French pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, 47, is a prolific musician known for his technique, interpretive depth and charm, with a repertoire ranging from Chopin to Eric Satie and Maurice Ravel to Duke Ellington. He began playing piano at age 5 and made his first public appearance at age 7. Thibaudet has released more than 40 albums, and his work is featured on the Oscar-winning soundtrack to the 2008 film Atonement and the Oscar-nominated soundtrack to the 2006 film Pride and Prejudice. Writer Scott Rose recently spoke with the pianist about his Burgundy roots and the connection between making music and making wine.
Wine Spectator: What was your first exposure to wine?
Jean-Yves Thibaudet: My family comes from St.-Romain, in the Côte de Beaune near Auxey-Duresses. We have property there, and I return on weekends and holidays whenever possible. My father used to tell the story, [that] at my baptism, the priest hand-fed me a tiny spoonful of Pommard. And as a naughty little boy, I would sneak into the dining room immediately after my parents' fêtes to drink up the remaining drops from the wineglasses. My father taught me to love and respect wine deeply. I grew up around vineyards and vintners, looking at the bottles, knowing this is something very special, very beautiful.
WS: What are your favorite wine-producing regions?
JYT: In my childhood, I thought Burgundy was the only place making wines. It's touching, how proud [the Burgundians] are of their heritage. This I believe is why even today, you find so few foreigners and conglomerates owning vineyards in Burgundy. In time, my father did expand his horizons, serving Alsatian wines with oysters, for example. Wine was so profound for him. Neighboring vintners would say "Jean! Come try our new wine." The wine would be in the tonneaux, and when it pleased him very much, he would have a single tear in the corner of his eye. I certainly gain immense pleasure discovering the wider wine universe now.
WS: Do you see parallels between music and winemaking?
JYT: Absolutely! There's an emotional connection involved with both. I can be so moved by a piece of music, and that happens to me with wine all the time, too. When you know everything that's behind a bottle, what goes into producing it, that it comes from the soil, the human care and talent involved, the sheer beauty of it—I find this extraordinarily moving.
WS: Do you have a wine cellar?
JYT: Oh yes. In my main home in California, it is electric storage, just a few hundred bottles for drinking. But in St.-Romain, there is a good natural cellar with thousands of bottles. The conditions are perfect for aging wines. We have a 1929 Château Rouget. In the village, [there are] vineyards to the left, vineyards to the right, and above and behind on the slopes. I cannot think of a more delightful place. The United States has been very good to me, and it's a wonderful country, but my heart is there in Burgundy, in St.-Romain, and viniculture is central to why I love it so much. Wine is a big part of my life; we're very happy friends together!
WS: Have you thought of producing wine yourself?
JYT: I would love to produce a wine in honor of my father. It would have to be from my native terroir. I see producing just a few cases with my name on them, each full of the passion for great wines that my father passed on to me.
Scott Oneil — Denver, CO — February 10, 2010 2:22pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions