The global pandemic has had a huge impact on how we live our daily lives, and the same is true for the families who make our delicious wines over in France! We thought it would be interesting to catch up with some of our winemakers to see how they’ve been doing during the pandemic and to find out what it’s like making wine during these challenging times. 

Life Goes On Under Lockdown

Fortunately for France’s winemakers, the Covid-19 lockdown has come at a time when most tasks can be managed with social distancing or can be postponed until they can be carried out safely. Earlier in the year the website Winesearcher recently reported that, “it’s not a bad time on the calendar for winemakers to be locked down. There are some tasks that usually happen in March, like bottling, but many can be postponed.” If the lockdown had happened during the harvest season which requires a much larger workforce, things might have been much more difficult. 

Over in Graves in the south of the Bordeaux region is Chateau de Portets which is run by somMailier founder Laurent’s cousin, Marie-Helene Yung Theron. Laurent comes from a long line of Bordeaux winemakers and many of his family members including Marie-Helene still make wine today. Our somMailier members may remember trying her stunning 2018 white Graves and red Grand Vin Graves 2015. 

Recently Chateau de Portets has been able to reopen to visitors with new social distancing measures in place to keep everyone safe. In the vineyard things have been a bit easier to manage since workers are able to maintain a distance from each other and get on with the important tasks of preparing the soil for the growing season ahead. This has included key tasks like ploughing in between the vines which helps to remove weeds and to bring fresh nutrients to the surface, ensuring that the plants can access sufficient nitrogen and carbon dioxide.

All of this hard work helps to create Marie-Helene’s delicious wines which are some of our wine club favorites. somMailer founder Laurent has just been able to secure another limited amount of Chateau de Portets’ Grand Vin direct from Marie-Helene. This stunning red Bordeaux is composed of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot, and punches high above its price tag thanks to the silky smooth tannins, rich dark fruit profile and generous full body. It’s a great partner for all types of red meat including steak and barbecued ribs as well as hearty tomato-based pasta dishes.

Likewise, life goes on as much as possible at Chateau Haut-Calens which is run by another of Laurent’s cousins, Thierry Yung, who spent thirty years learning the craft of winemaking from his dad and Laurent’s dad! At the end of May the vines began to flower right on schedule, so all the signs are looking good for a successful summer growing season. The next step is for the flowers to be pollinated and then the tiny grape berries begin to appear which will ripen and gain color over the coming months.

Over in Burgundy Domaines Famille Picard is run by the talented winemaker Francine Picard who joined her family’s business in in the 1990s. Today she makes artisanal Burgundy wines on their 85 hectare domaine set around the impressive and historic Château of Chassagne-Montrachet (below). The domaine’s extensive vineyards are spread across a diverse variety of different Burgundy villages and appellations which enables the family to produce a wealth of delicious wines with distinctive characters. The wines are carefully matured in the chateau’s cellars which date back to the 11th and 14th centuries!

Francine uses biodynamic agricultural practices in the vineyard and this artisanal approach has meant that looking after the vines has been fairly straightforward during the pandemic lockdown. The domaine carefully prepares special compost mixtures and treatments from cow dung which has been buried in a cow’s horn and buried in the earth. These are then used to keep the vines in good condition and treat and prevent disease and illnesses instead of more conventional chemical pesticides and herbicides. The domaine has also been working hard to ensure its employees have a safe place to work by thoroughly cleaning the winery.

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Adaptability & Flexibility

Like their colleagues all over the world, French winemakers are also used to being flexible and adaptable since their craft relies on the cooperation of the weather each year! Winemakers have to be prepared to move quickly and change their operations around to deal with destructive events like extreme hail storms which destroy their grapes and even their vines. This makes wineries better equipped to deal with a crisis like Covid-19 than many other sectors. 

Our French winemakers have had to think on their feet and react fast to adapt their business while making sure their families and employees stay safe. There has been an impact on direct sales to consumers since many small French winemakers love to welcome visitors to their wineries, with many visitors choosing to purchase the wines they have just tasted! This is an area which French wineries expect to rebound over the coming months as they are able to reopen and eventually also welcome guests from further afield like the United States when it is safe to do so.

Embracing New Markets

As well as the restrictions placed on how they run their businesses, French wineries are also having to respond to a shifting market. With more and more people spending extra time at home and many bars and restaurants closed for now, online wine sales are booming. This is an excellent opportunity for small wineries to start offering their unique artisanal products through wine club services like somMailier. We deliver delicious wines direct to your door either as a one-off delivery or a quarterly subscription service. 

Our wine club service is a great way to both try new wines and also to support small family-run businesses, many of whom have been making wines for generations. All of the wines we import are for the most part only available in the United States through somMailier, which means you won’t find them available for sale anywhere else! Every one of our wine boxes comes with detailed information cards for each wine so you can find out all about the family who makes the wine as well as learning about France’s different wine regions and winemaking styles.

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Still not convinced? Here’s what Arie has to say about his experience with the somMailier wine club:

“I’ve been in the wine business for many years, but I haven’t seen anything like somMailier’s approach to wine selection. The enormity of small batch wineries that somMailier’s team has discovered is truly inspiring.”

Arie T., President, La Jolla Wine Club, CA

Has this whetted your appetite to learn more about French wine? We’re here to help! Why not check out our French wine club. Every three months we send direct to your door three or six bottles of boutique French wines which have been carefully selected by our family and wine experts in France along with detailed information about each wine and food pairing ideas to help you really discover French wine. And as if that wasn’t enough, we also have a wine club gift option for that special wine lover in your life!