Creating a life in wine

It’s rare when you find someone who has figured out exactly what he wants to be when he grows up and then take that extra step to actually make it happen. But Scott Wright is one of those people. He fell in love at an early age with a small cluster of villages that just so happen to produce the world’s greatest wines. After successful careers in the radio and music industry and a stint running a renowned Oregon winery, he’s now an importer of those same wines that first floored him. He runs Caveau Selections, a company that brings on small production Burgundies and Champagnes to American consumers.

But Scott does more than import and sell wine. He builds relationships between customers and the producers whose wines they discover by sharing stories and even leading his clients on tours of Burgundy and Champagne.

Now Scott is serving as host for the September 24th launch of my novel Vintage at Powell’s in Portland. It’s a great fit: one of the reviewers of Vintage called it, “an evocative look at the strength it takes to create the life we want.” That comment might even be better applied to Scott’s own journey.

I recently asked Scott a few questions about the importance of stories in the work that he does:

 

Tell us about Caveau Selections. What’s the elevator pitch, and how does it work?

We’re your direct connection to the best of Burgundy and Champagne. I’ve been drinking, studying, and collecting the wines for over 30 years, and I spend months every year tasting my way through the cellars and hand-selecting the most exciting wines to bring into the U.S. for our customers. We sell exclusively direct to consumer, and the wines come directly to us from the producers. No middlemen, no extraneous markups, no BS. We offer wines on a pre-arrival basis, and we have popular Burgundy and Champagne clubs that include two 6-bottle shipments per year, with 20-30 pages of educational info, maps and photos to accompany the wines.

Scott and Thierry joking and tasting wine in cellar
Scott and Thierry Violot-Guillemard in Thierry’s cellar in Pommard, Burgundy.

 

You’re drawn to the smallest producers? Why focus on the little guys? What’s so special about what they produce?

The best wines always convey a “Sense of Place” – a distinct signature of the terroir from whence they came. Larger producers generally are blending grapes from many different growers or sub-regions. While their wines can be delicious, they often lack a sense of character or personality. The small producers’ wines are made from individual vineyard parcels that have likely been in the same family for several generations. These are wines that are made by somebody, rather than wines made by a corporation or a factory. These are artisanal rather than industrial wines.

 

Storytelling is a big part of what you do, whether it’s the descriptions of the wines and winemakers you provide with each shipment, or via your blog as you document your travels to Burgundy. Why do you spend so much time on the stories?

Because wines ARE stories – the stories of the families and the individual characters that grow them and make the wines, the stories the individual pieces of land have to tell, the story of that individual year…

 

You’ve been working on a book about La Paulée, the signature Burgundian wine festival. What’s the status of that project and why do you feel compelled to document it?

I’ve decided to expand the scope of the book to include the legendary Hospices de Beaune auction – the world’s oldest charity wine auction, and the Chevaliers du Tastevin celebratory dinner at the Chateau de Vougeot – which together with La Paulée de Meursault make up what is known as “Les Trois Glorieuses” – the Three Days of Glory that happen every year on the third weekend of November – the high-point of the year for the Burgundy wine world (and wine lovers everywhere!)

The Paulée – the concept of coming together to celebrate the harvest, is one of the oldest traditions known to man, and spans all agricultural arenas, not just wine. The Burgundians have raised it to an art form, and it has become one of the most sought-after events on the planet. As someone who has the great fortune to attend on a regular basis, I wanted to share that spirit of camaraderie, generosity and bacchanalian celebration with everyone who has always wanted a “peek inside.” With luck the book will see the light of day in late 2017…maybe?

 

Do you recall your first trip to Burgundy? What was it like? What do you remember the most?

My first trip to Burgundy in the 1970s was mind-blowing. Just seeing Romanée-Conti and Musigny and Montrachet in the flesh, walking the vineyard roads – it’s something one has to see to truly grasp. I just remember being in a semi-trance-bliss state the whole time.

 

What about your most recent trip to Burgundy and Champagne…did anything strike you or are there highlights from that experience?

I’m there 3-4 times per year now. The most striking thing from my most recent visit in June was the tension and sadness in the air among producers in the Côte de Beaune, where five very small vintages in a row have given them very little wine to sell, and have nearly crippled a number of small producers. Their determination never flags, but you get a sense they feel quite beaten-down.

 

You lead groups of Caveau Selections customers on tours of Burgundy and Champagne. Have you taken any true aficionados for the first time? What is it like when the light bulb goes on for the first time?

Yes, most of the people that have come on the tours are first-timers. Seeing that light bulb go off is the most rewarding thing of all. It takes me back to my early visits and early infatuation with the regions. It truly warms my heart and makes all of the work and planning worthwhile. I love to turn people on to what I love about Burgundy and Champagne, and then see them develop their own paths.

Three empty bottles of wine on table
Some of the wines Scott sampled on a recent trip to Burgundy.

 

Many wine lovers move from region to region. They’re always looking for something new to try. But you keep digging deeper into the same territories. Why is this? Is it something about you, the regions you love or both?

I’m definitely a “diver” rather than a “skimmer.” Whatever I get into I tend to go all the way, to the exclusion of almost everything else. Couple that with the extraordinary complexity of Burgundy and Champagne – which one could study for a lifetime and only know a fraction of it all – and I’ve never felt the need or desire to get into anything else. My cellar is entirely Burgundy and Champagne as well – that’s what I like to drink!

 

At Caveau Selections, you play the role of a wine educator. Why is education an important part of the equation?

Because wine, especially European wine, is unnecessarily complex and confusing to most people. I’m here to give folks a few keys that will help them unlock the doors and let them get in to what can seem impenetrable. Once you have those keys, you have tools that will serve you for your wine-drinking life. An educated consumer is a better consumer, pure and simple. I want to help people find out for themselves what they like, and I really love showing them how to get there.

 

What does the future hold for Caveau Selections?

This fall we’re releasing our first Champagne under the Caveau label – the Caveau Extra-Brut we produced with Sophie Cossy, a great young producer we’ve been working with for a few years. Hopefully there will be more Champagnes and perhaps some Burgundies that we work on together with our producer partners. Having been a winemaker for the last 16 years, there’s always an itch to keep my hands in the production process in some small way. There may also be a few more producers we add to our portfolio over time, and likely more Champagne and Burgundy tours too – there seems to be a lot of demand!

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