Years of hard work yield success for London's first couple of wine

WHEN wine-lover Xavier Rolet, the new CEO of the London Stock Exchange, first saw the house known as La Verriere in southwest France in 1992, he knew he liked it. What he didn&rsquo;t know was that the 100 acres of old, neglected vineyards on the mountainous property would become the site of a full-blown, deeply serious winery and luxury hotel run by his future wife, American ex-banker Nicole. Or that his name would, over a decade later, be attached to one of Europe&rsquo;s most interesting wine labels, thanks in large part to Nicole&rsquo;s unstinting efforts.<br /><br />In a market that is flooded with wines from all over the world, it is unusual for a winemaker to achieve success with a unique story that feels close to home &ndash; in this case the City slicker mother who became a wine expert after years of perfectionist slogging. It is particularly impressive given the complicated and rule-bound world of French wine, and the hoops an American woman (zut alors!) would have to jump through before she could <br />triumph. <br /><br />Rolet&rsquo;s wines, which are sold under the name Chene Bleu, are expensive, &euro;40 for each red sold direct and &pound;60 in the UK, but that&rsquo;s the price you pay for a wine made by a woman who does things her own way.&nbsp; <br /><br />Because Rolet and her partners (Xavier&rsquo;s sister and brother in law) decided to use their own grapes and methods &ndash; for example adding the white grape Viognier to their Syrah to create the elegant, nuanced Heloise &ndash; rather than following the restrictive rules of the French wine-producing establishment. This means that the wines miss out on the prestigious appellation d'origine controlee classification, but for Rolet and customers, individuality and quality are more important than the dictates of the French wine establishment. <br /><br />On meeting the woman &ndash; or, rather, the energy forcefield, at the centre of the business &ndash; it soon becomes clear that hard work is the key to her success. &ldquo;This is not a hobby,&rdquo; she explains over lunch. &ldquo;It is very serious.&rdquo; Is it full time? &ldquo;Time and a half,&rdquo; she replies. <br /><strong><br />IMPECCABLY GROOMED<br /></strong>On her request, we meet at the Thomas Cubitt in Belgravia, a chic, rustic-style gastropub near her new home, all pale blues and tans and wood. &ldquo;I wanted to meet you here because the style of the place matches the look and feel of Chene Bleu,&rdquo; she says.<br /><br />It may seem gimmicky or a small detail, but it isn&rsquo;t. It reflects the importance Rolet attaches to every single part of the wine project, be it ensuring that the whole process is made in accordance to fashionable biodynamic principles, or how the bottles look, or how a journalist will perceive it all. Months of thought and effort went in to the Chene Bleu labelling and logo. It is strikingly attractive, with a big blue tree at the centre and a pastiche based on Hieronymous Bosch&rsquo;s Garden of Earthly Delights radiating out, with figures in Medieval clothing ploughing, including a woman that Rolet says depicts her grasping a mobile phone. It would be utterly impossible to make the connection if you didn&rsquo;t know, but even so, says Rolet, it&rsquo;s enough that she knows.<br /><br />You can see how she must have fit neatly into the world of elite banking (she worked at Merrill Lynch in New York among other places, including a top think tank) before becoming a full-time winemaker and the Stock Exchange&rsquo;s first lady. <br /><br />Raised in Europe though educated at Vassar College in New York, she is impeccably groomed, dressed in a simple grey and pink cardigan, with blow-dried blonde hair, minimal makeup and clear, green eyes. She speaks six languages and is learning Mandarin. <br /><strong><br />PERFECTIONISM<br /></strong>She claims that wine-making in rural France isn&rsquo;t so far from her past. &ldquo;What I loved about the think tank days was coordinating the best people to put their heads together. That&rsquo;s exactly what I&rsquo;m doing here.&rdquo; The City work ethic has helped too:&ldquo;In the City, you become accustomed to being judged by a demanding yardstick with international standards. You then apply the same standards to the artisanal &ndash; after all, making wine pulls together science, nature and lifestyle, albeit on a smaller scale.&rdquo; Rolet has brought two of the world&rsquo;s top microbiologists and specialists in soil analysis, Claude and Lydia Bourguignon, to help on the vineyards &ndash; one of many signs of her perfectionism. <br /><br />As if the winemaking were not enough, Rolet has set up a kind of academy for elite corporate types &ndash; her Extreme Wine courses are among the best around, with Clive Barlow, director of the super-elite Institute of Masters of Wine, to teach. <br /><br />The house has fully kitted out luxury accommodation, so makes for an ideal place to bring clients and the course is perfect for high-powered executives. &ldquo;City people don&rsquo;t have a lot of time but they are smart and hardworking and they want the best.&rdquo; <br /><br />Rolet has worked tirelessly for 12 years to create the multi-faceted business she is telling me about today. &ldquo;I feel blessed that I have found a vocation that pulls together all the things I like,&rdquo; she says. Cheers to that.<br />&nbsp;<br />To order the wines and find UK stockists, go to <br /><strong><br /></strong><strong>CHENE BLEU: THE WINES<br />Abelard and Heloise 2006<br /></strong>Named after the famous Medieval lovers, Rolet describes these wines as ying and yang; opposites that attract. Abelard, a Grenache blend, is heavy and aromatic with unmissable, voluptuous notes of blackberry and strawberry. Heloise is the controversial Syrah-Grenache blend with a dash of Viognier to smooth and lighten it with floral aromas. Lovely.&nbsp; <br /><strong><br />Aliot 2006</strong><br />This oaked white Grenache-Marsanne-Roussanne is named after the glassblower who bought La Verriere in 1427. The Rolets were discouraged from growing white grapes because of their southerly location but the altitude of their vineyards led them to try anyway, and the result is a silky-smooth, buttery feel with peach, pears and pineapple.&nbsp; <br /><strong>Rose 2007</strong><br />A Syrah-Grenache blend that produces just the thing for a hot summer&rsquo;s day or an autumnal early evening. Its fruit is expressed more clearly than in most roses, with gorgeous papaya and tangerines popping out after the initial blast. Its pale salmon colour is a mark of quality and its restraint. Perfect with seafood and chicken.