There are of course many connections between the world of rugby and that of wine. One can talk of shared values such as solidarity, team-spirit, individual flair and inspiration, leadership, dealing with all-weather conditions, resilience in the face of adversity and physical and mental endurance. Of course, all of this, in variable proportions and according to the situations, can and does apply to both worlds. I would also add to this list a certain sense of showmanship on the part of some of the best rugby players and teams and which, in terms of wine, finds its equivalence in the storytelling aspect of all good wines that help them sell well.
Like all top-level sportspeople, conversion to another world after careers which are as intense as they can be short (rugby is a particularly demanding sport that includes a lot of combat on the physical side) can be problematic if it is not properly prepared. Whilst a few players remain in the sport as trainers, most have to find other activities, and wine can be one of them. Indeed it is one that has taken a large place in the lives of quite a few around the world. In addition, many vignerons, in France, South Africa, Argentina or New Zealand, also play a lot of rugby.
In terms of full-time professional players, I recently had the opportunity to meet and talk with two fine French rugby players, one still active, and one now retired, who have growing implications in the world of wine. Here we have two good examples of a modest and low-profile implication that could lead to a much wider one.
The size of Yannick’s hands make this bottle look like a half-bottle !
Yannick Jauzion was for many years one of the best centre backs in France and indeed in the world. He won 73 international caps with France, three national championships with Toulouse and three European championships, also with Toulouse. Yannick comes from a farming background and earned himself, in parallel with his rugby career, a diploma in Agricultural Engineering. He retired from rugby five years ago and currently sells insurance to farmers, but he also has a strong interest in wine and has participated in the production of several wines with the Gaillac wine cooperative, Labastide-de-Levis. These wines are now incorporated into the range of wines from South-West France sold by the up-and-coming négociant Bertrand Ravache. I will conduct and discuss on this blog an extensive tasting of this company’s wines in the next month or two, having recently tasted some very promising pre-bottling samples. The red Gaillac that I tasted, for instance, called Aligança, seemed to me to be both good and remarkably inexpensive for its quality level.
Remi Lamerat is also a rugby centre back but is still active as a player with the Bordeaux-Bègles team who are the current leaders of France’s top division (Top 14). He also has an international career, now behind him, winning 19 caps as well as two national championships. Before Bordeaux, the region from which he originated (Sainte-Foy-La-Grande), he had also played for Toulouse, Castres and Clermont. His interest in wine goes back to his family roots and his grandfather was a vigneron, but he has taken this further, recently passing a technical diploma (BTS viti-vinicole) and is clearly thinking about a full-time conversion when he decides to end his rugby career. For the moment he has simply participated in the blending of a very good Bordeaux Supérieur wine, also in the Bertrand Ravache range, and called Léo by Léo.
The signature of both players on the labels is as discreet as the way they themselves present their part in this new activity. They clearly love wine and are interested in its universe, and it is more than likely that this implication will continue in one form or another. I certainly hope it does, as, in these two cases, this is far from being just another gadget aimed at the media. These two players are humble and sincere in their approach, and the wines are good. Long may this last and develop.