Michel Rolland and Montesquieu Winery: Joining Together in Pursuit of Perfection
May 26, 2011, by: Stephen George
Spend a little time in the Uco Valley in Argentina, and it doesn’t take long to realize that not only is Michel Rolland one of the most accomplished winemakers of our time – he’s also a true visionary.
That’s a bold statement, perhaps. But once you’ve seen Bodega Rolland firsthand, situated at an elevation of 3,300 feet in the shadow of the snowcaps of the Andes, the conclusion is inescapable. The proof of Michel’s vision is everywhere you look.
You see it in the in the vineyard’s rocky, arid soils where the vines’ roots burrow deeply in desperate search for nutrients. You see it in the rugged, barren terrain that surrounds the vineyards as in every direction, offering no evidence of life beyond the occasional desert flower.
You see it also in the iconoclastic yet elegant winery he built, streamlined to maximize efficiency and cleanliness, every detail designed to ensure the highest quality of wine production. No faux pillars here, no Tuscan trellises or medieval turrets, no architectural tricks or expensive sculptures or grand banquet halls. Unlike so many other new world wineries, Bodega Rolland isn’t about tourist attraction or flashy features. No, Bodega Rolland – just like its vineyards – is entirely about the wine itself.
And that makes sense. Because the vision that brought Michel to the Uco Valley, 60 miles south of Mendoza, over a decade ago was rooted in his belief that this seemingly forgotten land was some of the most exciting undiscovered terroir in the world. He wanted to tap into the immense potential of this region to craft wines that are both world-class in quality and distinctive in expression. He wanted to forge a vibrant winemaking community, built by colleagues and friends with a shared love for this stunning region. He wanted to take this Argentine desert and create something entirely new.
We caught our first glimpse of this vision when having dinner with Michel in his home in Fronsac. He described his concept for a 2,000-acre estate covering Uco Valley’s best soils that would be owned jointly by multiple vintners, each responsible for their own vineyards and winery on the property – a new idea in the wine world. We learned how this concept became a reality through sheer determination, overcoming obstacles and naysayers, and how Michel was able to inspire six colleagues to join in this adventure with him (investing $60 million along the way!).
And we heard all about Michel’s personal portion of the estate – the Mariflor vineyards. These vines are the crown jewel of the property, located at its highest point closest to the mountains – and they are the source for Michel’s dream of creating an Argentine “grand vin”, one that can shine brightly alongside the greatest wines of Europe while retaining its own identity.
We were inspired. We at Montesquieu Winery share Michel’s pursuit of excellence in wine. We also love to explore new regions and uncover new terroir. And like him, we are unafraid to dream big, to cast a vision that seems unattainable and then inspire others to join us in the journey.
I suppose our passion was as infectious as his was, because before we knew it, we had agreed to do a project together in his Uco Valley estate. We would work together to create a special range of Montesquieu wines, crafted by Michel from some of his property’s top vines. The goal would be to make wines equal to the best in the world – with each expressing its terroir and varietals with purity, power, and elegance. The Malbec would be the quintessence of Argentine wine, the standard for excellence in the region. The Merlot would rival the top wines of Pomerol and St. Emilion, made by one of the world’s foremost Merlot masters. And the blend, composed of tiny lots from Michel’s top terroir, would harness the best of each varietal to form a cuvée of unparalleled depth and complexity. These wines would be the kind of “grand vin” originally envisioned by Michel, the founding purpose behind Michel’s Argentine venture.
Of course these projects don’t happen by themselves. We would visit the property, both to witness the result of Michel’s vision firsthand and to work on the wines with Michel, to identify the vines and barrels that would form the source of these special wines. Fonda Hopkins and Hélène Mingot, accompanied by Stéphane Derenoncourt, did just that last December, collaborating with Michel to ensure we had just the right blends in place for our wines.
We returned to the Uco Valley again with some of our Montesquieu wine brokers last month to spend a long weekend with Michel’s team. Michel’s head winemaker Thierry Haberer hosted us, and we spent several days walking the vineyards tasting grapes off the vine and taking part in harvest.
While there, we also checked in on the progress of our Montesquieu wines. We weren’t disappointed with what we found. Thierry brought us into the chilly barrel room in Bodega Rolland, where the 2010s were aging in French barriques. Ever so carefully, Thierry removed the bung from each of our barrels, siphoned out a small taste of the wine, and poured it into our glasses.
We tasted. And we smiled. Although its all-important aging is not yet finished, each wine was showing the kind of promise that we imagined when our partnership with Michel began. The aromas were intense and perfumed, the textures were soft and velvety, and our palates were graced with generous levels of tannin and acidity wound tightly in flavors of pure, concentrated fruit.
The most exciting moment was when we tasted the 2010 Montesquieu blend, which has finished its barrel aging and is now resting in tank where the flavor components are integrating and harmonizing. This experience is a little bit hard to describe, but let’s put it this way: It showed us why Michel set out on this project in the first place. It illustrated in liquid form the value of dreaming big, the possibility of achieving greatness in unexpected places.
Immediately, we knew that we had struck gold in our partnership with Michel. Something special was happening in this desert land, in these rugged vineyards, and we were a part of it.
We decided to name the 2010 blend Juntarse, which means “to join together” in Spanish. For us, it represents what’s possible when people with common passions partner to pursue a worthy goal, no matter how lofty. It represents the spirit of adventure and discovery that drew Michel Rolland to Argentina, and drew us there too.
And it bears the fruit of Michel’s vision, which is now on its way to fulfillment. We’re privileged to be able to join him in bringing our clients a taste of that vision.