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Stephane Derenoncourt: India’s Foremost French Connection

Posted: Monday, 29 September 2014 15:38

Stephane Derenoncourt: India’s Foremost French Connection

Sep 29: Since I first thought of writing this article I had been suffering from a Writer’s block (if you do not know what Writer’s block is, try Google!). After all, what could I write about Stephane Derenoncourt which had not been written already, I wondered and wandered. How could I list the achievements of the man firstly, whose achievements are innumerable and immeasurable and secondly, who does not seem to be interested in being reminded about his achievements, I reflected and ruminated….I finally decided to introduce him as India’s foremost French Connection in Wine. This introduction brings me directly to the conversation I had with him in Bordeaux about his Indian Connection.

Click For Large ViewPV: You were born in France – a country whose reputation and culture in wine making is unparalleled in the world; you were already a wine maker who needed no introduction when Mr. Gowda from the Alpine Wineries in India came up to you in 2011, what then, attracted you to start a project with India- a country with no wine culture and history?
SD: Mr. Gowda was not only young and jovial but he had great ambitions and passion for this project. And so I said “yes”.

PV: What were the challenges you faced in the beginning? Were there infrastructural bottlenecks and how did you overcome them?
SD: The biggest problem was to understand the climate and to adapt the quality for an effective viticulture. The lack of skill and experience on the field in a way pushed us to strengthen our team and to communicate a lot via the Internet and by exchanging photos.

PV: Since you started your consultation at Alpine Wineries in India in 2011, what changes have you seen in viticulture practices in that estate? Are you happy with the progress?
SD: Well, we actually started from scratch and thus this vineyard has been meticulously created. The wines of Alpine are already among the best wines produced in India. It's very satisfying for us. Almost like a reward. And we are making progress every day. 

PV: Today, are Indian viticulturists adapting themselves and understanding the value of good viticulture practices to make a great wine?
SD: Since the time that they have been well oriented, yes.  That is not from very long ago. It takes a strong presence qualitatively and quantitatively and a great follow up when we are acting in a region where as you said, the history and culture of wine did not exist. It was therefore, our job to adapt ourselves to this aspect.

Click For Large ViewPV: In 2012, wine consumption increased by 11.8 % in India and this growth continued in 2013 (16.3%) after several years of decline. Between 2013 and 2017, the study by VINEXPO / The IWSR forecasts a strong recovery in consumption ( + 73.5 %). You think that one important reason is the development of local vineyards?

SD: Without doubt, and it is always interesting for a country to produce its own wine. It is a national pride and ultimately inordinate international recognition. Wine after all is a cultural drink.

 PV: What do you think of organic wines? Do you have demands from the properties for that?
SD: People around the world are increasingly getting concerned about environmental issues. So it is natural there is an elevated curiosity about Organic wine. In general the demand for a cleaner production is assured, though I cannot say I see such a trendsetting demand in India for the moment.

PV: With the progress you see in the viticulture and wine making techniques in India, do you think a winery in India can succeed in making a world class wine in the future? Will it ever have an international demand?
SD: It is a very long story that has just begun to unfold; it will take decades, maybe even centuries. Who knows?

PV: What one advice do you have for an aspiring Indian viticulturist who wants to succeed?
SD: We should never forget that wine is made from grapes, and that the quality of the raw material, the grape is extremely crucial. Making wine is not that difficult; the perpetual challenge will be to produce great grapes, since we cannot change the intrinsic quality of the soil and the climate we have no control over.

The Journey of a thousand miles actually began with a single step

The story about how Stephane Derenoncourt, a native of Northern France (Normandy which has nothing to do with wine but everything to do with spectacular beaches!)  arrives in 1982 in Bordeaux partly out of necessity and especially by chance in the Harvest season; how during the following years unknowing of the glory that was awaiting him, he worked on small properties gaining local reputation; and how he rose to the esteemed prominence that he enjoys today, has almost become a part of a legend now.  

Some of the milestones in this legend’s timeline and which sowed the seeds of his highly distinguished career in wine making could be enumerated easily. For example, in 1990 he entered the Chateau Pavie-Macquin in Saint-Emilion, which in the following vintages acquired an international reputation. Together with Stefan Von Neipperg, Stephane created a cult wine La Mondotte at the former’s property in Saint Emilion.  

