Weekly Interview: Guillaume Michel

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 04-08-2016

Guillaume Michel

Guillaume Michel

Each week, as our regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we are featuring Guillaume Michel, the winemaker at Louis Michel & Fils.

The Michel family has been growing grapes in Chablis for six generations– since 1850.  They now manage 25 hectares of vineyards and make about 150,000 bottles of wine every year.

Enormous thanks to VinConnect — the U.S. company that enables U.S. consumers to order wines directly from Louis Michel & Fils — for facilitating this interview with Guillaume. Check out the interview below the fold!

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and grew up in Paris; my mother is originally from Chablis.

When and how did you get into wine?
In my family, we have been winemakers for generations; over 150 years. Even though I lived in Paris, a piece of my heart was always in Chablis, where my grandfather Louis and my uncle Jean-Loup managed the family estate.

What has been your career path to where you are?
After a few years working in communications in Paris, I decided to leave that all behind, move to Chablis, and do what I had been dreaming of doing for a very long time: take the helm of the family estate. That was in 2006.

In your view, what makes your vineyards special?
The idea of terroir is very important for us, and this is especially true in Chablis, where it has a strong and utterly unique identity. It is one of the northernmost vineyards in Burgundy, and the Chardonnay grown here expresses wonderful purity and freshness. I honestly think that there’s no other place on Earth where Chardonnay has an expression like this.

What is your general winemaking philosophy?
I set out to showcase terroirs. My philosophy is to make wines in the vineyard. Once the grapes are harvested, I believe in intervening as little as possible, and letting time do its job: natural yeast vinification, long maturation, limited handling, and above all, no use of wood, which has been the case for us since the late 1960s.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?
There are challenges every day in winemaking, especially in the vineyard. But I think the main challenge is yet to come, and that’s climate change. How will the wines of Chablis be expressing themselves in 20, 50 or 100 years?

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines?
I have great admiration for those winemakers who first started planting in the New World areas, those who took huge risks in planting vineyards when they didn’t know how the grapes would grow or even if they would be able to harvest anything at all, for example the Dalmatian immigrants who moved to New Zealand from their islands and villages in the Adriatic Sea, seeking out a new existence. I also love those winemakers whose work sets them apart from everyone else, those who do things differently and achieve great things.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than your own?
All wine regions are fascinating. I don’t have a favorite region, or rather it changes every day! I love the heady scents of the Riesling that comes out of the Clare and Eden Valleys in Australia, and there is something about a fine old Bordeaux that has been made with great care that will always remain magical.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?
I have been lucky enough to taste a huge array of wines, and picking the best is just impossible! Wines that express the full scope of their grape variety, or a particular feature with great style and in perfect balance are those I love the most.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?
The oldest bottle is definitely a Chablis because we have been making wine in my family for several generations. However, I don’t know what vintage it is because the labels and markings have worn away. Probably something from the 1930s. Its price can’t really be estimated.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?
“The Relic” 2012 (Barossa Valley, Australia). It’s a beautiful expression of how Syrah can be down under. Right on the other side of the world from Chablis!

Is beer ever better than wine?
No. I love good beer, especially Belgian beer, but also those from some of the many microbreweries that have been cropping up all over France in recent years, but I always think beer has one major disadvantage: it is not easily digestible.

How do you spend your days off?
Spending time with family, reading, music, sports (not too much), travel (not enough!).

What would people be surprised to know about you?
Despite living in a small French village in Burgundy, our house rings out with the English voices of my wife and two (bilingual) children.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I’d probably still be in Paris working in communications and thinking about how to make the move to Chablis!

How do you define success?
Doing what you want to do with your life.

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