The first “Flying Winemakers…
Born into a viticultural family in Libourne, Michel Rolland grew up in the family’s estate Château Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol. He enrolled at the School of Viticulture and Oenology at La Tour Blanche and the Faculty of Oenology at the University of Bordeaux, where he met Dany. They will be both graduated in 1970.
In 1973, Dany & Michel enter into a partnership with Mr. & Mrs Chevrier, at the oenological laboratory in Libourne, whom they buy back all the shares of the Jean Chevrier laboratory. Michel then decides to pursue his dream of developing different wines, of gaining better understanding of the vineyard, soil and people. His life then takes on a new perspective; he becomes a field oenologist rather than a laboratory one.
Success is often due to good fortune. Michel worked a lot, with the enthusiasm and the curiosity he is known for, but he had the opportunity to be there in the 80s, in this period when people began to understand that the quality could boost the wines sales and that it was not limited to “fair marketable” wines revealed by the chemical analysis, but that the wine was made also and above all in the vineyard.
In 1979, after his father’s death, the couple takes charge of the management of the family estates, Château Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol, Château Rolland-Maillet in St-Émilion and Château Bertineau St-Vincent in Lalande de Pomerol.
In these 80s, with this awareness of a quality necessity, the advice became a real job, with many difficulties too in a time when people were not sure at all to need it. Michel wanted to make things happen, to better understand the terroir and the influences of climate, grape variety, soils and orientations.
His strength was this certainty that it was inevitably necessary to collect ripe grapes because in Bordeaux at least, every great year was rather early, and with small production, when the nature and the climate were generous. It seems to be obvious today, but 40 years ago it was not obvious! There was a real and basic job to do, on techniques and mentalities to reach this goal, walking vineyards, to observe a lot, to convince owners to obtain good grapes, in good maturity. The work in the vineyard was as much important as the work in the cellar, but in those days everything needed to be evolved. Cellars were sometimes unhealthy, the grape was mistreated by many transfers and a stressful mechanization were used as much in the cellar as in the vineyard. Michel introduced some practices which did not exist, as crop thinning and thinning-out of leaves, more respect for the grape, more selection, tailor-made harvest: major element to increase the quality and allow better blends, make second wines to keep the best image to the first one. He was convinced and wanted to make things happen…
Successful gamble, the demand growth became exponential. There was a real quality research in France and in the United States, which extended in South America, in Italy and in Spain, in Chile, in India. That’s how and on those bases he built his career. He began with some countries and consults now in numerous countries. Be almost everywhere, to see everything and understand everything. A curiosity which has fed its enthusiasm and which still continues at 74 years old.
Today, it is a work of art that he manages to make do in the vineyards. Understand the terroir, take care of each grape-plant, every plot of land to have a quality raw material, then an appropriate winemaking, an accurate work in the cellar: have smallest tanks, imagine the winemaking in barrels, with the biggest rigor, a sum of details which will allow this “king of the blend” to create wines with the expression of their terroir and the identity of the estate.
In parallel of these consulting, Michel and his wife Dany also enlarged the family estates with the acquisition of Château Fontenil, in Fronsac, in 1986.
And how travelling and have no “coups de coeur” for certain countries and certain peoples?
In the following years, several projects have been developed around the world : in Argentina “Clos de los Siete”, “Mariflor” and “Val de Flores”, in South Africa : “Bonne Nouvelle”.
More personal projects which were often also fields of researches and experiments, where Michel could look again for ways to reach a kind of perfection according to the terroirs, experiments on grounds with vinyl banners for Le Défi de Fontenil, experiment on the irrigation in the culture of the vineyard in Argentina. Research on the most adapted grape varieties according to climates and work on the native grape varieties to keep the authenticity, as the Pinotage in South Africa, or a selection of the most robust vine plants when there are historic varieties and good plant material.
Whether as an owner or as a consultant, the oenologist Michel Rolland becomes the first “Flying Winemakers… and the oenologist of these years of change who will have contributed to the evolution of the viticulture and the wine making such as we know it today.
Today, Michel provides advice to over 150 estates spread out over 14 different countries: mostly in France, (Château l’Evangile, Château Figeac, Château La Conseillante…) as well as in the United States (Harlan, Staglin, Screaming Eagle…), South Africa, Argentina , Chile (Casa Lapostolle), Spain, India, Italy (Campo di Sasso, Ornellaia, Monteverro)…
Added to this are over 400 wine-growing estates that use the services the laboratory “ Rolland & Associés” in Pomerol for analyses or for advice, with Dany and collaborators oenologists.
His daughters also joined the team. Stéphanie has been responsible for the management and administration of family companies for 20 years. Marie for her part takes care of the marketing, the communication of the properties and the image of Michel in France and abroad.
A rich life of lessons, practices and meetings, entirely dedicated to the vine and wine.