If you grab a bottle off the shelf at your local wine shop, there is a very good chance that Michel Rolland helped make it or influenced how it was made. A well-known enologist and consultant who was one of the first “flying winemakers,” Rolland advises more than 150 wineries in 13 countries around the globe, and another 400 use his enology lab for research and analysis.
Born into a Bordeaux winemaking family, Michel Rolland grew up on his family’s estate, Chateau Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol. Today he and his wife Dany—who he met at the University of Bordeaux when they were both viticulture and winemaking students in the late 1960s—own several estates in Bordeaux including Château Bertineau St. Vincent, Château Rolland-Maillet, Château Fontenil, and Château La Grande Clotte. Rolland holds the title of cellar master, winemaker, enologist or consultant at around 80 estates throughout Bordeaux, and he is the consulting winemaker at some of Napa Valley’s most highly regarded wineries, including Bryant Family, Harlan Estate, Dalla Valle Vineyards, and Screaming Eagle. Although he is known as “the king of the blend,” Rolland and his team take a very active role in vineyard operations and grape selection as well, ensuring quality in all aspects of the winemaking process. In addition to Bordeaux and Napa, Mr. Rolland also works on wine projects in Argentina, Chile, Israel, India, Italy, and South Africa.
With a signature style that is known to be fruit-forward and strongly influenced by oak aging, Rolland makes wines that are popular with wine critics and wine drinkers alike. When asked about the Michel Rolland “style,” Mr. Rolland stated, “I do not know what style means. I would be so happy to find a definition,” adding, “I tried all my life to make wine that consumers will like, and my 48 years as an enologist have made me happy.” Rolland’s style, whether he can pin a definition on it or not, has influenced winemaking in France and around the world. Many “Michel Rolland” wines fetch prices somewhere north of $500 a bottle and are very difficult to source, but others are much more accessible to people who shudder at the thought of spending more than $20 on a bottle.
Although 2020 more than any other year seems like the perfect time to follow the advice to “Drink the good stuff,” those without deep cellars or deeper pockets will be relieved to know that one of Michel Rolland’s favorite projects, Clos de los Siete in Mendoza, Argentina, produces a Malbec-based red blend that sells for between $15 and $20 (depending on the state) and regularly scores points in the 90s from a variety of wine publications.
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Founded in 1998, Clos de los Siete came about when Rolland and members of seven prominent French wine families purchased Campo Vista Flores and began producing wine at four distinct wineries there— Bodega Diamandes, Bodega Monteviejo, Mariflor, and Cuvelier los Andes. The original investors included Laurent Dassault, Benjamin de Rothschild, Edmond de Rothschild, Philippe Schell, Jean-Michel Arcaute, Catherine Pere-Verge, and the d’Aulan and Cuvelier families.
Wine made from grapes grown on the individual plots is blended by Mr. Rolland into Clos de los Siete. The blend varies slightly from year to year, but it is around 60% Malbec with varying amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc. With a total vineyard area of 2,060 acres, Clos de los Siete produced 790,000 bottles in 2017 and 988,000 bottles in 2018. The top export markets are the United States, Canada, France, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. We recently had an opportunity to talk Michel Rolland about Clos de los Siete, his career and the future of his consulting firm.
World Wine Guys: After your success in Bordeaux, why did you decide to start working in Argentina?
Michel Rolland : I am originally from Bordeaux. I was born in Pomerol. I grew up there, I studied at Bordeaux University. I began the lab in 1973, and ran it for 15 years. At this time I was looking to discover other places to make wine in the world. The first one was the US, and the second one was Argentina. After this I did consulting in 21 different countries.
WWG: How did your Clos de los Siete project come about?
MR: After seven or eight years in Argentina I thought the potential was huge in Mendoza, and particularly in Valle de Uco. That is where in 1998 we decided to create the beautiful Clos de los Siete project. Four wineries are producing amazing wines, Cuvelier Los Andes, Diamandes, Mariflor, and Monteviejo, and they partner to produce Clos de Los Siete.
WWG: What impact has Covid-19 had on your work this year?
MR: It is a true disaster. For more than thirty years, my life has been six months in my home country and six months traveling. In 2020 I have spent 9 month without traveling We are doing video conference tastings. We kept in touch with our clients. But finally, it is an enormous frustration. As everybody, we hope this terrible period ends as soon as possible.
WWG: You recently made your assistants partners in a new company called Michel Rolland et Associés. How will this change the way you work going forward?
MR: We have one of the greatest consulting, companies, but I am turning 73 at the end of the year. Three of my assistants, the youngest of whom has been working with me for 15 years, have taken 60 percent ownership. The future is for them and not for me. I am still working, I enjoy my consulting life, but for how much longer? I have no idea.
WWG: Some of the wines you make cost hundreds of dollars. How can you compare Clos de los Siete to some of your other wines?
MR: I am certainly the first consumer of Clos de Los Siete. If we were doing a blind tasting, I would be sure Clos de los Siete could not be in the $20 range, but much higher. I hope consumers can take advantage of the fact.