winemaker Olivier Dauga (in white) and CEO Bertrand Girard

Very interesting afternoon today spent speaking to Olivier Dauga, winemaker, and CEO Bertrand Girard of Val D’Orbieu. If you do not immediately recognize the name it’s because this is one of the largest wine companies in France, owning 72 wineries throughout France and making wine from a variety of French regions, notably Bordeaux and the Languedoc.

The way I view it as a sort of giant cooperative, with each winemaking facility producing wine from grapes in the region, yet in a style and format (bottle vs. bag in box) to suit the needs of the end client. For example, Germany prefers white wine with some residual sugar. The French market likes the lower priced wines to be in a bag in a box. American wines sold in the US arrive in bottle.

What was most interesting about the day was sitting next to CEO  Bertrand Girard himself, who actually spent many years as an executive for Danon yogurt. This may sound unusual for the CEO of a wine company, yet there are many similarities between wine and yogurt especially in terms of understanding the end market, and also, being responsible for all the winemaking facilities under his rule.  I expected his iphone to be beeping with calls and emails from the thousands of executives reporting to him, yet M. Girard was very calm and collected, underscoring the first responsibility of a CEO is to delegate authority.

The wines were pleasant and well priced, with my absolute favorite being Chateau Les Gravieres de la Brandille, a Merlot Cabernet Sauvigon blend (AOP Bordeaux Superieur). I also really liked the crisp and refreshing Avant Garde Sauvignon Blanc, which has some semillon and muscadelle in it as well. The Sainte Croix Rose 2013 from Corbieres in the Languedoc was refreshing, from limestone soils, a mix of 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah.

It is interesting to note that 30% of  French wine drinkers choose Rose — the reason being its modest alcohol levels, preference for this wine by women, and also the new market of young people who find it light and pleasant to drink with friends.

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