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The Winemaker Who Wants to Revolutionise Grocery Store Wine: Alexandre Remy

A Master's degree in Food Science led Alexandre Remy into the world of winemaking. In 2005, this young scientist was studying the impact of synthetic corks on wine aromatics when he knew he wanted to be a winemaker. This newfound passion led him to travel to, and work in, various wine regions from all over the world - Languedoc-Roussillon, Rhone, New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania welcomed his skills, enthusiasm and desire for experimentation.

It was while travelling, Remy met his American wife and moved to Seattle, Washington, USA. There he worked in a wine shop where he gained front-of-the-line knowledge about what American customers looked for in a wine and was surprised to discover that most US wine consumers did not possess the same basic wine knowledge as their French counterparts. It was these invaluable lessons that helped form the basis of his future winemaking philosophy.

Remy was eventually hired by the French company Vivelys to be their international wine technical consultant and moved to California to manage projects for the entire west coast of the US as well as projects in France, Argentina and Chile. In Vivelys, Remy oversaw Maturity Assessments, Sensory Analysis, Yeast Selection, Fermentation, Aging Management and R&D programs for the likes of grocery-store hits: Kendall-Jackson, Diageo, Opus One, Mumm, Chandon, Gallo, Constellation and Concha Y Toro.

Remy posing with Atlas Wine Co's Oro Bello Wines (Photo credits: Atlas Wine Co)

In 2015, Remy took over Atlas Wine Co. as general manager and winemaker and quickly restructured their strategy based on the experience that lives in his DNA - he wanted to provide the American consumer with the same benefits that the French take for granted: great wines at great value. In the US, it is rare to find high-quality wines at affordable prices, which prices good wine out of the market for most everyday people. 

Today, it is with that goal in mind, that Remy has become known as the winemaker that is not interested in making high-end wine, he has developed what is believed to be the best value wines in the market. “$60 Pinot Noir is a huge financial disaster,” says the winemaker. “I know. I tried it.” 

It’s a set of parameters that many of Remy’s peers would find irreconcilable with the imperatives of being an ambitious young winemaker — imperatives that position wine as a work of art, as a mode of storytelling, as bottled poetry. Remy doesn’t see it that way. “I want to be the Lagunitas of wine,” he says, "affordable, great craft, always under $20."

The wines of Atlas Wine Co. (Photo credits: John Storey, Special to the Chronicle)

Though Atlas wines carry no residual sugar, they taste fruity, ripe and rich. That’s important, Remy insists, if you want to reach a mass audience. “Would I love to make Valdiguié? Cornas-style Syrah? Sancerre-like Sauvignon Blanc?” Remy says. “Yes. But it’s not what people want.”

Anti-elitist bents can feel tired — “give the people what they want” easily becomes an excuse for making a bad product — but Remy makes a persuasive case. The Atlas wines stand as a meaningfully better alternative than other California wines of equivalent price.

The goal is not to compete with artisanal darlings; the goal is to compete with grocery-shelf hits. Within that arena, Remy hopes to position Atlas brands as a bastion of independence within an ever-conglomerating industry. “I want to be the bridge between high-end wine and the worst wine in the market,” Remy says.

Atlas Wine Co. is the rare wine brand born of a vineyard management business, also called Atlas. And even more improbably, the vineyard management side specializes in precisely the sort of grapes that the wine side seeks to avoid: expensive ones.

Left to right: Owner Barry Belli, owner Mike Cybulski, and winemaker Alex Remy of Atlas Wine Co. in Napa. (Photo credits: John Storey, Special to the Chronicle)

Remy’s partners — Barry Belli, a former Frito-Lay executive, and Mike Cybulski, a veteran viticulturist — are shrewd businessmen. Belli and Cybulski formed Atlas Vineyard Management in 2013 when the company they’d previously worked for was dissolving, and preparing for layoffs. “We just figured we could offer jobs to all the employees if we could branch out on our own,” Cybulski says. They immediately tapped Remy as their winemaker and secured the farming contracts for many of PPV’s properties, and with investor partners bought 50 percent stakes in five vineyards, including Walala Vineyard in the northwest Sonoma Coast.

Today, the Atlas lineup consists of Oro Bello (a Chardonnay from Lodi and Sonoma) and Omen (Cabernet, Zinfandel and red blends from the Sierra Foothills, and Pinot Noir from southern Oregon). They’re sound, they’re affordable, they’re likable. And Atlas hopes that their company’s independence and commitment to not using chemical additives will win over a conscientious consumer.

“The goal is to bring wines that are very palatable, with no additives, that people want to drink,” Remy says, "no MegaPurple, no Velcorin, no gum Arabic".

Omen and Oro Bello Wines (Photo credits: Atlas Wine Co)

How does one make a good wine at that price? Inexpensive fruit sources, to start; that’s why the wines lean on grapes from places like Lodi, the Sierra Foothills and southern Oregon. A shorter barrel-aging period keeps inventory moving. Scale helps lower packaging costs. Atlas doesn’t own a winery, instead opting for an alternating proprietorship at Perry Creek Winery in Fair Play, in southern El Dorado County. Label design was forgone completely; the Omen label is lifted from an Instagram photo of the Rita’s Crown Vineyard.

Most of all, these are wines he feels he can stand behind. “If I look at you and tell you that my Pinot Noir costs $70 — I can’t do it,” Remy says. “I wouldn’t buy it.”

“I can make fancy wine,” he says. “It’s just a bit boring.”

Shop Atlas Wines here.

Article Credits: San Francisco Chronicle and Atlas Wine Co

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