In March 2014, WineLand wrote about French wine enthusiast Jean-Baptiste Ancelot and his team’s mission to visit all the wine-producing countries of the world. The Wine Explorers completed their journey last year and are now getting ready for their next adventure. Johannes Richter spoke to Jean-Baptiste about their extraordinary feat.
Q: What prompted this amazing adventure?
JBA: It all started 10 years ago, in 2009, while I was studying for a master’s and MBA in Wine and Spirits Business in Bordeaux, France. I had lived in the countryside until then, in the north of France where not a single vine is planted. In other words, my knowledge of wine was close to zero! The principal of the school agreed to give me a chance on condition that I spend my summer reading about and studying wine. I began to explore all the atlases and books that existed on the subject – superb books that helped me a great deal, but which mentioned only 25-30 wine countries on average. After three years of research I finally realised there were 90 winemaking countries on the planet! No one had any idea of the global world of wine. So I began the search for sponsors to finance four years of travel.
My dream was to meet the people who make wine in all four corners of the world and by December last year I managed to achieve this goal. In total we explored 88 countries – the only two countries not visited were Syria and Venezuela as they were considered too unstable by the owners of the local wineries.
Q: How has the experience changed your perspective?
JBA: South Africa was the first country on our itinerary and the moment we arrived a new world opened up to me – of human encounters, incredible terroirs, thousands of wines with varying tastes and profiles, cultural discoveries, and ways of consumption. It has challenged my way of seeing wine and the world. Wine is probably the most social product ever. It brings people from all walks of life together to untie the tongues of even the shyest people and arouse powerful emotions. It’s an infinite playground in which each of us makes our own journey.
Q: What were the highlights from the trip that have stayed with you and why?
JBA: There were so many good moments on this journey around the world of wine that I could write 10 volumes just on this subject, but I think of the four biggest highlights as:
The hot spot: The Dominican Republic, where since 2014, it’s possible to taste the wines of Ocoa Bay, the one and only winery in the Caribbean! An eight-hectare vineyard planted franc de pied (Phylloxera-free) with Colombard, Hamburg Muscat and Tempranillo, facing the sea and sandy beaches. These are refreshing wines to taste on the spot.
The unsuspected: Defying the laws of classical viticulture, Thailand with its 12 wineries was a real discovery. At GranMonte winery about 20 grape varieties coexist on clay-limestone soils, producing delicious and serious wines such as the 100% Chenin Blanc Crémant Extra Brut, which I had the pleasure of serving at my wedding in 2018.
The paradise island: One day if I have the chance to cultivate the vineyard of my dreams, it will most likely be planted on Korčula, Croatia, with the island’s endemic white varieties Grk and Pošip. I would spend happy days eating fish and drinking wine while listening to the local masters, Frano Bire and Luka Krajančić – two winemakers dear to my heart.
The ultimate sunset: A glass of 100% Chardonnay Cuvée Extra Brut at the top of the vineyard of Santiago Queirolo winery in the Ica Valley, Peru, in the foothills of the Andes. What a magical and unforgettable moment.
Q: And what were your impressions of South Africa?
JBA: I have wonderful memories of Chenin Blanc and Syrah from this country. What I liked the most in South Africa was how welcoming people are. The way they open their doors to you even when they don’t know you. The omnipresent outdoor life was great fun. In two weeks I was treated to a braai almost every evening, drinking wine under the stars. The diversity of landscapes and terroirs, from the inland to the coastal vineyards, makes it one of my favourite wine regions.
Q: What are the biggest challenges faced by the global wine industry?
JBA: Thanks to scientific progress, the availability of new technical equipment and the ever-increasing know-how of viticulturists and oenologists, it’s now possible to make good wine almost anywhere on the planet. This significantly increases wine’s competitiveness on a global scale in a context where the supply is often greater than the demand.
People who own wineries today must constantly answer two fundamental questions if they want to succeed. Firstly, how do I make my wine known to the public? And secondly, how do I create customer loyalty? You have to know how to differentiate and renew your brand, while at the same time preserving its identity and maintaining a close and totally transparent proximity with the consumer. These are the big challenges wineries face today.
Q: How can the industry keep improving?
JBA: Firstly, by not seeing consumers as simply buyers. The wine industry must be more welcoming and take better care of tourists who knock on its door. Even if they buy only one bottle at the souvenir shop, they remain the first ambassadors and promoters of your wines. People today want a real experience they can remember and talk about.
It’s also fundamental to understand the new generations, such as millennials, who come to the market but aren’t necessarily predestined to become wine drinkers. They’re potential consumers who represent the future and have to be seduced by new approaches and methods of communication.
Finally we must continue to diversify the wine offering. Now, more than ever, we’re in a society where the search for novel, unknown and unusual wines is increasingly part of the buying decision. Trends such as organic wines and forgotten grape varieties are expected to become even stronger in the coming years.
Q: What’s next?
JBA: These four years of exploration are only the beginning of a lifetime dedicated to the wine universe. Now that I have a 360-degree vision on the world of wine and a better idea of what’s going on, I wish to continue exploring it and keep discovering new wines and places, and meeting more people.
This year marks the second stage of the project, with the publication of my first book in September. The 336 pages of the book, which will initially be available in French (and in English in 2020), cover 90 wine countries and 101 wine regions of the world. I’m also preparing a documentary series on YouTube with my friend Brice Garcin, a photographer and director who joined the project last year. He’ll produce 10 short episodes showcasing unusual wine discoveries from the Dominican Republic to Moldova, passing through Senegal and even Ecuador. I’ll do conferences and master classes in France and abroad, and I want to import rare wines from all over the world.
Stay tuned for all the fun. Go to wine-explorers.net. w
Years travelled: 4 | Continents visited: 6 (all but Antarctica!) | Countries visited: 88 | Distance covered: 390 000 km (almost 10 times around the world) | Wineries explored: 500+ | Wines tasted: 5 000+