An American in Paris

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“It takes a special talent to start at ten in the morning and run through eight hours of tasting,” Araujo warned me. Although, she added, “your tasting powers are supposed to be at their peak at eleven.” Christian Pillsbury, an American friend and fellow consultant, joined us. First came a rich, round Meursault.

“Sort of a Gina Lollobrigida,” Pillsbury offered. “Or maybe Monica Belucci,” Araujo retorted. Then another fine white Burgundy, from Roumier. “Kind of chubby,” she said. A little later, we moved on to Domaine Leflaive, owned by Anne Claude Leflaive, one of the few labels owned and run by women. “Pay close attention,” Araujo advised. You might not have tasted a wine like this before. It’s biodynamic.”

My face went blank. “It’s beyond organic, based on the ideas of Rudolf Steiner,” she explained. “Take another sip. It just goes on and on forever.”

A good nose, an impeccable memory for faces and names, a quick study of numbers—all of these gifts feed and form Araujo’s work. The daughter of a Napa County businessman (himself a vintner known for his very high-end, waiting-list-only Cabernets), she holds marketing and enology degrees from UC Davis and London’s WSET, and an MBA from France’s elite INSEAD business school. She travels all the time—or at least as much as her husband and children can tolerate—whereas many of her clients are often content to stay at home: “A lot of them have never left their own regions, much less France.” Many, she said, have never had a marketing line in their budgets.

Some look longingly to the hot American wine market, but Araujo generally advises her clients to stick closer to home. “The U.S. market is so big, so complex, so difficult for a smaller company,” she said, “that unless they can find a really interesting importer, personally, I don’t think it’s worth their time. I think they’re much better off starting to build within France or in some of the closer countries, depending upon what kind of wine they’re making. Belgium, Great Britain, and Ireland are much more interesting.”

Booming demand in the United Kingdom, or even the new appetite in China for fine wines, isn’t likely to pull France’s wine industry out of the doldrums, however. The real key for French producers, Araujo and most other analysts say, is to bring back a focus on quality over quantity. “The tradition of having a half bottle at lunch or a whole bottle at dinner is generally disappearing,” she said. “Instead, people are saying, ‘If I’m only going to have one glass, I want a better glass.’ So price is going up—as long as you deliver quality.”

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