Some stories have so much passion, adventure, and enthusiasm that you ought to share them with the world. You never know whom it may inspire. This is the story of Jean-Baptiste Ancelot, who at the age of 28 decided to leave his hometown in the north of France to explore the wine world. He drew up a 4-year plan in 2015 to visit 92 wine producing countries in the world while meticulously cataloging each of his experiences on his website www.wine-explorers.net bearing in mind, “And what if the great wine terroirs had not yet all been discovered?” a question which has already taken him to 53 countries.
An excerpt from his interview with Drinks & Destinations.
Jean-Baptiste: I will be glad if the Wine Explorers’ project – this crazy (wine) journey of 4 years travel around the world, visiting the 92 countries which actually made the “real wine world“, can inspire people. It is the loveliest compliment that we can ever get. Our motivation is simple. To wake up every day with stars in the eyes and a unique question in mind. What’s going to happen today? Every day is a new day and we are going to learn something new. So exciting! It could be frustrating at the same time, because the more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know anything about the wine world. It is infinite. However, I prefer saying to myself that it makes its beauty. Wine as a drink has something magical.
I will always remember the day that my eyes lit up after tasting wine for the first time. I was 22, living in my home town in the north of France (where no vines grow). I was invited to a Jazz live event in a very small wine bar, I fell in love with the special atmosphere at that moment. The wine we enjoyed that evening at that bar was connecting people from many horizons and I was amazed by that. Coming back home late in the night, I literally searched for “wine jobs“ on the internet. I wanted to know more about it and see if I could apply for any of those jobs. But the list of jobs in wine is infinite! And I felt lost. So I decided to apply for a wine education in Bordeaux (not very original but super efficient) and did a Master degree and an MBA in the wine business. It was so interesting! I did my internships in Switzerland, Hong Kong, and New York at the time, in order to open my mind to some of the most important wine business places in the world. But I wanted more. My dream was to discover the wine world with my own eyes. So I researched for 6 years, found out that the “real“ wine world in the 21st century was made of (almost) 92 wine producing countries and decided that the only way to pursue this passion was to visit all of them.
This is how the Wine Explorers’ project started. A 4-year exploration of the wine planet, with a unique question in mind, “what if the great wine terroirs had not all been discovered yet?”
D & D: Has this ever been attempted before or you are the first one to do this?
Jean-Baptiste: According to all testimonies we have received from the great wine people we met during this journey (journalists, bloggers, MW, MS, winemakers, viticulturists, buyers…), they all agree that Wine Explorers is the first and only global wine inventory ever made in the history of wine. So it is our duty to share our discoveries and to make the information accessible to everybody. That is the reason why we publish articles in both English and French for every country traveled. We have a simple motto, “To be as serious as we can, but never taking ourselves seriously”. Wine must stay FUN and ACCESSIBLE.
D & D: The financial aspect of this entire project seems like a big challenge. How did you manage to work this out?
Jean-Baptiste: We found sponsors (Though I prefer calling them partners) who completely understood and shared our vision of exploring the wine world, going off the beaten path, looking for new discoveries. However, I must admit that they are only a few (at the moment), and I deeply thank all of them for their fantastic support. More details about our partners are on our website.
D & D: Was there ever a moment when you felt that you have risked too much to pursue this passion?
Jean-Baptiste: Very good question. I’m human after all and I often have moments of doubt. Am I doing the project correctly? Am I sharing the right information? Etc. But I have never felt that I have risked too much. Because there is no risk. In the worst case scenario, I’ll just stop traveling, go back home and learn from all the innumerable things that happened to me during this project. In fact, I’m thankful every day.
D & D: What’s your most memorable experience in any wine region that will stay with you forever?
Jean-Baptiste: We had an unforgettable experience in Ethiopia. We had to wait for 3 days in front of the gate of one of the two Ethiopian wineries. It was a moment that was strange and stressful. After traveling for 2 days through some difficult terrains when we finally reached Rift Valley winery we were stopped at the gate. And we had no idea why was it so complicated for us to get an access. In fact, the people at the gate started checking our records and read everything we had already published on our website. Finally, when we were invited inside we received red carpet welcome. With some feedback, this is one of my favourite memories.
D & D: Which is your favourite wine region from your visits so far and why?
Jean-Baptiste: It is hard to choose one. So many of them are unforgettable and unique. There were many regions which inspired me with their indigenous grape varieties, stunning landscapes and extraordinary global emotion. Here are a few of them. The Valle of Guadalupe in Mexico for its super-dry wine production area, full of life and energy. The Okanagan Valley in Canada, for its wild and lovely wine scene. And the Dalmatia in Croatia, for its incredible diversity in terms of autochtone grape variety.
D & D: How was your experience of visiting wineries in India?
Jean-Baptiste: India intrigues me now more than ever. In a country five times bigger than France, whose cultural diversity, landscapes, gastronomy, climate, and language change on average every 100km, I know I will have to come back to discover and enjoy more of it, visiting other regions and other wineries. Despite all the challenges that the Indian wine industry is facing, the enthusiasm of the wineries visited is palpable and pleasing to see. And although it seems that globally the climate is more suitable for white wines, the quality is there and some Indian cuvées frankly deserve to be highlighted in all colors, sparkling wines included. Five delicious Indian wines discovered and which I highly recommend are Insignia 2015, from Grover Zampa (“Coup de cœur Wine Explorers“), Sparkling Cuvée NM from York Winery, Réserve Collection Viognier 2015 from Grover-Zampa Vineyards, Sauvignon blanc 2016 from York Winery and Dindori Réserve Viognier 2016 from Sula Vineyards.
D & D: Are you cataloging these experiences for a possible book in the future?
Jean-Baptiste: At the moment, we are halfway through the Wine Explorers’ project, with 53 countries (so far we have explored more than 100 wine regions in 53 countries, visited 340 wineries and tasted more than 3,500 wines) all in 2.5 years of travels. (Cyprus was n°50 a few weeks ago!). It should end in October 2018. Then, many projects are planned, which is also very exciting! The “after“ project will result in books, documentaries, creation of wine bars, an online website with information, videos and possibility of enjoying wine bottles we discovered. Consulting and conferences are also a big focus, in order to share and exchange about the wine world. Our first important conference will be in June 2018 IMW Symposium (Institute of Masters of Wine Symposium), to be held in Logrono, Spain where I will be a speaker offering an introduction about new terroirs from the world.
D & D : What would be your advice to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Jean-Baptiste: Please go ahead! Save some money. Take a break from your studies (or life). Travel. Meet people. Step into a vineyard. This is the only way to open your mind and to better understand what goes behind making that bottle of wine. And above all, on this journey, you are guaranteed to meet some of the best people in the world.
(The interviewer, Rojita Tiwari had a rendezvous with Jean-Baptiste in India during his endeavour to explore Indian wineries and has been following his journey ever since. You can follow his journey on http://www.wine-explorers.net)