viticulture rather than the celebration of a great wine. The Beaujolais Nouveau is a fascinating drop which will have people in raptures.
Interview conducted by Michel Richard, in collaboration with Elise Fouquet
Transcription and translation from French to English by Lorine Bandier