Daniel Johnnes of La Paulée Discusses Wine Experiences and More
March 10, 2021
Written By Coravin
Daniel Johnnes, sommelier and founder of La Paulée de New York and co-founder of La Fête du Champagne, sat down with Coravin to discuss the origins of La Paulée, the future of wine events, and to offer words of advice to those considering a career in wine. During the interview, Johnnes also shared the origins of PRESSOIR.WINE – a consumer-facing platform that offers wine education, unique experiences, wine consulting, and an exclusive wine club.
Coravin offers a few of Johnnes’ PRESSOIR.WINE experiences on its marketplace. Whether you’re looking to join a live discussion and interview with a leading personality of the wine world or embark on a 1-hour bespoke wine tasting led by a PRESSOIR.WINE team – there’s certainly an experience for you.
Listen to our conversation with Johnnes and learn more about La Paulée and PRESOIR.WINE here.
Daniel Johnnes of La Paulée on the Future of Wine and Events
Read the full transcript from the interview between Danielle Johnnes of La Paulée and Lindsay Buck of Coravin below.
Lindsay Buck, Coravin: Today I'm talking to the founder of PRESSOIR.WINE and La Paulée Daniel Johnnes, who was also wine consultant to chef Daniel Boulud, and an importer of French wines. We feature the PRESSOIR.WINE classes on the marketplace at www.coravin.com. Welcome Daniel. How are you doing today?
Daniel Johnnes, La Paulée: Fantastic. Nice to see you.
LB: Nice to see you too.
LB: So can you tell me a little bit about the history of La Paulée in Burgundy, and how that shaped the first event that you held in New York?
DJ: Absolutely. La Paulée is a festival that’s a traditional Burgundian festival, La Paulée is really a ceremony that occurs in every Domaine, in Burgundy and beyond. Some regions of France have a different name for it. But in Burgundy, they call it La Paulée and La Paulée is a celebration that every winery has at the end of harvest. It takes place while harvest is usually in September, global warming it's been earlier but it's usually in September. So when the final grapes are picked and brought in and put in vats to start fermenting, the Domaine gathers the workers and family of the Domaine and they celebrate, and that's called their Paulée. The Paulée became a larger celebration in the 20's with the Comte Jules Lafon, who was a very fine gentleman and winemaker in the village of Mersault. And you have to remember in the 20's, a Burgundy wasn't as popular as it is today. There was a really struggle to sell the wine. So as a marketing technique, they started this, these several large set promotional celebrations in Burgundy, one of which was La Paulée du Mersault, where Jules Lafon would invite all the winemakers from the village of Mersault to gather together and celebrate together. So over the years, this was 1923 or 24. And over the years, it just grew to this very large wine celebration that takes place the third Monday of November, every year. Now the great grandson of Jules Lafon is a good friend of mine, Dominique Lafon, who now currently runs the Domaine de Comtes Lafon and invited me to the La Paulée Mersault one year, probably about, I don't know, in the late 80s, early 90s. And I was so taken aback by just the spirit of the event. I said, this is something that I have to try to recreate in New York and in the United States. Because what it is, is the winemakers from the village gather with their family with their friends, they bring bottles from their cellar, and they sit down at a table, a long banquet table with you know, 40/50/60 people seated at it. And so they're about 700 people in the room. So you have multiple tables, and they start serving the food and the guests get up from the table with their bottles and pour it to their neighbors and friends in the room. And it becomes this huge celebration of walking around the room pouring wine for everybody. And I just felt that that's really the spirit of wine, it's being able to share it with people and talk about it and not get geeky about it. But just have it with food and friends. And that was the inspiration for me. So that's the history of the event. And that's the origin of my event here in well in New York, that I subsequently took to San Francisco and we did a small one in Aspen, Colorado, and you know, we've grown over the last 20 years or so to kind of transmit this this spirit, you know, we talk about wine is an educational component to it. But most importantly, it's the culture of wine and, cuisine and sharing with people and that that side of the enjoyment of wine that is so important to me.
LB: Yeah, and that that sort of event sounds like a fantasy right now, doesn't it? I'm sure you miss it incredibly, no?
DJ: It almost makes you want to cry.
LB: I know it must be your heart must be like...
DJ: Well, I mean, one year ago exactly is when we were gearing up for the 20th anniversary celebration of La Paulée. And the whole event was sold out very quickly. We had hundreds of people, there's all said and done between the various events that were well over 1200 people who attended it and 50 winemakers from Burgundy and 80 Sommeliers from across the world, and all these people and maybe 20 Chefs all coming together. And so when I think about it this year, this you know, approaching the one year anniversary, I'm calling it one year anniversary of the 20th anniversary.
