Jamie Ivey chats to industry insider Guy Saint Victoire about Provence wine
You like to think that when you have served your time in any business the big deal will eventually come along. I have definitely done the hard-yards in the wine business, selling in the Provencal markets, while researching my book Rosé en Marché. The weekly routine was back-breaking, six markets a week, up at 5.30am to load the wine, arriving at the market, unloading, standing all day in the searing Provencal sunshine, before finally finishing around 2pm. If I was lucky, in the summer, I sold a couple of hundred bottles, making 2 or 3 euros per bottle. If I was unlucky I sold 20 bottles. There were mornings in the winter when I sold none.
But at least in the wine business you do meet some interesting people. One of whom is Guy de Saint Victor. Now if you are a ‘de’ in France, it means you are from a noble family. Guy has a wonderful ancestral home, called Rouvignac (http://www.chateau-de-rouvignac.com) just outside Bezier which he is forever restoring. Despite the resident ghost Guy and his wife run the place as a chambre d’hote (ask Guy for details.) Anyway when he is not entertaining guests, Guy works in the wine business. He’s a fixer, putting people in touch, smoothing the path for large wine transactions.
Last week he called and said he needed to talk to me about Provence wine, in particular Luberon white. ‘No problem’ I said, as I watched a delivery lorry full of Sancerre arrive at my gate, ‘no problem at all.’ Guy arrived a day later full of the joys of the wine business, replete from a lunch with a local vigneron, looking suntanned and healthy. We sat on the terrace, sipped on rosé (I didn’t have any local white) and got down to business.
Guy wanted to put me in touch ‘as his man in the Luberon’ with the Norwegian monopoly wine buyer. As he explained Norway was an unusual country. To stop people drinking too much, falling over in the snow, and freezing to death, the government controlled the import of wine. All orders were made centrally and sold through out-of-town warehouse shops. According to Guy, a Norwegian wine buyer had had too much of a good holiday in Provence, and returned home thinking that, provence wine, particularly Luberon white was the next big thing in the wine business. As a consequence the state monopoly wanted 10,000 bottles a year and were prepared to pay well for it, with a healthy commission for the broker.
Now, as you can gather from the Sancerre order, I know nothing about Luberon white, but I do know a man who does. Floppy, yes, that’s his name, runs the Caves du Chateau, a wine shop underneath the Chateau de Lourmarin. In many ways it’s an ideal place for a wine shop, the caves are extensive and the temperature even in the height of summer, constant and cool. The one slight problem is that whenever anyone goes to the loo in the Chateau, the waste shoots down an exit pipe by the cash register.
I presented the deal to Floppy and he sucked in air through his teeth. I presumed he was impressed by the size of the order and was working out what sort of cut he could get. There was then about a minute of head rubbing. I presumed that this was necessary for him to work out the complex maths.
‘It’s going to be difficult very difficult, perhaps Thomas, at Le Clapier, but even him with that kind of volume.’
I was still convinced that this was part of the negotiation process, a bluff so that I could be steered to Floppy’s favourite vigneron. We called Thomas. More sucking of air, and shaking of heads, there was even some gratuitous waving of arms. It was over-acting of amateur dramatic proportions, or so I thought.
In fact it turns out that there is practically no Luberon white. In 5 years time, rosé is predicted to account for 50% of wine consumed in France. And Provence being the homeland of French rosé is going to provide a substantial whack of that 50%. The law of supply and demand means that local vignerons are pulling up fields of old white wine vines and replanting red varietals. Luberon domaines, which are small anyway, are making less and less white and churning out more and more rosé.
All this was very bad news for me and my dream of making it big in the wine business. However, perhaps there is a silver lining. White wine loving Norwegians are less likely to fall over and freeze in the night. They’ll be forced to drink rosé instead and everybody knows rosé is practically water.
Provence Guru – The Insiders’ Guide to Provence, top tips:
Want to prove Guy wrong and discover a great provence white wine, then search our vineyard pages for the top vineyards to visit. Need somewhere to stay? Then our provence villa rental pages are some of the most extensive on the internet, offering luxury villas, with pools. The villas are in great areas such as Gordes, Luberon, and Saint Remy, Les Alpilles. Staying for a shorter period of time then see our provence boutique hotel listings. To prepare for your trip to the south of France, plan where to eat with our provence restaurant reviews, and in anticipation of your stay, cook Provence style with our Provence food pages.