With this success, Stephane Derenoncourt attracted genuine respect and notoriety in the professional world of wine. Taking his passion and curiosity to the next step Stephane Derenoncourt in 1999 set up his consulting firm and bought his own property, Domaine de l' A . This Domaine very shortly became a reputable testing laboratory in viticulture and wine making which is the training center for its future employees and consultants. In the same year Stephane Derenoncourt established Vignerons Consultants after fifteen years of experience to refine his expertise on different Bordeaux properties .Ten years later, the consulting company was renamed Derenoncourt Consultants. With three partners, today it provides consultation to more than 90 wine properties in the world.

Click For Large ViewWhen prodded about the “secret” of his success of this magnitude he says, “it is certainly based on an original methodology, keen observation and a good wine sense and sensibility that we communicate and share with our associates here”. Derenoncourt Consultants today is mainly a teamwork : young winemakers freshly picked out of the faculty, discover the work of the viticulture and expand this business not only in Bordeaux, Rhone, Provence, Loire, South-West, Languedoc, Roussillon and Burgundy, but also beyond  borders, by providing a lively approach where the wine is “crafted”.

The Philosopher 

Stephane makes wines he loves. He explains, “Beyond the technical expertise and the understanding of terroir, the destiny of a property is devised by three keys elements - to have sufficient potential for conducting a qualitative project ; then the means which should be in perfect technical adequacy to complete the project  and  finally, a good complicity with the owner and his team”. With this rule, Stephane expresses and exercises his expertise on Crus, in creating and in restoring wine estates which have great potential although they are dormant. In small Bordeaux appellations, Stephane ceaselessly brings properties to become the true ambassadors of their appellations.  Puygueraud in Côtes de Francs, Beausejour in Montagne Saint-Emilion, and La Rousselle and True Canon Bouché in Fronsac, have  got  him the highest score ever given to Fronsac by Robert Parker. In Bordeaux, Supérieur  Le Pin Beausoleil, Gree Laroque, Petrus Gaia or Courteillac cannot be missed .

His meticulous methodology which had proved itself time and again then seduced the great classical properties. The list is endless.  Collaborations in Spain, Italy, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Austria and India are some examples of his conquests! Anyone who doesn’t know about Stephane’s collaboration with the famed film director Francis Ford Coppola?

Idiosyncratic Wine making

Derenoncourt has a lively approach to wine, little in common with the scientific  “cold method ” . His gentle but complex approach allows to create a balance and also offers in the field the possibility of revealing the expression of individual soils. The right direction, minute observation, free interpretation of the character of nature, intuition and experimentation are his ammunitions, not compromising with the aroma and flavor.  “Scientific knowledge in wine making is then a support, not an end” he affirms. “A winery is a living body where everything is connected. A global vision, coupled with the management of each parcel, helps create and assemble a wine with precision”.

In endless pursuit of excellence

Click For Large ViewStephane Derenoncourt has managed to make his company a reputable label amongst its many clients. By proposing an original approach that captures fields in their entirety, the proven methodology, unique to Derenoncourt, allows to understand plots in their intimacy. By understanding the type of wine these plots can produce he offers a grape and wine route adapted to the identity of the location, which adjusts the number of his visits to perfect project. An owner who uses Derenoncourt’s expertise is always in the pursuit of excellence and recognition. Through his guidance and concrete advice this quintessential wine maker not only strengthens the bonds of trust between the owner and the land but more often than not ends up uncovering numerous aspects of the property, not previously exploited.

Indian wines in the International market: A Distant Dream?

Kudos to Mr. Raghavendra Gowda for bringing Stephane Derenoncourt to India. With the caliber and professionalism of the likes of Stephane, Alpine Wineries is already making buzz in the Indian wine market scene. But it will not be a cakewalk for sure. To overcome the limitations of the climate and the soil, Man, the inevitable component of the terroir will have to work tirelessly to excel at techniques of viticulture and wine making to bring international recognition to Indian wines. Time to walk the talk.

Pallavi Vatsa

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Tags: Stephane Derenoncourt, Domaine de l' A, Vignerons Consultants, Derenoncourt Consultants


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