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Michel Rolland: The Maestro of Modern Winemaking

Michel Rolland headshot

In the wine world, there are names known for excellence, innovation, and influence. Michel Rolland is one of such names. He is an oenologist based in Bordeaux, France, whose impact on the global wine industry is well-known. With hundreds of clients in over 13 countries and a style that is both distinctive and revered, Michel Rolland has created an indelible mark on winemaking worldwide. In this post, we delve into the life, career, and immense influence of this great individual.

Early Life and Roots in Winemaking

Michel Rolland’s journey into the world of wine began in Libourne, France, where he was born into a family with a rich winemaking tradition. Growing up on the family estate, Château Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol, Rolland was immersed in the world of viticulture from a young age. His passion for winemaking was nurtured by his family, and it was clear that he was destined to leave a significant mark on the industry.

Pasteur in Pomerol, Rolland was immersed in the world of viticulture from a young age. His passion for winemaking was nurtured by his family, and it was clear that he was destined to leave a significant mark on the industry.

After completing high school, Rolland enrolled at the Tour Blanche Viticultural and Oenology school in Bordeaux, encouraged by his father. His academic excellence led him to be selected as one of five students to evaluate the school’s program against that of the prestigious Bordeaux Oenology Institute. Rolland eventually joined the Bordeaux Oenology Institute, where he studied under the tutelage of renowned oenologists such as Pierre Sudraud, Pascal Ribéreau-Gayon, Jean Ribéreau-Gayon, and Émile Peynaud. These mentors would shape Rolland’s approach to winemaking and earn him the moniker of the “Fathers of Modern Oenology.”

Did You Know?

In France, Rolland holds the title of cellar master, oenologist or consultant in around 80 wine-producing properties.

In 1972, Michel Rolland graduated from the Bordeaux Oenology Institute, a pivotal moment that set the stage for his remarkable career.

The Birth of a Consulting Empire

In 1973, Michel Rolland and his wife, Dany Rolland, acquired an oenology lab on the Right Bank of Bordeaux, in the town of Libourne[1]. Over the years, they took full control of the lab, expanding it to include tasting rooms. By 2006, the Rollands’ lab employed eight full-time technicians who analyzed samples from nearly 800 wine estates in France annually. The lab remains a hub of expertise, with Michel’s daughters, Stéphanie and Marie, also contributing their knowledge and skills.[2]

Rolland’s consultancy journey began with some of Bordeaux’s most prestigious châteaux, including Troplong Mondot, Angélus, and Beau-Séjour Bécot. However, it wasn’t without its challenges. Early in his career, Rolland faced setbacks, including the loss of two Saint-Émilion first growths, Château Canon and Château La Gaffelière, due to stylistic conflicts with the owners. Nevertheless, these experiences served to refine Rolland’s approach and strengthen his resolve.

Twenty years later, Château Canon and Château La Gaffelière returned, joining over 100 wineries that sought Michel Rolland’s expertise. His transformative influence on Château Lascombes, chronicled in the book “Noble Rot: A Bordeaux Wine Revolution” by William Echikson, is a testament to his ability to elevate wine quality to unprecedented levels.

The Global Wine Consultant

Michel Rolland’s influence extends far beyond Bordeaux. He played a pivotal role in introducing modern winemaking techniques to the global wine industry. One of the notable features of Rolland’s style is his preference for fruit-heavy and oak-influenced wines, a characteristic that resonates with influential critic Robert Parker. He prefers buying young wine and ageing it to enjoy good wine at reduced prices.[3]

Did you know?

Rolland advised people to “Buy young wines for less money. Start collecting earlier, and wait to drink them for at least eight years.”

Rolland’s impressive portfolio includes not only Bordeaux properties like Château Bertineau Saint-Vincent, Château Rolland-Maillet, Château Fontenil, and Château La Grande Clotte but also joint venture partnerships with wineries in South Africa, Argentina, Spain, and more[4]. His global reach has propelled him to the forefront of winemaking consultants worldwide.

Media Exposure and Influence

Michel Rolland’s prominence in the wine world gained additional attention through the 2004 documentary “Mondovinoby Jonathan Nossiter. In the documentary, Rolland is depicted as an agent of wine globalization, advising clients on winemaking practices. While the film suggested his endorsement of microoxygenation, Rolland clarified his stance, stating that he only employs it in specific conditions to soften tannins.

Mondovino DVD Jonathan Nossiter
Mondovino DVD Jonathan Nossiter | Source

Rolland’s influence isn’t limited to winemaking techniques; it also extends to the broader wine industry. He has mentored and influenced numerous wine personalities, including Rhone wine producer Jean-Luc Colombo.

Napa Valley and Bordeaux: Rolland’s Global Reach

Michel Rolland’s consultancy work isn’t confined to his native Bordeaux. He has left his mark on some of Napa Valley’s most esteemed wineries, including St. Supery, Dalla Valle Vineyards, Harlan Estate, and Staglin Family Vineyard, to name a few[5]. Rolland’s expertise has transcended borders, shaping winemaking practices in California and around the world.

In Bordeaux, Rolland’s influence is undeniable, with his decisive roles in numerous châteaux, including Angélus, Ausone, Clos l’Eglise, Pape Clément, and many others. His touch is felt in the wines that bear the names of these renowned estates, elevating their quality and reputation on a global scale.

The Everlasting Legacy of Michel Rolland

Michel Rolland’s journey from the vineyards of Pomerol to the global stage is a testament to his passion, expertise, and commitment to pushing the boundaries of winemaking. His influence on winemaking style, his consultancy work, and his dedication to quality have solidified his place as a true maestro of modern winemaking.

As we raise a glass to savor the fruits of his labor, we recognize that Michel Rolland’s legacy will continue to shape the world of wine for generations to come. His unwavering pursuit of excellence serves as an inspiration to winemakers, critics, and enthusiasts alike, reminding us that the art of winemaking is a timeless and ever-evolving journey.

Links to the wineries represented by Michel Rolland

Want to read more? Try these books!

Noble Rot- A Bordeaux Wine Revolution Wines of Argentina

References

Aimar, Carlos, and Juan F. Ruedin. “SIESMILES BRAND WINE.” Global Journal of Business Pedagogy 3, no. 2 (2019): 33-49.

John Stimpfig, “Michel Rolland -the Decanter Interview,” (December 16, 2003) https://www.decanter.com/features/michel-rolland-the-decanter-interview-248189/

Rolland & Associés. “A journey in wine: the laboratorie Rolland story.” https://www.rollandetassocies.com/en/notre-histoire

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