Talking Wine with...

Talking Wine with...

Edouard Baijot, Master of Wine

In our interview series Talking Wine with..., we are talking with interesting people from the international world of wine about their love of wine.

How did they become wine lovers? What are their favorite wines? And which producers and appellations should we keep an eye on?

Today we are talking wine with Edouard Baijot, who holds the extremely prestigious title of Master of Wine since 2019. Edouard was born in Champagne and grew up in the middle of the vineyards of the Côte des Blancs. He has been working in different positions at E.& J. Gallo Winery for 20 years and currently holds the position of Director Fine Wine E.M.E.A

If you want to know what it takes to become a Master of Wine and whether or not a Master of Wine will always taste the difference between Champagne and English sparkling wine... we suggest you keep reading! 

WINE PASSPORT EDOUARD BAIJOT MW

FAVORITE PRODUCER: those who craft wines with a sense of place and a personality but that are still accessible to most wine lovers.

FAVORITE WINE REGION: Without a doubt Champagne: it is part of my DNA as this is where I grew up and where my passion for wine was born. However, I also really love the beauty of Sonoma and its ability to produce expressive and high-quality wines.  

BEST MUSIC TO DRINK WINE TO: Chopin's Preludes or Nocturnes

BEST OF WINES FAVORITES:

CUVEE WINSTON CHURCHILL
TRIMBACH CLOS ST HUNE 2016
domaine de la romanée-conti, romanée-conti

You were born in Reims and grew up near Vertus in the middle of the vineyards of the Côte des Blancs. No wonder you became a wine expert, Champagne must be running through your veins! Do you have a favorite Champagne style and what is your favorite food pairing with Champagne?

As I grew up in the Côte des Blancs, Blanc de Blancs is a style I particularly love. I love Champagne with extended ageing on lees and low dosage (3-6 grams) which reflect the tension and the chalky expression Chardonnay has in Côte des Blancs. However, I must admit that the house-styles that I love the most, such as Pol Roger, Philipponnat or Bollinger, all have a high proportion of Pinot Noir which gives the structure and the complexity to old Champagne.

Regarding food pairings, I love Champagne at any time with a lot of different meals, but one of my favourites is with a sea food plater shared with my wife - not necessarily the most sophisticated pairing but a moment I always enjoy!

Is there a specific person you consider your wine mentor?

When I started my career at Gallo in 2002 as a sales representative in Brittany, most, if not all, the French team was made up of epicureans and wine lovers. Everything was about fine wine, gourmet food and entertainment…but only after a successful day’s work!
It was at this time that I met Sylvain Removille who was working for Gallo and who was on the Master of Wine programme. I was really fascinated by his passion and his knowledge but also by the tastings he was doing and the opportunities he had to meet great producers. We did some wine education sessions with him, and it became evident for me that I needed to improve my knowledge: the wine world had so many learning opportunities. I was lucky to work for a company whose motto is “Never stop training, never stop learning” so naturally E.& J. Gallo supported me when I decided to pursue WSET qualifications and then, later on, the Master of Wine programme.

You have worked for E. & J. Gallo in many different positions since 2002. Starting as a sales representative, you now hold the position of Director Fine Wine E.M.E.A. In this capacity, you are working with the ‘super premium category’. Could you mention some of the luxury brands in this category of which many people may not realise that they are part of the Gallo portfolio?

When I started with Gallo in 2002, our portfolio of Fine Wines was limited to Gallo Single Vineyards and two Ernest & Julio Gallo Estate wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay. The same year the Gallo Family purchased Louis M. Martini which was their first acquisition in the Napa Valley. This purchase was part of a long-term strategy to grow our premium business with significant investments in vineyards, brands and wineries. Since then we have purchased J Vineyards in Russian River Valley (Sonoma), Talbott Winery in Santa Lucia Highlands (Central Coast) and, more recently Pahlmeyer, in Napa.

A big step was taken in 2016 following the purchases of Orin Swift in St Helena and Stagecoach vineyard in Napa. Orin Swift has really given a fresh excitement to our fine wines portfolio, with high demand on all wines produced by Dave Phinney and strict allocations per country and per customer.

In 2019 you obtained the title Master of Wine, the highest possible certification for wine experts and an extraordinary achievement. Currently, there are only 408 Masters of Wine worldwide. Could you tell us how you addressed studying for the exams? Any advice to people who are considering the same route?

When I started the MW programme I did not realise the amount of work required to pass this exam and after the first few seminars, I noticed that my knowledge was probably below the average of the group, so I had two options: stop or work hard, and I chose the second option. The year I successfully passed the exam, I woke up every day at 5:30 am to study for two hours before I started my business day. It was also a big investment during the weekend, and nothing would have been possible without my wife’s support in taking care of the family (we had 3 children then, 5 now!)

