Yesterday I caught up with Isabel Ferrando, owner and winemaker at her twin Châteauneuf-du-Pape estates of Domaine St.-Préfert and Domaine Colombis. She’s in town for some tastings and stopped by for a hello. It was her first visit to my office (I prefer to visit her at her estate—much more exciting, of course).
She told me a funny story about her first days in the wine world, and where she learned to make wine. She’s always credited Lucien Michel of Le Vieux Donjon, Henri Bonneau, Philippe Cambie and other people in Châteauneuf with helping her get started, and they all remain close friends and colleagues today. But she had a secret to tell.
In 2001, Ferrando actually spent a year working with Dominique Ay, at Domaine Raspail-Ay in Gigondas, her first real exposure to winemaking.
“On my first day, Dominique said to me, 'Don’t ask me any questions. If you have a question, write it down, and if at the end of the harvest and vinification, you haven’t figured out the answer yourself, then you can ask me,’” Ferrando told me.
A bit intimidated by this (Dominique is classic old-school French), Ferrando said she kept quiet—for the entire time she was there. At the end of her time, Ay asked her why she was so quiet. He couldn’t believe she hadn’t said a word through the entire season.
“But Mr. Ay, you told me not to ask any questions,” she said.
"I was joking, of course,” said Ay.
From there, Ferrando eventually bought her first vines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and since her debut 2003 vintage, she has been one of the area’s top producers. When she told Ay she was starting a domaine in Châteauneuf, she said the color went out of his face.
“Gigondas and Châteauneuf are always fighting, of course,” said Ferrando. “He couldn’t believe I was leaving for Châteauneuf.”
“But I had learned so much from him and I wanted to let people know that I learned from him. I asked him for permission to tell people—journalists, vignerons, anyone who asked me where I learned—to tell people that he was really my teacher. He never responded. I figured he was upset with me going to Châteauneuf.”
“Then, this past year, he came up to me at a trade tasting we were both at. He said he couldn’t believe after all the high scores I was getting for my wines that I wasn’t telling people all about how I learned winemaking from him. I was a little embarrassed of course, and I said, ‘But Mr. Ay, you never gave me permission to tell people.’ And of course he laughed, and I knew he had gotten me again.”
[You can also follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/jmolesworth1]
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