In our inaugural interview, we talk with Paul Baldi, a native of the Champagne region and also a producer of the famous beverage. We met a while back when he was a sommelier for the Crenn Dining Group and took care of us many a night at the bar. When we got wind he was doing a small first production of his Champagne, it was only natural that we were excited and also be the first subject of introduction of new producers in the wine world
Paul’s first job was as a real estate agent, but after two years he left and went to study the wine business in Bordeaux where he also worked part time in a wine shop and in a natural wine bar by night. After that, he spent a year in Marseille for sommelier school. The journey then continued with work in different restaurants in France, Switzerland, & California. We have now caught him as he starts his journey as an independent Champagne producer
How did your wine journey begin?
I was already fan of Champagne and I had an interest for the Champagne house Bollinger, Roederer, others. Someone told me: “You talk about Champagne all the time, why you don’t sell some? I said to myself: “Selling Champagne should be great and more fun than my actual job”, which was a real estate agent at the time. The day after I quit my job and went back to school for it.
Was wine a gradual or instant love?
The first day I started to study wine, the passion came instantly. I couldn’t stop learning and discovering the wine world.
Was there the classic epiphany moment? (The interviewer still remembers the first Burgundy to this day)
I remember exactly the moment and the sensation. It’s was during the winter period at dinner at my cousin’s house. I was 15 years old, I already liked Champagne but not wine, and he offered me a glass of Nuits saint Georges Blanc. I don’t remember the producer or even the vintage. I started to understand why people drink and talk about wine so much.
How does your typical wine day begin?
It depends on the days. Some days start with wine tasting (the best days), checking deliveries, emails… some days are very busy because we have an important service and special demands from special guests.
How was first harvest and making your own wine compare?
I did my first harvest when I was 16 years old in Champagne…same as I do today, a chance to produce my own Champagne in collaboration with friends
What are the complex details of the work?
Unfortunately I’m not in champagne all the time. So the most important part is to be there during harvest time and the various steps of production. As for the vineyard, my friend does an amazing job…
Are there wineries/regions that you would love to go work at?
The Cinque Terre. The steep slopes and Mediterranean Sea, are incredible
What are the last few wines that really struck a chord with you recently, and what made them so compelling?
I drank a Chablis from Yannick Cadioux, it touched me directly about the purity of this wine. Such incredible salinity. Another fantastic one is from Crête Economou (Oikonomoy) winery Sitia 2004. Magnificent complexity, elegant, well balanced, and delicate… Many more adjectives to say… Just try it!
Of course a good orange wine from Radikon in Venezia Giulia: Oslavje 2010. I was in a restaurant, very tired, and I chose this bottle because I had heard about it. After the first sip, I wasn’t tired any more , the wine gave me good energy! I’ll stop here because I have so much wine I would like to talk about
Are there particular producers you feel that could use some spotlight?
Yannick Cadioux in Chablis
Champs Des Thémis in Bouzerons
Champagne La Rogerie
Big Basin in Santa Cruz
Young Inglewood in Saint Helena, Napa Valley
Clos Centeilles in Minervois
What are the strangest varietal & appellations you’ve tasted?
Strangest Varietal for sure is old grape called Oberlin noir.
What is the worst wine experience you’ve ever had?
I was in Chile in a guest house and the host offered me glass of red wine from a carton. That wine was horrible and tasted like washing liquid
So then what is the worst one that you’ve ever gotten totally trashed on?
The worst was probably a Vietnamese wine mixed with grape and black berry. A terrible souvenir!
Where do you feel the wine industry is going at this point? Such as with natural disasters, Covid and external market forces? For example, places like Champagne are heavily hit because there isn’t a much celebrating going on now. The recently consistent wildfires hitting places like Napa/Sonoma, or hail going through Burgundy, are prospects of climate shifting all over the world.
We are living in a very uncertain period. Today a natural disaster can happen anywhere. In the wine industry, the producers are more and more involved in organic or biodynamic farming. This way can be only positive and the consumers are also more more perceptive to organic practices.
What about changes in internal wine market trends? In the last few years, there has been a trend in “natural wines” which I find both can be enjoyable in the right context. However we see people who sometimes sit on a classicist or natural wines only viewpoint. How do you feel about all this?
That’s why the sommeliers are here, to make them discover something different and maybe re-learning how to taste the wine. The wine world is so big, be open and curious
People are drinking a lot more at home, shifting away from many hospitality settings (where we enjoy having and discovering wine most). How do you think the movement of wine consumption will go?
In France more and more wine shops are open! This a good trend and way to teach wine to consumers; what to drink and how to drink well. If we want bring back customers to restaurants, the restaurants should care more about their wine lists and reduce their prices.
What is the effect of private collectors/auctions and grey market commerce on the industry?
Unfortunately some wines are getting more and more expensive just because rich buyers/collectors claim them. The wine is then not approachable anymore. Some wine producers try to go against that trend and this shows humility. The wine is made to be consumed!
Who are the most influential people in wine to you? In the United States, whether you agree or not, people like Robert Parker dominated for quite while.
I never follow anyone’s tasting notes. I follow many peoples on Instagram and when I see a bottle a couple of times, I say to myself “Hmm I should try this wine!” They don’t need to be in the know or have thousands of followers.
How the will the relationship of wine producers, sellers, and consumers change going forward? Given some of the above factors such as influencers, market forces, nature, etc?
I think In the future, the producers would like to know that where their wines are sold to promote their philosophy, to understand their wine, and the hard work they do!
Any obscure appellations or grape varietals that you believe are under rated and need more exposure?
Definitely Aligoté. Plant some more !!!
What is a good base path for a wine enthusiast to get better educated in general? Besides tasting as much as possible?
A good book to learn the basics. Visit the wineries, talk with the producers. When you drink wine take a couple of minutes to describe, and understand the wine to yourself. You can always go deeper.. Try to buy wine in local wine shops, avoiding supermarkets if you can
What is your viewpoint on how wine professional education will change with the shift of hospitality and consulting?
Even before now, wine could look inaccessible or hard to learn about. Some people’s in the wine industry talk to much about their own knowledge and customers feel frustrated. Wine has to be easy and accessible. The world of the hospitality is becoming more easy going, particularly in high end restaurants. This is a change the mentality
Do programs like the Union de la Sommellerie Française, Court of Master Sommeliers, etc. have as much prestige and relevance in the future?
Yes, more and more people are loving wine! The wine world is always moving, so it is good to have these programs
What’s in your wine collection now both personal and professional?
I love white Loire and red Rhône. You can feel that when I create a wine list. It is also what you will find in my wine collection. I have lot of accessible wine. I bought a case to see the evolution of those bottles over the years. I love that!
Since we asked about the worsts earlier, any personal top tier bests and holy grails that you wish you were able to taste?
Chateau D’Yquem before 1900 (1811 is a dream)
I’ve tried many times, the différent wines from DRC but never La Romanée-Conti!
JL Chave Hermitage Cathelin 1990
Richebourg From Henri Jayer
The Champagne they found in ship that sank in theBaltic Sea.
And so many more….
Let’s be cliche…Give us a few Desert Island wines you couldn’t live without
Blanc de Blancs Champagne
Côte Rôtie and Saveniere
What do you feel your personal wine evolution is going forward?
I’m very positive about the quality of our organic farming/growing. People will drink better wine because of it. I am always happy to discover new producers everyday!
Thank you Paul for being our inaugural interviewee! You can find more about his wine Baldi Pain Champagne here and give it a try at the PierreClos Shop