My biggest advice for students is the following “Do not find excuses, find solutions”. If you are not able to dedicate the necessary time to your studies or organize yourself to work hard, do not start as you will waste time and money, even if you have the opportunity to meet great people.

My advice to future mw students? “Do not find excuses, find solutions”

As Fine Wine director at E.& J. Gallo, you are exposed to some of the most beautiful wines in the world. Could you tell us about your most memorable wine moment of all time?

Again, for me the most memorable wine moments are those I share with my friends, whatever the label. However, I remember the first time I was really impressed by a wine: it was in 2001 when I was doing an internship at Veuve-Clicquot in Reims. Some friends and I visited Maison Ruinart which concluded with a tasting of a bottle of Dom Ruinart Rosé 1986 and it was outstanding. I will remember the taste of this Champagne for the rest of my life…

I also remember a Madeira Malvazia 1875 that we tasted at the end of a dinner at Louis M Martini Winery in Napa Valley. This wine was just remarkable for its longevity. On top of the emotions that develop when you drink it, you feel privileged to taste a piece of history. The list of great wines I have been fortunate enough to taste is long but there are so many regions I have not yet explored in depth. I know that I am still at the beginning of the journey…

You have been imbedded in the world of wine for almost 20 years now. What has are some interesting developments you noticed?

Over the last decades the wine industry has made tremendous progresses in all the value chain including sustainability, quality but also communication and new product development. Overall, our industry has moved in the right direction during the last 20 years. Of course, there are trends which I don’t always follow in the wine industry and one of these would be the current trend for dealcoholized wine. I think the wine industry has still got some work to do in competing with the beer industry in this area – they have been very successful in creating a taste profile which is very close to the original version. However, as this category continues to evolve, I will watch with interest and keep an open mind.

Wine aficionados are always on the lookout for new gems. Can you share some of your latest personal wine discoveries with our readers? 

Unfortunately, with the current pandemic I have not travelled since last February but the last wine trip I attended was to Chile with 40 fellow MWs and I discovered some exceptional wines. I particularly enjoyed old vines Cinsault and Sémillon, most notably from Itata. Also, Pinot Noir from St. Rita Hills in the south part of California's Central Coast is really something wine lovers must try.

I have spent a lot of time in Provence in the South of France recently, and apart from Bandol, which is an appellation I particularly love, I have discovered beautiful reds and some very elegant whites made from Rolle (Vermentino). I am also a big ambassador of Vin Jaune from the Jura and I believe that this is probably one of the most complex wines you can find in term of flavours, aromas and suitability for food pairings. These wines can age for decades and are a must-have in a wine cellar.
I also love Italy and I still have so many things to learn about this country but if you want to make me happy, pour me a glass of Nerello Mascalese from Etna….

You wrote your research paper at the Institute of Masters of Wine on the potential impact of English Sparkling Wines on Champagne in the UK off-trade. We can see that English sparkling wine is getting more and more popular. Big Champagne houses are buying land and planting vineyards in the south of England. What is your opinion on English sparkling wine?

I chose this topic for my research paper because, during a blind tasting at Michael Schuster wine course, I was 100% sure that the wine I had in my glass was a Champagne when indeed in was a Prestige Cuvée from Nyetimber… I could have bet anything, but I would have lost!

Many English Sparkling wines are excellent, and my recommendation is always to choose a producer or a brand which has enough history to hold significant stock of reserve wines. Some vintages such as 2014 are good and the 2018 would probably be nice as well but the complexity of traditional method comes both from the assemblage with reserve wines and extended on lees ageing particularly for English sparkling which often have a taut and austere acidity if they are released too young.

We noticed on Instagram you are busy training the new generation, your two boys of 11 and 14 in blind wine tasting (no worries readers, a spittoon was involved!). What do you think, will they follow in your footsteps?

During lockdown, I organized tasting sessions and wine education sessions for my three eldest children, and they loved it. They are old enough to understand how to spit and the explanations I provide during the sessions but at 3 and 9 months, numbers four and five are too young!
They all seem interested in wine but I don’t know if they will follow in my footsteps. There is a proverb I really love which says “You can give two things to your children, roots and wings”. So, I will teach them and then, they will choose for themselves. However, I would love to create a family project around wine and the next step for me is to purchase or plant a small vineyard so that we can start producing wine all together. In my mind, it’s the best way to transmit the passion and why not start a new adventure which is easily manageable with what I am currently doing?!

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