I met Eileen Fabunan at Wine Riot Boston last month. Eileen is responsible for the promotion of Rhone Valley wines on the US market and thus she had a booth at the event, offering samples of the many wines the Rhone Valley can offer. She kindly accepted to answer a few questions for my blog.
What is your background? How did you end up working for Rhone Valley Wines?
I have a Bachelor’s degree from UCLA and a degree in international wine & spirits trade from the Grande Ecole de Commerce de Dijon in Burgundy. I took viticulture, oenology and sensory analysis classes at the Jules Guyot Insitute of Oenology and I have passed the Advanced program of the WSET. I also followed a program on Comparative Wine Law between the US and the EU at the University of Reims. I then worked for a winery in the Northern Rhone Valley and I joined Euroconsultants in 2009 to manage on-off trade and festival promotions programs for the Rhone Valley wines in the US.
Can you explain exactly what is Rhone Valley Wines?
Inter Rhône is the inter-professional body for all Rhône Valley AOC (Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée) wines with the exception of Châteauneuf du Pape. Created on 28 November 1955, Inter Rhône represents over 1,800 entities like private wineries, cooperative wineries and négociants. Its role is to promote the wine appellations of the Rhone Valley region and support sales in France and abroad.
The producers you represent are spread out over a large area with very distinct wines, isn’t that a challenge when trying to promote such wines?
As you say, the Rhone Valley wine region follows the Rhone River for 150 miles. It’s the second largest quality wine producing region in France in terms of both surface area and production. Globally we represent appellations from Cote Rotie in the North to Costieres de Nimes in the South, but in the US we mainly focus on helping the producers that already export to the States. Mostly those producers are from the Southern part of the Rhone Valley, below the town of Valence so we tend to focus on these particular wines in the off trade for example, especially because they are well suited to the American market. Besides, even though there is a wine range of appellations, the vast majority of these wines are a blend of Grenache and Syrah, with some Mourvedre and other additional varieties in smaller proportion, so there is a certain unity in that regard.
Let’s talk about the American market then, how are your wines doing in this market?
Traditionally the well-known wine regions for France were Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy but the market has changed quite a bit in the past few years. Now there is a new generation of wine drinkers that takes full opportunity of online resources to discover, learn about and buy wine. Information is widely available and that democratized the wine market, you do not have to be an expert to enjoy wine. I think there is a new crowd of young professionals that is getting into wine in the US and that wine from the Rhone Valley appeals to them, mostly because we have great value for money with a lot of bottles in the $10 to $15 range that are both affordable and easy to drink.
What about food pairings? What would be a good match for Southern Rhone wines?
Generally speaking Southern Rhone wines have Grenache as their main grape variety. This usually means ripe fruit aromas with hints of spiciness and, since Grenache is a thin skinned variety, a medium body and lower tannins that make such wines very approachable and easy to drink. You can pair them with a variety of dishes, especially with simple fare such as pizza, pasta and barbecue, simple wines for simple food. We have a formula that goes “easy on the palate, easy on the wallet” It may sound cheesy but I still think it’s pretty true.
Finally, if you had to sum up Rhone Valley wines in a few words, what would these words be?
Ripe red fruits, spicy and peppery notes, generous, easy to enjoy, & ”Always Right.” There is no such thing as a wrong occasion to open a bottle of Rhone Valley wine.
I’d like to thank Eileen once more for taking the time to answer these few questions. I’ll try to post some tasting notes and posts about this region whose wine I personally enjoy. As winter is coming to Boston Rhone wines can provide a little bit of welcome warmth!