At first glance, winemaker Christian Roguenant looks professional, but relaxed. Shying away from the typical business attire of a suit, he prefers a nice sweater and slacks. He strolls around the back barreling room, occasionally stopping to put his ear to a few barrels and listens for the telltale bubbling that signals the fermentation process.
The usual warm, welcoming expression on his face belies a firm but still friendly work personality. His winery, Baileyana, matches his own character, an environment in which customers will automatically know that the employees love to come to work at such an impressive place.
When dealing with distributors and other types of clients for whom he produces wine, Roguenant goes after exactly what he wants, but he does not leave them feeling empty and robbed of their dignity. The demands of the job dictate that he cannot enjoy more than a few weeks of vacation per year, but he still enjoys it.
Roguenant visited vineyards with his father as a child, but his real interest in wine blossomed while attending the University of Dijon in his native France. After graduating with a degree in enology-the study of wine and the making of wine-he was armed with the theory of the practice, but not the practical knowledge. Soon, however, he would gain it only to be presented with various opportunities to hone his knowledge along the way.
Roguenant has been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time for the extent of his career. Many of his jobs in the wine industry have been with very prestigious wineries and distributors all over the world, such as the popular Beringer group. This makes for a very impressive resume. However, he still maintains a humble perspective; to him, his fortune lies in the privilege of producing his own quality brand of wine in such a beautiful area as the Edna Valley.
After stints as a consultant in such countries as Germany, for Deutz and Gelderman; Argentina, for Navarro Coreas; and of course his native France, for Delas Winery in the Northern Rhone region, Roguenant moved in 1986 to California to begin work with the Maison Deutz Winery as one of Beringer’s managing partners and senior winemakers. Thus began his career on the Central Coast.
His career even took him to Seoul, South Korea in 1988 to serve as a consultant to the local distillery, Taesun, in the making of the first sparkling wine ever produced in the country. The occasion, of course, was that year’s Olympics. While in South Korea, Roguenant suffered difficulties in handling the task of communicating with his native South Korean counterparts. A common language was difficult to come by, and the sole interpreter’s talent was only “decent.” The cultural difference came as quite a shock, also. “The food was horrible! Nothing like you find in Korean restaurants (in the United States),” he recalled. Along with this, a distinctly awful smell accompanied the food, permeating his memories of the country.
During a consulting job in New Zealand for Montana Wines and Brancott Winery in 1996, he took the opportunity to enter into a joint venture with a distributor named Southcorp, located in nearby Australia. This distributor enjoyed very large production figures, and once again, Roguenant enjoyed a very impressive employer.
Toward the end of his time with Montana Wines and Brancott Winery, he reestablished ties with California’s Central Coast by taking on duties as winemaker and president of Laetitia Winery in Arroyo Grande. In 1998, Catherine and Jack Niven approached him with a chance to assume responsibility for the construction of what would later become Baileyana Winery, where he is senior winemaker today.
Roguenant had met the Niven family previously at a few wine dinners and other functions, and they were impressed with his resume; aside from collaborating with them to draw up plans for the winery, he was given free reign to do whatever he pleased to “fill up the building,” as he put it. The result of this endeavor was a gorgeous, light-filled establishment in which “although the wine never sees the light, the people do and that makes the winery a very pleasant place to work,” Roguenant said.
In 1997, Roguenant was awarded the honor of “Winemaker to Watch” by Wine Spectator magazine. However, he does not depend on awards to validate his work. “I take wine critics with a grain of salt,” he said. “It’s not an exact science; it’s a beauty contest.”
The Edna Valley is home to many different wineries, but Roguenant does not view his winery as competition for others in the area. In what he calls “the Appalachian concept,” Roguenant explained that the impact of a group is bigger than individual impact, and in this way, the amicable environment helps to make the wines produced together more renowned. Instead of having each wine call a specific winery its home, the wines are marketed as a group, all from the Edna Valley.
Roguenant has found in his experience of working in the United States that there is an automatic expectation of excellence solely based on the fact that he is a native Frenchman. This supposition of immediate legitimacy has forced him to live up to it, and he considers fulfilling these expectations his biggest accomplishment as a winemaker. Also, being the only French-born winemaker on the Central Coast increases the likelihood he will stay in the minds of wine consumers. This drives him to keep producing high-quality wine.
Throughout his daily operations of the Baileyana winery, Roguenant maintains a friendly personality, no doubt a reflection of the joy he takes in working there. When it comes down to doing business, he is unyielding, yet still amicable. He tries to explain why he needs to be so firm to everyone he works with, so they know where he’s coming from. But with this businessman, it is where he comes from that propels him to greater heights.