Liam Steevenson MW & Mark Pygott MW talk all things MAÏA – inside info from the two Masters of Wine behind the rosé.
What made you decide to create MAÏA?
MP: I love good rosé and have been a fan of southern French rosé since the first time I helped blend some whilst working in the Languedoc in 2003. The opportunity to make a wine from the home of rosé, namely Provence, was always something I was going to want to be involved with, especially when I realised that we had the resources to source fruit that was going to enable us to make something special.
LS: I am a rosé fan too. I spend a lot of time between the south of France where we have an office and Antigua in the Caribbean where we have a Rum project and as a result see a lot of rosé drunk and enjoy a fair share too! I like what it represents as a category, feels like it has taken lessons from the Champagne industry, talking straight to the consumer, being very open with its purpose; a drink to enjoy, socialise, celebrate with. As a category it makes me smile and like Mark I have long wanted to be involved in it.
What is the story behind the name?
MP: You better ask Liam…
LS: MAIA! Ah well that’s a bit of a secret! Those of us close to it know why, but not sure it’s for sharing…it is a beautiful name though isnt it!
What is so special about this part of the world for producing wine?
MP: Almost without exception, the great wine regions of the world have an aesthetic appeal that the places producing more prosaic examples seem to lack. One might be forgiven for thinking that this beauty influences your appreciation of the wine, that the taster is automatically predisposed to like the wine because they associate it with the sea, the blue sky, the wheeze of cicadas in the olive trees and the smell of lavender in the fields; but I believe that the reasons are actually much more tangible than those. The rise and fall of the land, the long hours of sunshine and the cool wind from the north ensures that there are plentiful patches of land well-suited to growing vines in such a way that restricts their natural vigour whilst ripening perfectly healthy, disease free fruit. This results therefore, in fruit that has the potential to make great wine.
LS: So much great wine is made within sight of a Mountain or the sea, and Provence shares both of those natural attributes. Climatically, there is a warmth that at first glance seems more perfected for drinking than producing, yet cold nights are vines friend down here, curtailing ripening, holding an acid line that the warm day would suggest should not be there. This area benefits also from a selection of varietals well suited; Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvedre, all take sunshine and heat well, hold structure and red fruit notes. If I was truly honest I don’t believe the great terroirs of Provence are easily comparable with those of Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhone for example. However, all of those regions would be jealous of the proximity Provence has to its customer base, and what a customer base, affluent and on holiday! This is an incredible place to make wine, not least because you know exactly who you are making it for.
How did you decide on the blend?
MP: The key is knowing what kind of rosé one likes to drink. Personally, I want to be able to drink a bottle of rosé without thinking that it needs food to show it in its best light. The corollary of this is that I also want it to sit alongside the roast chicken or salad niçoise that we might be having for dinner, so the wine has to have presence and genuine flavour whilst avoiding being over-bearing. Luckily, having known Liam for fifteen years, I know that we have a similar view on what defines high quality wine, so we were always going to make something that reflected our shared view. The interesting bit is how you create something that tastes quintessentially Provencal i.e. generous, fruity and refreshing, but with that extra edge of vibrancy, that extra layer of complexity and with that increase in the length of finish? To do that one needs to taste various components that add more verve (we had access to great Grenache), red fruit purity (Cinsault), a touch of herbal savouriness (Mourvèdre, Syrah), a little more aromatic complexity (Vermentino) etc and by doing that we were able to create in Maïa, a wine with which we can feel rightly pleased.
LS: Yes, I totally agree with Mark. I think even before we started on this project we were looking for the same thing. We must have tasted through 50 of the best known brands together, and felt there was plenty of room for us to make wine that would stand out from the crowd. Freshness, fruit, savoury elements, minerality, that’s what I was looking for when we started blending, I am pretty happy we got there in the end.
What are the biggest challenges about creating a Provence rosé?
MP: There’s already a lot of rosé from this region and I don’t think that any of us wanted to make just another Provencal rosé; if we were going to do it, then it had to be something that was both distinctive and delicious. Once we had decided that we wouldn’t settle for anything that wasn’t brilliant, then it was simply about finding the people growing the quality of fruit necessary to satisfy our particular and exacting requirements. Actually, choosing the bottle shape was probably the hardest decision…
LS: I think it is always a challenge to get your message heard. There is so much noise in this category already, often from brand owners with much bigger budgets than ours. We have some great ideas, but we are in no doubt that this will remain our biggest obstacle to success. As always winemaking partners are crucial…we got it right this time.
What is your favourite way to enjoy MAÏA?
MP: At last an easy question! Simple, with the people that you like the best.
LS: In a big glass, with ice, with someone who makes me smile, also drinking from a big glass, with ice. On terrace, overlooking the sea, with time, plenty of time.