A Look at How the Rivesaltes Region Produces Top-Tier Wine

Eric Aracil of the Wines of Roussillon on how great French wine gets made

Shaped like an amphitheater and nestled in the South of France between Spain, the Mediterranean Sea, the Pyrenees & the Corbières Mountains, Roussillon is known for its diversity of wines and terroirs. The Roussillon region’s unique geology and microclimates allow each of the 25 authorized grape varieties to reach its fullest expression in these soils. In turn, Roussillon brings together a community of 2,200 winemaker families, 25 co-ops and 380 private cellars.

The Rivesaltes – pronounced "reeve-salts” -- wines from the Roussillon region are known to be elegant, naturally-sweet, fortified sweet wines. I had the pleasure of trying Rivesaltes Ambre from the 1985 Collection (although bottled in 2012), which is intended to go with foie gras, orange cake, or any pastry made with honey. This particular wine received a 89/100 from The Wine Advocate and two stars from Guide Hachette 2013. It is among six top-tier Rivesaltes wines available in time for Valentine’s Day, as ranging in price from $30 to $60.

The Export Manager for Wines of Roussillon, Eric Aracil, talked to me about the Rouissillon region – where things are known to go “from the vine to wine” – and the Riversaltes wine. More info is online at www.winesofroussillon.com.

The Daily Meal: How did you wind up in the wine industry? Had you ever bartended?
Eric Aracil: I was born into a wine-growing family in a small village situated in the heart of the Aspres region and have always lived in the Roussillon. After graduating high school, I went on to pursue university studies in biology, agriculture and finally, oenology. I began my career at the age of 21, as a consulting oenologist at the Fourquet Laboratory, a position I held for five years until shifting gears to become a wine educator at the Centre de Formation Agricole in Perpignan.
In 1996, I took on the role of oenologist, this time within the trade association known as the Groupement Interprofessionnel des Côtes du Roussillon et Côtes du Roussillon Villages, where I also managed all export market programs. In 2000, I was named Export Manager of the Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins du Roussillon (CIVR), the newly-created trade board for the promotion of all Roussillon wine appellations.
Today, I have 20 years of experience in wine export, and more than 30 years’ experience in everything related to the vine and to wine. It is an expertise that I put to use on a daily basis for the benefit of Roussillon wineries, and that I love to share with professionals and wine-loving consumers when I speak in public.

What is it that draws you to wine instead of spirits or beer?
Meeting people who are just as passionate as me, as the world of wine is unique and quite small, but that brings a lot of wealth through sharing and meetings. And to share my passion of the wines and of our culture. Roussillon is of course in France, but also in French Catalonia. We have a very old story with a great culture, where wine has always played a big role.
I appreciate spirits and beers a lot, but in terms of pleasure, there is nothing to compare with wines! For me, there are more richness and complexity into wines, much more opportunities to take pleasure with wines than with spirits or beers. And to summarize, a wine can be drunk first of all like a beer. I mean easily, or like a spirit, discovering its complexity and aromas, but without the high level of alcohol…

I read that you judged the Chinese Sommelier Competition in Shanghai last year. Is there a wine industry in China? Does your company do a lot of business there?
Yes, for sure there is a wine industry in China, which also happens to be a very good market for Roussillon. In terms of dry wines, China is our number one export market in volume. In terms of fortified sweet wines, it is only eighth with Germany being first.
The CIVR is a wine council which represents all the wine growers from Roussillon -- private estates and co-ops -- and also the trade companies which are selling Roussillon wines. Our work in China is done to increase Roussillon’s “popularity,” in order to continue developing the market for Roussillon’s wines. Being a judge for the Chinese sommelier competition is one example of my work, supporting the sommelery, teaching and working with the sommeliers. I’ve been doing it for three editions.

What is coming up for Roussillon? Any excitement beyond just making high-quality wine?
Export numbers to the U.S. have been on the rise for seven consecutive years. We are seeing a real growing interest here for our wines, which is exciting given the amount of work producers put in to make high-quality wines and to have the quality of our terroir be discovered.

When not busy with wine, how do you like to spend your free time?
I travel a lot, so I enjoy spending time with my family when I am home. I love cooking and enjoying good meals and wines with my friends and family. I also love taking long walks in the middle of a vineyard or in a forest, looking for mushrooms, or going to fish or rediscovering always some beautiful sites of the Roussillon!

Is there a favorite restaurant near your office that you can recommend?
Yes I have several. I will give you three names, all in Perpignan: Le tire Bouchon, le Clos des Lys and La Passerelle!

Finally, Eric, any last words for the kids?
Not really. If you want to add fun in your life, taste some of Roussillon’s wines and you will understand why our slogan is “Infinitely Roussillon!”