How wine gets lucky

It's intriguing to consider why some people hit the big time and others don't. In the talent show era, there's a widespread conviction that if you simply believe in anything strongly enough, it will happen. Hate to poop the party but unless you're Peter Pan, that's not true.

For every J. K. Rowling or Ed Sheeran or Jamie Oliver there are many others who are equally talented in their field, but who we never hear of. Let's assume that their work is just as good, or perhaps even better. How can we explain who gets the break and who flounders in obscurity?

For those that do make it, self-belief is mandatory. There's often an equal portion of self-doubt, it's just that people talk about that much less. Some degree of talent is preferable, though not always necessary. Persistence is essential - there's no such thing as an overnight success. Some people might appear to achieve fame very quickly, but there will have been years of practice and preparation beforehand.

Self-belief, talent and persistence - yet you might possess all three and still never achieve your goals. The crucial extra factor is luck.

Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure.
— Earl Wilson

It's disconcerting to think that success can rely on an abstract concept, and one which is more or less out of our control. There's a saying that you can 'make your own luck', and it's true that greater determination creates greater opportunities, but getting the all-important breakthrough still depends on the stars aligning. More prosaically, that usually means somebody in a position of power taking a chance on you.

Much the same applies to wine. There are hundreds if not thousands of wines around the world which deserve greater recognition. The wine world tends to obsess over the same famous names, making it difficult for lesser known labels to get the attention they merit.

Hundreds of bottles hoping to get lucky at a competition

But producers who believe that simply making the best wine possible will result in automatic success are delusional.

Hence the profusion of ways in which wineries clamour for notice - trade tastings, press releases, sponsored events, dinners, wine competitions, press trips and so on. The cynical view is that whoever splashes the most cash has more of a chance of getting noticed, and there's a certain amount of truth to that.

It therefore behooves all of us who work with wine to champion those that deserve it; to explore strange new wines, to seek out new grapes and new appellations, to boldly drink where no man has drunk before.

Discovering new wines and bringing them to a wider audience is a great privilege for anyone working with wine. So here's one.

It's a white wine from the Entre-Deux-Mers region, where large volumes of AC Bordeaux are made. This is challenging territory for quality-minded producers because the wine here commands a fairly low average price, and the winemaking approach is often just damage limitation; doing the best they can with the grapes they've got for the minimum expenditure.

I visited the region this summer, and went to Ducourt, a large family-owned producer. Their output ranges from 33,000 bottles of Château Jacques-Noir in St-Émilion to 360,000 bottles of Monsieur Henri, a successful off-dry brand sold mostly in Germany. 

They've also just started making a new white wine. I was sent a sample which I tasted this week. It's a crisp, aromatic style reminiscent of Semillon/Sauvignon blends made in a commercially appealing mode. As such, it is like thousands of other wines in the marketplace.

The big difference is the grape variety used: Cal 6-04.

This is a cross between Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, specifically bred for disease resistance. Most vineyards in Bordeaux require significant spraying regimes to ensure the fruit stays healthy. Ducourt have planted Cal 6-04 to investigate the potential for reducing reliance on agrochemicals. With crossbred varieties, the compromise has always supposedly been that they produce inferior wines. This is demonstrably untrue in the case of Cal 6-04 - it's vibrant, clean and fruity with familiar flavours, sound technical balance and eminent drinkability.

It looks like the first commercial release of this wine, currently named Cépages Résistants, will be the 2016 vintage. How to market and price it will be another challenge (I doubt the variety name will feature on the bottle) but Ducourt seem savvy enough in those departments - the sample bottle was sent with a riddle tied around the neck, and their website is excellent, which bodes well.

If it becomes successful, this could be a significant step for the world of wine - a move away from slavish reliance on noble varieties towards a more adaptive and progressive model of oenology.

I'm not pretending Ducourt is a struggling, artisanal garagiste. I'm saying here's a big wine producer being thoughtful and innovative in a challenging and frequently staid region - and they deserve a stroke of luck for it.