Q&A with Olivier Magny
A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hosting a small wine-tasting + book-signing party for my friend Olivier Magny. A talented sommelier, Olivier poured some of his favorite biodynamic wines (from my go-to wine shop Wine Therapy), I made some appetizers, and everybody had a great time. Such a great time, in fact, that I didn't get one single picture from the event. (The story of my life...)
I first met Olivier several years ago in Paris. He had just opened a new wine bar and restaurant and had written a hilarious book called Stuff Parisians Like based on his blog by the same name. I interviewed him for a Gourmet Live story, and we became friends in the process. Olivier is one of those guys who never seems to slow down. In addition to running the top wine school in Paris (and the afore-mentioned wine bar), he recently released his latest book: INTO WINE. A fun read aimed at wine novices, the book chronicles his own journey into wine and walks readers though the complexities of the wine world, from terroir (what is it?!) to the importance of biodynamic farming practices.
(It also imparts practical knowledge, like how to navigate a wine list.) In my humble opinion, it's a must-read for anyone wanting to learn the basics about wine, in a totally fresh, approachable way. Olivier and I chatted recently about his new book, some of his favorite under-appreciated wine regions, and his most memorable bottle of wine.
I'm a big fan of graduation speeches (America at its very best!). Steve Jobs gave one a few years ago where he shared that "you can only connect the dots backwards". I find that to be very true. In my case, two things truly motivated me to start O Chateau: turning my back to corporate life and not making the world any uglier. I was broke but full of ideas: some good ones, mostly bad ones to be fair!
When did your passion for wine begin?
I'll always remember that afternoon I spent in Alsace with one of France's greatest vignerons: it truly shook my world. It made me realize that when you truly embrace it, the culture of wine takes you far beyond wine. In a way, he showed me that my brain cells and my taste buds could be equally stimulated by wine.
Today, O Chateau teaches wine classes to people from around the world. Do you find that people in general are intimidated by wine? If so, why?
Wine offers an incredible, and ever-growing diversity, that is just overwhelming to many. But with wine becoming more of a central element of social life throughout the world, lots of people gained interest (or felt the necessity not to sound stupid): so they read, attended classes, traveled to wine regions. I'll tell you this: I have seen over the past ten years the level of wine knowledge go up tremendously, especially in the US. More and more wine drinkers have a better sense of what they like and dislike. More and more people have the basics of wine figured out. And that's great! So of course, we keep initiating beginners and I love doing that, but I also love to show those with a little bit more experience not only what's fun and delicious about wine but also what's beautiful and genuinely eye-opening about it. That's what this new book is about.
You believe in making wine more approachable and fun for people. What are some simple tips you offer to clients wanting to learn the basics of wine? (Drinking it is obviously a start!)
I'll give you 5:
Tip #1: Relax. It's just wine!
Tip #2: Relax some more. Really, it's fine!!
Tip #3: It doesn't matter! There is no right and wrong in wine: it's all about pleasure!
Tip #4: Trust your own taste. It's just as good (and as bad) as anybody else's. Seriously.
Tip #5. Get drinking!!
(I know, I'm stressful like that!)
You've been working on this book for many years. Anything you're especially proud of about the book?
The one thing I'm truly happy about is how easy INTO WINE is to read. I worked a lot on that aspect: keeping the book both informative and fun, keeping it flowing... Another truly great thing is in the appendix: a list of recommended wineries, worldwide. That was very time-consuming to put together, but I think it's truly helpful for the person who owns that book.
I was interested to read in the book about the importance of soil–not only for grape-growing, but for all of life! Can you tell my readers the meaning of the word "terroir" and why it's so important to wine?
I truly believe that there is no understanding wine if you don't understand the notion of terroir. Terroir is that sense of place: that thing that makes a Merlot from Bordeaux taste different from a Merlot form Napa for instance. Terroir is that unique combination of local soil, climate and know-hows that will make that very grape and therefore the wine made from it taste absolutely unique. When you grasp that, you realize that terroir wines are not only the healthiest and the most delicious ones out there, they are also the only ones that are worth the money!
Biodynamic wines are a hot topic right now, and one you address in your book. Why are they important?
Well, my interest for biodynamic wines simply came from drinking wine. The more wines I tried, the more I realized that throughout the world, the most vibrant wines, the most pure ones were always biodynamic. So I decided to explore, to try and understand why. INTO WINE is about sharing what I've learned along the way, not only about wine, but from it too.
Aside from running a successful wine school and wine bar, you also write books and appear on TV! What do you love most about your job(s)?
Four words: free wine, no boss!
What are some of your favorite under-the-radar wine regions?
Hmm... in France, lots of tremendous things happening in Jura and Savoie. In the rest of the world, I'm particularly interested in what's going on in Baja california, Portugal and central Europe.
What's the most memorable wine you've ever tried?
It would be between a 1882 Port I had a few years back and a bottle of Chateaneuf-du-Pape that tastes nothing like a Chateauneuf-du-Pape (it's called Pignan) that I had at my wedding. That day, it really had the taste of happiness!
What's the one piece of advice you would give someone wanting to take a risk and launch their own business?
If you're prepared to work really hard and if your significant other is cool with it, then go for it. What's the worth thing than could happen?
What are you drinking tonight?
Water. Pushed it a bit last night!!