It really, you know, it's really a very emotional, yeah, yeah. Because I mean, this is what we're all missing. And here, we are looking at each other on a screen. And it's great to see you. And it's great to see people that we talked to through our activities on zoom. But it's that contact that's still missing.
LB: No, it doesn't replace the in-person contact. That's for sure. So it was the 20-year anniversary anniversary, in what ways have the events evolved over the years?
DJ: Yeah, well, when we started, when I came back from Burgundy with this, this great desire and inspiration to try to do it here. I launched it in a very small scale. I didn't even call it La Paulée New York at the time, we did a couple of wine dinners with my Burgundy friends, and gradually grew, and they started to become very famous and solicited to visit their importers or clients all over the world. And they said, Daniel, you know, if we're gonna come back, you have to do something bigger. And so I said, Okay, you know, I like the challenge. Let's do something bigger. Let's do La Paulée in New York. And so the first official La Paulée was in the year 2000. And we had 12, winemakers. And we just did a one day of tastings during the afternoon of a current vintage, I guess the time would have been by 1998. Or maybe were shown the '97, and then a gala dinner in the evening. So the way it's evolved over the years to answer your question is that we added on to that additional tastings and additional days of tastings and different kinds of events and seminars and lunches and dinners, and just built on it. So we could, we could tap into different themes of Burgundy. Talk about vintages, talk about viticulture talk about a next generation. Because we want to really appeal to young people who are interested in wine but maybe intimidated by Burgundy. So we spent a lot of time over the last years in really developing that side of the program. All while still showcasing some of the most famous winemakers of Burgundy.
LB: Amazing. So how did the business have to transform during the pandemic? I mean, I obviously it's completely up-ended. But what have you been able to do?
DJ: Yeah, I guess you know, I don't know, there's must be an expression for this but out of tragedy grows opportunity. And, you know, we didn't just fold up and go away and stop doing what we're doing. We found another way to do what we're doing. So we very quickly started having interviews, zoom interviews, I had never heard of zoom. And I'm one of many, many millions of people, somebody told me to buy some stock.
But so we very early on, we're certainly one of the one of the first to start the zoom sessions with winemakers. And that led to a series of these sessions. And it also led to this development of what we call Pressoir. Which Pressoir is just a platform by which we can communicate and host these different programs, whether they be interviews, or a wine club, Pressoir Wine Club, we have quite a few members, seller consultation, organizing trips, of course trips wasn't part of it after the pandemic, but it became this platform for us. So we use that to to do these zoom sessions. And we found that people were really interested in it and, and so our big sponsor American Express, and our fine friends of Coravin believed in us and helped support us in what we were doing and really reached a greater audience. Because one of the things we learned through the pandemic, I guess is that, you know, you're stronger together, you're stronger with your partners, you're stronger with your friends, you reach different demographics, but you have a common goal. And I think that through Coravin and others, we've been really able to cobble together a very vibrant business. It's great.
DJ: It has been great. But but but but there are aspects to it. Somebody was asking me yesterday, you know, and I said, you know, the other good part is I can park almost wherever I want in New York, ya know?
LB: Silver Linings. That's what we're looking for.
LB: Now, do you have any tips for first time virtual tasting participants? I've done some virtual tastings, I've been blown away by how engaging and wonderful they are. How do you think people should engage? You know, what are the best settings for that?
DJ: Yeah, that's great. It's a great question. Because, you know, certainly when we started, we just started doing it. And then we learned through it, we learned how to edit and record content to, to boost and support what we're talking about things like that. But for the guests who's attending, I think a really good tip is to do some research about the topic before joining. It just makes it a richer experience. Just like, you know, when you go to an art museum, and you know a little something about the painting with the artist, beforehand, it makes it that much richer. So I'd say do a little research, have a good glass have some wine to taste that accompanies the topic. Usually, we recommend the wine. But if you don't want to go out and buy it, or can't find it, then take a similar type of wine and try to try to relate to what we're talking about. So have a good glass, prep the wine, have it at the right temperature. Take the time to do that. Maybe the decant it know that the session is being recorded, and maybe make notes at what point during the discussion, an interesting topic was touched on that you can revisit at a later date, and really build an archive over it. So those are those are a few useful tips, I think.
LB: Definitely. Do you see this, do you think it's here to stay the virtual tastings? Do you think it's going to be an industry standard for years to come?
DJ: Well, I know for us well, yes. I mean, the short answer is yes, I think it is. I think for us, it's very, we've learned so much we found that it's such a useful tool, because there are no walls, no barriers, and we've had people join us from Australia, we've had people get up in the middle of the night to get you know, get onto our…time zone and be able to log in, you can see how they look like they just got out of bed but they wanted to join. So it is something that we're not going to do exclusively but it's something that will be lay over on top of our in person events. Great. very anxious to get back to.
