Meet winemaker CaRrie Sumner: From New York to the South of France
Carrie Sumner and her husband Marcel Bühler run Domaine des Enfants in Maury, in the Roussillion wine region in South of France. The closest biggest city is Perpignan. For a long time, wine making in the Roussillion was dominated by cave cooperatives. This means that individual wine growers would deliver their grapes to the cooperatives which would then make the wine under a cooperative label.
In recent years, however, the Roussillion saw a change to this practise. An increasing number of wine makers run their own domaines and sell their wines under their own labels. This gives them more flexibility in the whole process of wine growing and making.
One of these domains is Domaine des Enfants. Carrie and Marcel own vineyards in different parts of the region with different soils and grapes as old as 70 years. This diversity is refelcted in their complex and well-structured wines.
I was lucky to work along Carrie and Marcel for a period of two weeks just before and during harvest 2015. Carrie in particular has been my mentor and my guide, explaining to me the single steps in the wine making process. It was a real pleasure to work along Carrie and be able to learn so much from her.
Originally, from Oregon, United States, with a long career in wine and hospitality in New York, Carrie now finds herself crawling over barriques in a cave in the South of France. making delicious wines while also caring for her family. How did that happen? Read for yourself and enjoy what Carrie has to stay about her life as a wine maker.
How did you bacome the winemaker of Domaine des Enfants?
I guess I never really became “the winemaker” at Domaine des Enfants. Really, I was working towards becoming a winemaker in Maury, and in that process I met Marcel. We married, and now we work together. I am more in the cave, while he works more outside, but overall we make decisions together.
What do you love about your work?
I love the connection with the earth. I love growing vines from the earth and creating wine that is also living and breathing. I also love that every year is different. Every year you have different challenges to work through, and I feel like having to change my perspective all the time helps me to grow as an individual. I also love the science aspect of wine making and I try to stay up to date through reading as much as possible.
What is the biggest challenge in being a winemaker?
I would say that the biggest challenge is selling the wine. We really need to educate the world about the wines of our region. Often people don’t know anything about the Roussillion wine region or they have an outdated impression which is not always particularly good. Over the past 20 years or so, many people have begun making a huge effort for their wines here in the Roussillion. More people make their own wines rather than selling to the local cooperative. Less bulk wine and more quality independent wines are coming from the region. We need to communicate that to the outside world which is happening, slowly but surley.
What are you proud of?
I am proud to have the opportunity to be apart of Domaine des Enfants. The domaine is something I can truly stand behind. I believe in the wines and the concept supporting the wines. It’s a never-ending learning experience.
What makes Domaine des Enfants special?
Honestly, it’s hard to say that Domaine des Enfants is anymore special than any other producer. We are passionate about what we do, and we do the best we can to remain devoted to our values. Organic farming and purity in the wine are both very important to us, but I wouldn’t say that makes us special as I believe these things are important to many others as well.
And what do you love about your wines?
I believe that making wine is an incredibly personal thing, which is perhaps why most vignerons seem to be pretty sensitive and passionate about their wines. I love our wines because they are a very pure representation of the earth and vines that they are coming from. I love the purity. I love the honesty.
I realized your wines have unusual names. Why is that and what do they mean?
The name really is all about Marcel. This Domaine was created and developed completely by Marcel. As a child Marcel wanted to be a gardener, and somehow his path was diverted into banking. After realising banking was not the life for him he found his way back to the earth in wine growing. Which is where the name comes in. Domaine des Enfants represents the return to one’s inner child. The wine “L’enfant perdu” represents the lost inner child, our other wine “Suis l’étoile” is about following your dreams, and “La larme de l’âme” represents everything most dear to one’s heart and soul. You also have “Tabula Rasa” (our white wine), which is a direct quote from John Locke, referring to the white sheet. In other words clean beginning, or in Marcel’s case new beginning.
You are American, Marcel is Swiss, you both live and work now in a little village in South of France. What is that like for you?
We are surrounded by an incredibly beautiful place, but often the small village thing can be difficult. We both enjoy city life quite a bit, and miss having that lifestyle and social life often. I miss the anonymity that does not exist in a small village.
Which advantages do you have as Internationals living in Maury? What might be a little harder?
Advantages as an International living in Maury??? Well, I would say one advantage is that the people in Maury tend to keep to themselves. Outsiders are not particularly accepted, which means (in my opinion) less drama to deal with frankly. No one is really concerned with what we are doing, which means we can look for ourselves. I prefer it that way. However, the same circumstances are also what make it harder.
You had a baby recently, what effects did that have on your work?
In this aspect I assume that I am just like every other mother out there. I constantly feel divided. When I am at work I think I should be at home, and when I am at home I feel guilty that I am not working. There is no balance. However, our baby is lucky as he has a lot of time with us most of the year. There is a good month during harvest when we are not home enough though. He gets angry at me. He is angry at me now.
You are in a very special region, the Rousillion. What do you love about this region?
I love the diversity in terroir. There are many different types of soils from schiste and granite/gneiss to Terra Rossa and loam. We also have vineyards at many different altitudes with different climate influences which support many different varieties and styles.
And which of the regions characteristic are detectable in your wine, you think?
For me it’s it’s the soil and sunshine.
Which other wine place on the globe would you like to visit? And why?
I have a lot of interest in the wines of South Africa and New Zealand South Africa because it’s still new for me, and interesting. I like many of the wines I have tasted from there. New Zealand because I am a big Chardonnay fan, and one day want to have a Chardonnay vineyard. I love New Zealand Chardonnays, as well as their Pinot Noirs. I would like to learn more about the region in general. Particularly the South Island.
I also have never been to the Loire Valley. Many of my favourites are from this region.
We end this interview and dream about our next trips to the Loire Valley, New Zealand, South Africa. I would like to thank Carrie and Marcel for such a great learning and working experience and wish them all the best with the Domaine!
If you would like to find our more about Domaine des Enfants, please visit their website.