The wine industry is a smaller community than most might think. The more time I spend in it, the more I marvel at the interconnectedness of the niches, the communities, and the people. Some will turn you off like a desperate housewife, while others will show their integrity, confidence, and willingness to collaborate as the best people in business often do. I met Julien Miquel face to face in Napa about 2 years after we first connected on Social Media. Although the introduction was brief it would lead to another meeting and more conversation this year at an incredible dinner at Press Napa Valley. Julien Miquel is probably one of the most powerful influencers in wine and this year for the first time I joined him on the Social Vigneron’s influencer list.
He comes from a unique place when you’re talking about wine influencers. He was a winemaker first with experience on multiple continents. He took that perspective and applied it to another level in the wine realm.
The Wine Siren: Why wine? When did you start in wine and what was drew you into the industry?
Julien Miquel: I grew up in South West France, so virtually I was always surrounded by wine: family dinners (and lunches), vineyard landscapes, History classes, and more. As you know, wine is everywhere in some European areas!
But I decided to start a career in wine as I was studying biology at University. I loved nature and science and found out during an internship in a local wine region that wine encompasses both to a fascinating degree.
I fell in love and married wine science, enology in the year 2000. We’re still getting along very well ?
TWS: You were a winemaker for a long time. What prompted you to shift gears into writing?
Julien Miquel: Yes, I studied and made wine for the first decade of the 21st century, from Château Margaux to the remote Australian bush, through Sonoma, Spain, and Italy before I moved to New Zealand wine country at the end of 2009, following my other love in life, my partner.
I got a job at the leading wine website Wine-Searcher.com. An opportunity I couldn’t miss out on since I was already much interested in the internet. I realized there that I could share my knowledge and passion for wine broadly using digital media. So, I applied my skills to Wine-Searcher for 6 years, observing and learning a lot about the digital wine space, and helping settle the website as a world leader in online wine content, before launching my own channels at Social Vignerons.
TWS: What are your favorite varietals and why?
Julien Miquel: It’s probably going to sound boring to an American audience, but I have to stick with Cabernet Sauvignon as the #1 grape variety in my heart. This is because I studied winemaking in Bordeaux, and worked in Médoc and Graves (left bank where Cab Sauv is king as opposed to Merlot on the right bank) with extraordinary Cabernet Sauvignon fruits and wines. So I started the journey of learning first-hand about world-class wines with Cab, and this grape taught me all the fundamentals. That’s why it’s irreplaceable in my memory.
But I’m also a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc, Tempranillo, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to name a few. I’m just fascinated by the depth and variety of expressions these grapes showcase in wines from around the world.
Two grapes I absolutely loved making when I was a winemaker, that I’d love to see more varietal wines made from, and that I think would deserve more global attention are Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. These are fragrant yet elegant, refined and very often floral red grapes that combine immense qualities many wine consumers are after.
TWS: What is the most difficult part about winemaking and how does this knowledge help you when you are writing?
Julien Miquel: Both the most exciting and the most difficult part of winemaking, is that you work with nature, sometimes even against it when it turns savage.
So it takes hard work, knowledge, and constant attention to detail. Essentially, as a winemaker, you have to outwork and outsmart nature, whatever it throws at you every day. You must understand and anticipate its every move as much as possible, daily, to eventually make the best possible wine. Most well-established wineries have complex systems, machinery, and teams to overcome this difficulty. I mostly made wine in smaller structures so I had to do it using mainly my brain and hands. Hard work, but that’s how you learn best.
It helps in my writing because when I taste a wine and meet a winemaker, I can relate to all the small puzzle pieces that have gone into its elaboration, from the earth all the way through to the glass.
TWS: What makes your heart sing?
Julien Miquel: At the moment Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You song ? I can’t resist singing along to it.
More generally, since I live close to the Mediterranean now: watching the sun rise or set on the beach, and diving into a cool sea; these first seconds of immersion in the water are just so thrilling.
TWS: You recently started doing drone videos out in the vineyards. How are you using them and how does this help your audience?
Julien Miquel: It’s a little early on to answer completely and much interestingly here!
I’ve flown my drone four times in total so far! Flying these things in France is quite restricted so it’s not that I can fly it every day, and my schedule is busy!
I’m still feeling my way through learning the hows and dos. But it’s already producing some interesting results, such as https://twitter.com/JMiquelWine/status/876154585471168512 Essentially, I think it’s a great way to give the sense of a place, which is one of the most important aspect in a good wine: where it comes from, the vines, the surrounding landscapes, the soil, a winery.
TWS: Most memorable bottle you have had as late?
Julien Miquel: I was recently given the opportunity to do a vertical tasting of the last 20 vintages of Chateau du Tertre in Margaux. The 2010 vintage was exceptional, one of the higher-scoring wines I’ve reviewed on Social Vignerons. I just love Margaux wines in general, certainly some of the finest Cabernet wines in the world are produced there.
TWS: What is your favorite travel destination and why?
Julien Miquel: I’ve been traveling almost exclusively for work over the past 15 years. Tourism and holidays aren’t in my vocabulary, really.
Tuscany, however, has a special place in my heart and experience. Going there, even for work is simply a magical experience. The landscapes, the culture, the food, and the people make me feel like I am in a dream at every sight, every minute. I made a short movie about it, at a special winery: Waking Up in a Tuscan Dream… at Caiarossa Winery.
TWS: If you had to do it again, what would you do differently?
Julien Miquel: I’m not sure I would do anything differently!
There’s been a lot of twists and turns. I’d certainly be much further career-wise had I taken more of a straight line. Working successively in many different countries like I’ve done mean that you pretty much have to start from scratch every time you start in a new place, at least in the physical world. New friends, new colleagues, new culture, new language, new career path in my case as well. It’s hard, and I sometimes feel that I haven’t built anything apart from incredible memories and experiences. But I’m ‘only’ 37 and I don’t think I would swap these 15 years of living the world of wine for a more settled youth. I’ve enjoyed the ride and I’m thankful to have been given such opportunities to share life with so many great people.
TWS: The greatest lesson you’ve learned in this business is…
Julien Miquel: It’s not all made of givers.
At the beginning of my career, I thought the ‘concentration’ of generous people in the wine industry was higher than in the rest of the world. It might be truer on the production side of it!?
But there’s a lot of takers in this business too, like in any other.
TWS: For the wineries out there clamoring to get more visibility, how can they better embrace the wine influencer community?
Julien Miquel: Well, quite simply, in general terms, by providing value to the wine community in its entirety, through the influencers perhaps. Find straightforward, as well as creative ways to allow influencers to live positive experiences around your wines.
Practically, that’s assigning small parts of the traditional marketing channels’ budget to building relationships with the people that create interesting content about wine. Having your wines reviewed, bringing in creators to events and the wineries, and build from there.
Many wineries and marketing departments don’t realize that for a fraction of the money they spend on an ad on traditional media (like a page in a wine magazine), they can actually build genuine relationships with ‘influencers’ and their audience, in the real world even though it’s through digital media. Normal people now engage much more with a product through attractive content on social media that from seeing an ad in a paper magazine.
TWS: On a personal note, what are some of the most important things in your life?
Julien Miquel: My family, and wine (my job). Raising my 3 daughters, and reconnecting with the family members I have not seen much after so many years traveling. I just relocated back to France after 6 years in New Zealand (literally on the other side of Earth), only a year ago.
It’s also important for me to try and ‘do the right thing’ for other people I come across, and try to give someone a smile every day in my life. I wish I had more time to dedicate to that. There’s too much negativity in the world.
Wine is often that smile or ray of sunshine in many people’s day. That’s what I try to echo in my content.