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This interview with René-Jean Dard took place in his cellar in August, 2015.
Tell us about your estate.
Dard & Ribo is starting to get old! We officially started the
We started out with very little land. My father’s vines represented about an
Your father was a vigneron?
He was not. He had vines, but it was essentially for personal consumption. Though he sold a bit to his friends.
So how did you get interested in viticulture?
My dad did this as a side project. He died when I was 15, and I just decided to keep doing it. I was still going to school, playing sports and doing things a normal 15 year old does, but I always took care of that bit of land and made wine from it. It was about an
Did you know François back then?
No, we met later in life. At the time I never thought this would become my job. It was after finishing my baccalaureate that a professor I’d become friends proposed I become a
So I went to
Is he a local?
You were saying you got lucky finding the land you started with. Could this be possible today?
It’s difficult now, mostly because the prices for land have really risen. I can’t imagine a young
So how big is the estate now?
We’re at about 8.5
You mentioned earlier that you grow a lot of white grapes for the region. Is this a coincidence?
No. We planted a lot of whites because we like white wine. But it really helped that from a very early point, our whites were very popular and well received. It's what our clients were looking for, and since the region is only about 10% white, we decided to create a niche for ourselves with white wine. Our
How did your work philosophy over the years develop in the vines and the cellar?
When we started, we weren’t working
My first year with François, we made wine the way we were taught to in school and knew that this was not our style. It did not interest us. So the reflection in our work actually began through
Can you elaborate?
We liked the idea of working naturally in the vines, but the reality of
We are obviously of the philosophy that the less you pollute, the better the situation. But our goal has always been to make the best wine possible. And the only way to do that is to be clean in the vineyards. It’s as simple as that.
So who were your first clients?
We always made wine that we liked to drink. It might sound selfish, but we never thought about what our customers would think about the wines. It was about what we liked, and we were lucky in finding great clients that shared our taste.
Again, this was luck and good timing. We happened to start our
We were on the scene in
For a very long time, we sold 70 to 90% of our production to
You talk about the global popularity of these types wines today, but you must have been rather isolated in your early years.
Completely isolated. In fact we’re still kind of isolated in the region! François and I have faced countless instances of backlash from neighboring
Yet you still stick to the appellation system?
I’ll admit that we are still attached to our
I’m not critiquing producers that intentionally
I guess that’s partly the responsibility of importers, restaurants and retailers now. It’s a different context.
Did any wines along the way shape your feelings about how it should be made?
When François and I were young, we were obsessed with tasting wine. We would get bottles from the four corners of France, do blind tastings and just discuss our impressions. As far as wines without
What about meeting like-minded vignerons?
We’d basically only see them in Paris. Even in the early days, there were small groups who promoted
But you guys don’t do any tasting events right?
We don’t. If we are known today, it’s only because of our wines. Very few people actually know what René-Jean Dard and François Ribo look like. Getting to the
We sell 3% of our wines to consumers, so their is no incentive to have them visit us. But I’m not saying we do commerce! We just do it differently, by visiting our customers, having dinner or a glass at their places. Sometimes (very rarely!) we’ll visit another country. We’ve never been to the US though.
Whenever you want to come to the States, we’ll be happy.
I’ll give you a burger tour.
I dream of eating a good, real burger. I’ve never truly understood them, because they are terrible in France.
Getting back on track: did meeting any of these like-minded vignerons affirm or confirm anything? Did it influence your work?
It confirmed that this was in fact a different way of making wine that worked. None of these guys were from our region though, so it was hard to compare techniques.
There were producers from
You’ve been using synthetic corks for a while. What prompted that decision?
Not to name them, but we started using Nomacorcs in 2002. Without getting too much into it, traditional
Yes, there are real, 100%
I drank a 2006 Les Champs the other day and it was delicious. People often say wines can’t evolve with synthetic corks...
They are not completely wrong. But the principal passage of oxygen into a bottle, which in turn brings evolution to the wine, doesn’t go through the
We taste our wines, see them evolve and still taste great. And we don’t have to worry about
I’ve heard rumors that you intentionally print our importation backlabel upside down because that way the only way to read it is once you’ve finished the bottle. Is this true?
Actually it’s because we bought the roller in the wrong side. We’ve have to manually roll everything to get it the right way, so we just end up having them upside down. We’re a little lazy is all!
In the interminable debate about natural, where do you stand? I ask because you are one of the most seminal, often cited producers from the early days of this movement.
Overall I am very happy, because it simply means there are more drinkable wines. The problem, of course, is that there is a lot of hideous stuff out there as well. A lot of people are hiding behind the word "natural" to escape criticism from their lack of serious work in the
So when a wine is prickly and sour, don’t tell me: "Oh that’s because I’m natural." But at the same time, it’s hard to criticize these extremists, because conventional
You guys didn’t have any issues in your early days?
OUUH LA LA! We had every problem imaginable! We’ve made wine with bubbles. We’ve make wine that was so
But this forced us to reflect on our errors and to me much more careful in the
But it’s the risk you take.
What do you like to drink?
I love beer and sake. I still love wine of course!