Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Who Is Michel Rolland?

There is much ado about this Frenchman and his wines in the oenophile world lately. Who exactly is Michel Rolland? And why should you care?

The Facts:
  • Michel Rolland is the foremost wine consultant in the world
  • His Bordeaux-based consulting practice has over 100 clients across 12 countries
  • His client roster reads like an oenophile’s wish list of must-have wines
  • He is a steadfast advocate for using technological developments in viticulture and winemaking to raise the quality of wine
  • He built his expertise while managing several Pomerol properties which he owns
  • He imparts a particular style or common denominator to the wines on which he works – heavy on the fruit and oak influenced
  • He is the reluctant star of a new documentary, Mondovino, which is critical of the globalization of wine and at times portrays him as the root of this evil
  • Michel Rolland is a lighting rod in the wine industry who is as despised as he is sought after
The Opinions and Criticisms:
  • Rolland has influence that matches or exceeds that of any single individual in the wine world
  • Rolland is creating wines that satisfy the tastes of a mass global market
  • Rolland is driving out the individuality and local essence of wines (e.g. terroir)
  • Rolland makes wines that strive for excellence on the same dimensions resulting in global variations on the same theme (i.e. his wines are “Pomerolled” or “Napa-ized”)
  • Rolland consults for a property and it’s wines become immediately credible and usually expensive
  • And last but not least… Jonathan Nossiter, creator of the aforementioned Mondovino, had this to say, “In the wine world there’s a tremendous standardization and uniformization of taste, from Australia to Chile to France to the U.S., across the globe and at every price level, from a $5 wine to a $500 wine. The classic fraud of our time, which is what Wal-Mart wants us to believe, is that, hey, you’ve got lots of choice at a lower price. Well, you’ve got a lot of different labels on these bottles, but man, the taste sure is the fucking same.”
My Take:
Plain and simple, I like good wine. It’s inconceivable to me that across the entire planet and across hundreds of grape varietals, the vast threat of homogeneity is about to ‘kill’ wine as we know it. If Rolland has made wine as-a-whole better, then that’s a good thing.

It seems to me that Rolland worked hard in studying the history of how great wine comes to be. He wrestled with and figured out possible answers to some tough questions: How much sun? How long before harvesting the grapes? What kind of oak to use? How long to age in barrels? And so on.

Low and behold, Rolland now understands how to make average wine really, really good and even great at times. He has created insights, ideas and techniques that if applied correctly can produce some beautiful juice. There is no silver bullet, magic potion or secret formula to make all wine great. Let alone unvaryingly, Orwellianly equal and great.

Perhaps, Rolland himself put it best.
“What I bring is a range of experience and a span of reference that other people here, however talented they might be, do not have…A consultant cannot know everything. I am here to give advice with an open mind to the resident winemaker. So the personality of the people is an essential. It’s fundamental. If you have no contact with the people, it’s impossible. I’m no magician.”