LB: Yeah, it's nice to have in your back pocket for sure. Not everybody can travel and that's, I think, I think it's definitely a silver lining of the wine industry for sure. What are you most looking forward to when travel and events do return?
LB: Hugging people? Yeah, yeah.
DJ: Yeah. Oh I miss that so much.
LB: Yeah, human contact. Wow.
DJ: It's gonna be funny to see how people react. Yeah, I'm not gonna force myself anyone but...
LB: Yeah, I think everybody's gonna be very awkward, to start.
DJ: To me. I don't know about shaking hands. I mean, some people have been a little brazen about it. Reach out their hand to me. Feel funny, but just wash your hands afterwards.
But the French because so much of my relationships are with the French and they're not cheek kissing now.
DJ: And who knows if they'll go back to it? Can you imagine?
LB: I mean, yeah, there'll be things I have little kids and it'll be interesting to tell them. They're not gonna remember any of this, but to tell them like what it was like before COVID. You know, who knows? Like, they might be using hand sanitizer for the rest of their time in school.
DJ: Yeah I guess it's not such a bad thing.
LB: Yeah, exactly.
DJ: So I missed that. But yeah, what was that question?
LB: What are you most looking forward to when travel returns for you? Yeah, I mean, I guess you've traveled a little bit, so...
DJ: Well, just that one trip.
One trip and it was a three week trip was a long time and it was absolutely. It was a very emotional experience because for the first time I was back in cellars tasting, I was back in the vineyard, I was back with my friends in Burgundy. And we all realize how important that is, that this is a nice substitute, being able to do it online and talk and maybe have samples sent to you. But it's that exchange, not just like the personal the human contact, but the exchange. It's a totally different energy when you're in front of somebody tasting and talking, exchanging ideas and impressions. So that's something that I think I'm definitely looking forward to more of. Yeah.
LB: So what advice do you have for young Sommeliers or wine professionals that are just starting out?
DJ: I love that question. Well, you know, right now, in the restaurant industry is devastated. It's coming back. In New York, it's opened from 25 to 35%. And soon, more, but for people who are interested in getting into the wine profession, I've been saying this for years, but it almost became irrelevant. You know over the last decade. My advice is learn how to be a good bus boy, or bus girl. I don't know what the politically correct term is anymore, but busser good busser, learn how to take care of the guests become a busser become a waiter, understand what's happening in the dining room. What the rhythm of the dining room is the dining experience, what hospitality means. How do you take care of a guest? How do you make them happy? How do you enhance their experience? Know, I would say, you know, maybe over the last decade, where there's been such interest and demand for one professionals in the dining room, you find a lot of people wanting to get a certification and learn about wine and all the grape varieties and treatments and this and that. And they come and interview with me for a position. And I'd say, Well, what is what is your, you know, epiphany wine, or what is your greatest experience in the dining room, and sometimes they're lost, because they've been so hung up with the education, right, you will have to learn practical,
LB: Not the practical experience.
DJ: Right. You'll have to learn, you have to be able to look at a table and know what's happening on the table. And not just knowing the glass is almost empty. So you need to top it up, you have to look at the water glass, you have to plate the plates, you have to look at the body language, you have to know when it's okay to go to the table, and not interrupt. There are all those little nuances. That are so important to good service.
LB: Absolutely. So our company mission at Coravin is to change the way the world experiences wine. What is your favorite wine experience? Or a favorite wine experience? Because I know you have had many.
"Coravin has changed the world, because Coravin has enabled people to really learn about wine and not feel this pressure that they're opening a bottle and they have to drink the whole thing.”
DJ: I'm one of the very, very lucky people. There are a number of very lucky people in it. And you know, wine has become such a, such a big part of the dining experience that you have changed the world. Coravin has changed the world, because Coravin has enabled people to really learn about wine and not feel this pressure that they're opening a bottle and they have to drink the whole thing. Or if you open another bottle, then what are you gonna do with it? You know, it's enabled people to really learn and enjoy and have multiple wines during a meal. This is what's been a revelation for me, you know, since learning about Coravin and Greg, and everything you do, and I don't know how many, how many Coravins I have in my shelf, right now.
LB: I'm very curious, how many do you have?
