Claiming their own pieces of paradise…

Recently, we (that’s Xin, QY & I) caught up with an expat (i.e. he’s not French) Burgundian winemaker who was travelling through Singapore for dinner and hear his story.
Andrew Nielsen, an Australian who used to work in public relations in MNCs in various countries around the world (including a lengthy stay in Singapore), is now preparing for the 2nd vintage of his Beaune-based micro-negociant, Le Grappin Wines. He is one of a group of expats (from UK, USA, Australia) who are making their own wines in Burgundy, some of whom have already been doing so for years. These are wine lovers, who have decided to claim a piece of paradise (in this case, Burgundy) for their own, making wines in their own vision from the best possible grapes they can source.

* picture from the press pack of the BIVB *

In a sense, Burgundy is a perfect wine region for such ventures. Vineyards there are seldom owned as part of a large holding by a big company or family, unlike in Bordeaux. Due to succession laws in place after the French revolution, vineyards in Burgundy are now owned in small parcels by many small families of vignerons. There are the famous families that make ethereal wines from grapes grown on their vineyard holdings, but many would choose to sell their bounty to negociants or co-ops, who would then make the wines under their labels. Although the best parcels of grapes would already be secured by the big-name negociants or houses, there are always allocations of grapes looking for artisans to do their magic. As these “foreigners” enter the fray, they become the solution to the over-supply of grapes in times of plenty. And, if they play their cards right, they can secure grapes supplies from the vignerons they have “saved”, and be assured of constant supply in coming vintages.
And, not forgetting, when Bourgogne rouge is well-made, they are really beautiful, yes even sexy, wines!
Securing grapes supply is one thing, making good wines from them is another. Andrew is now in the final stages of his winemaking degree from Charles Sturt University, rubbing shoulders with winemakers from some of Australia’s biggest and best wine producers. Another winemaker, Ray Walker who started Maison Ilan, studied books on traditional Burgundian winemaking techniques. Mark Haisma, on the other hand, was already an established winemaker who left the Yarra Valley in Australia to set up in France. However they learn, the sense you get is that they want to make the best possible wines from the grapes they have managed to secure. Best, in expression of the land & place the grapes were grown (i.e. terroir). Best, in expression of the ethos of the vinificateur. And that is what any wine consumer wishes from the winemakers.
Because of the size of their operations, the wines made by these expat winemakers are not easy to get your hands on. Le Grappin wines will be available in Singapore in the near future, while Mischief & Mayhem wines are already stocked by The Straits Wine Company. As for the others, why don’t you check out their websites and/or contact them on Twitter, and get on their mailing list for pre-release orders.
Expat winemakers in Burgundy:

Incidentally, I will be visiting Andrew in his newly built winery in Beaune in 5 days’ time. Hopefully, I have the chance to meet some of those mentioned above, who have claimed their own pieces of paradise. That, would be mighty fun!
Here’s a toast, to those who have taken on the challenge of making their own wines in a foreign land, with blood, sweat and tears!

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