Cherry red doors lead into the wine chambers of Joël Briguet, here, on the serpentine road that leads to Crans-Montana. There are vineyards as far as the eye can see. They cover over 5000 hectares, making the Valais the largest wine region in Switzerland. The hills are sun-drenched. And their owners, well, they are too.
Joël Briguet, the owner of the "Cave la Romaine", seems incredibly relaxed. Like an experienced person who knows that he can trust the knowledge he has acquired over the many, many years of his work. Together with his wife, Joël has been involved in viticulture for almost three decades; already his father was a winemaker. Joël started out with 15,000 bottles a year. Today they make 120,000, from 23 varieties of grapes. "Working with vine is an adventure that keeps on giving," he says, “year after year after year.”
Where the big, fat barrels sit
As I write this text, I take a few sips of the 2016 Syrah Grande Reserve and let it transport me back to the wide, open shop where I tasted it for the first time. And to Joël Briguet and his team who told me everything about the special characteristics of this dry red. To the wine cellars where big, fat barrels, lined up like theatre-goers in an auditorium, hold the dry, semi-dry and sweet juices that are taking their time to mature into wonderful wines.
To the right side of the windowless room, narrow stairs lead up into a light-flooded, hypermodern loft with impressive panorama windows and a white table that looks as if it was taken from a spaceship. Through a window in the floor you can look down into the wine cellar. The room behind this loft is Joël Briguets office. It is just as bright and almost as big, the walls decorated with all kinds of award certificates and diplomas. An office that gives room for thought, I think to myself as I enter.
“When we sell wine, we also sell images. Someone who has been here will think back to our wine cellars, the hills surrounding us and my team when they open one of our bottles at home,” Joël explains. Many of his customers are regulars – or their grown-up children. Some of them have been coming here for 30 years. And Joël Briguet knows, that in our time, the age of globalisation and digitalisation, forging personal relationships with your customers is more important than ever: “My customers want to know how their wine is made. Otherwise they could just buy any wine from the supermarket.”
The biodynamic turn
Joël Briguet’s approach has proved to be successful. Still there is no standing still in times like these, and that is why Joël is preparing for a big change, up here in the vineyards of Crans-Montana: converting his business to biodynamics. “We are taking one step after the other,” he says, “first we will stop using insecticides, then synthetic products and then, finally, we will change to biodynamic winegrowing entirely.” Biodynamic means treating a vineyard as a living organism that is capable of taking care of itself. This also implies that only minimal intervention is allowed, and all artificial or chemical substances are banned. “This is a mission that will hold challenges for us for several years to come,” the winegrower tells us.
Finding joy in doing things properly
Obviously, running a wine business is not just drinking wine and making money. “Wine is perfected by the context in which it is consumed,” Joël Briguet explains. To him, wine is a symbol for friendship, companionship, for spending good times with each other. Wine brings people together. Wine is shared to cultivate and strengthen relations. It is also something that touches us emotionally. Making wine, on the other hand, also has a technical side, Joël explains, matter-of-factly: “I see myself rather as a careful worker than as someone who acts intuitively. Being careful and thorough are the most important things in this business.” And it leads to satisfying results. “The joy of doing things properly.” Joël Briguet calls it. A pretty interesting approach in times where we place so much more importance on intuition than on understanding and learning things.
Nov. 16, 2018