DJ: Okay. So I think I have six. But I share them, you know, and sometimes I give them away. So sometimes I need to get a new one. But my mission, if you like, is to get people to enjoy wine without the stigma of their palate, and worrying about what people think about their palate, and then worrying about whether they're going to be judged by what they think is good. So often people say is this wine any good, right? And I say well, your tasting it if you just tell me your impressions, and I really want people to trust their palate, and I do my best to get people to debunk the myth of vintage, that it's not the vintage that wine is for pleasure and you shouldn't be just drinking wine because it has a certain score or you know, the vintage has a certain score. So, my, you know, what I really like to achieve in talking to people and communicate with people is that, relax, try to enjoy wine for all the experiences that it offers, because there's so many influences on the experiences so many contexts of it. Try to think of it of a wine during a certain season. Whether it be summer hot weather or cold weather, the people you're with are there, a lot of people are the few people try to take all that into context in and think about it, you serve the wine. But most importantly is just to don't think about the world. Don't think about the price of wine. It's hard not to these days want to be so expensive. But there's so many great wines at great prices. I like to recommend wines that overachieve, in other words, deliver more than what you expect. And that's like, the greatest experience of all. It's when you taste the one with modest expectations, saying Oh, yeah, I think this is gonna be pretty good. And then it's like, Wow, this is great. And then I only paid $20 for this. This is phenomenal. Yeah, that's that great experience.
LB: Yeah, that's always great. And then you make sure that you buy at least a case of it right?
DJ: Well, that happened to me the other night with them. Well, I gotta say, the problem with the Coravin it's not a problem. It's my problem. Often, I'll sit down to dinner with a with a bottle of wine and my wife, Coravin say, look, let's just have a couple of glasses. And then the wines so good. How am I deal with this Coravin here? Pull the cork.
LB: We'll erase that! im just kidding. But its a good point. I understand where you're coming from.
DJ: No, no. But the point to follow up on that is, it allows me just like the other night, it allows me to taste the wine, start with the wine it kind of opens the gates to wine enjoyment. And then I'll say, You know what? I'm not this is not right for this dish, or I think this needs a little bit more time or it's not the right time to do something. Let's open something else. So then I'll Coravin something else. And the one that I started, goes back to the fridge of the cellar.
LB: You made me think of another question. What do you think the next hot wine region is that people are going to be talking about two years from now? Because I know there's countries that are coming out of the gate with interesting wine. Whether, you know, climate change has a lot to do with it. What do you think's on the horizon right now?
DJ: Yeah, well, it's a great question. I think that it's the greatest time for wine consumers. Because there's so many great wines made all over the world it would be, It would be maybe naive for me to point out just one country because there's so many countries that are turning out great wines. Now I'm a Francophile. My expertise is in France, especially Burgundy. So if I were to talk about, I'll just start with Burgundy. I think the thing to look for in Burgundy are some of the more remote appellations, such as the Hautes-Côtes de Beaune or the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits. Some of the more removed there is the appellations lesser known like more Marsannay or Fixin, Maranges, things like that. Now to go beyond Burgundy, because I don't want to just box myself in there. I think that there's like every region of France has winemakers that are dedicated to producing great wine, which is not the case has not always been the case. There's some areas of friends that were into mass production, industrial production, because there was a demand for it. There's a lesser demand of quantity today. As compared to quality people look for quality wines. And then you go to the old world regions such as such as Spain, Italy, Portugal, I think Portugal is a real area of discovery for not just Port not work but the dry wines and grow in other regions of Portugal. It's fantastic stuff in regions of Italy that aren't the most commonly thought of it says you know, Tuscany and Piedmont of course, but then you go to regions like Calabria and Sicily, some spectacular wines, great value and then the New World, the New World, and also Eastern Europe also, which is very old wine producing area. But when you go to areas Croatia, and there's just so many interesting wines and interesting grape varieties, but the new world where, you know, we always thought of in the New world as maybe Australia, United States and California specifically. And then of course, Oregon is a huge producer, producer of wine now every state in the country produces wine. In New York State. I can't pick out one region, but what I can say is that there are opportunities everywhere.
LB: Yeah. There was a recent article, I was reading about wine out of Bolivia and Norway, You know, that it was either in the spectator or wine enthusiast. But that was, I mean, that was new to me. But who knows, you know, five to ten years, I mean, land is cheaper there, right.
DJ: It cheaper and they really can't command the same prices for the wine is, you know, historic, traditional regions, such as Bordeaux, Burgundy. And I think that's the key. I think that's when I encourage people to try wines from different areas, because there is such quality and interest all over the world in viticulture, and organic and biodynamic viticulture in other areas, that you don't have to pay a fortune for really good quality wine.
LB: Absolutely. Yeah, I love discovering a good value wine that you're not paying an arm and a leg for.
DJ: Yeah, makes it taste that much better.
LB: Well, you've certainly created an inclusive worldwide community and despite the pandemic, it's in spite of the pandemic, you've been able to grow that community and that's, that's wonderful. So
DJ: Well, like people I just missed them.
LB: No kidding. Well, thank you so much, Daniel, for taking the time today. And everybody should check out www.lapaulee.com as well as the PRESSOIR.WINE which is also available on the Coravin marketplace on www.coravin.com. Thank you again.