“I DIDN’T DARE TO TRY…”

It took businessman Gérard-Philippe Mabillard decades to find the courage to uncork his creative juices.

He might have felt secure in business, jumping from the thermal baths industry to designer watches to wine, but feeling like he wasn’t a legitimate photographer held Gérard- Philippe Mabillard back from realising his best ideas. Now, the 53-year-old director of Switzerland’s biggest viticulture region, the Valais, has overcome his creative trepidation and combined both skills to create an incredible photo book showcasing the region’s wines.

My role as director of the Canton of Valais isn’t commercial. It’s not about money. My job’s simply to spread the image of the wines of the Valais across the world, to help people become familiar with the region and its produce, and fantastic Swiss wines in general.

One of the best things about my job is working with the winemakers themselves. It’s a real privilege to work with people of the earth and I respect them infinitely. Not only do they toil with the vines and in the cellars to create magnificent wine, but also they do their own admin and promotion, going into shops and fairs to sell their products. Doing so much, but never complaining, because they love what they do. They’re unique human beings.

I also love this job because it allows me to combine my two passions: wine and art. This is down to the openness of spirit among the people I work with.

The best way to promote great wine is through great art. The two mix well, because making wine is in itself an art. Just like with a painting or photo, there’s a whole process behind each glass. How it turns out depends on the vines, the grapes, the cellar and the character of the winemaker. Great people make great wines.

My first idea was to launch a competition to design labels for wine bottles. Now, I’ve put together a photography book called Autour d’Un Verre de Vin – Wine & Friends centred on a single glass of wine. It’s full of pictures of celebrities, such as Quentin Tarantino, Gérard Depardieu and Zinédine Zidane, and I took almost all of them.

I didn’t show anyone my photography until I was 50 years old. That’s one of my biggest regrets – not daring to do it – because since then it has helped me so much with what I do. I finally dared to do it because, for my 50th birthday, a winemaker friend wrote me a letter that said, “Never forget that Robert Mondavi [who brought Napa Valley wines to the world’s attention] started his career at 50.” That inspired me to just go for it and now I’ve made this book and am exhibiting the photos around the world.

I haven’t always worked in the wine industry. I started out as the director of a thermal-baths centre, which had been created by my dad and uncle. But after working there for seven years, my associates ousted me in a coup d’etat.

It took a lot of time to rebuild myself, but I’m actually grateful, because If it hadn’t happened to me, I might still be there and I wouldn’t have done the things I have and be in the position I am now.

In all bad luck, there are still good things to be found. Alongside my wife, there was one person who helped me so much during that time, who extended a hand: Zinédine Zidane, who I’d met a year earlier. He was really there for me and I went on to work with his foundation, Association Ela. After that, I moved to Calvin Klein as global PR manager for watches and jewellery, and later became vice president of marketing.

I had made a book for Association Ela – though I didn’t take the photos that time – in which everyone wore a pair of Zidane’s trainers. The book fell into the hands of the president of Calvin Klein, who wanted to meet the crazy person behind it.

I didn’t do anything to get these jobs or promotions but be myself. I have never changed, but I remain a simple, warm man who likes people. I never say ‘my employees’, but rather ‘my colleagues’. Being true to yourself is the way to success – it’s your biggest asset.

This interview was carried out by SIM7’s Simeon de la Torre and first appeared in easyJet Traveller magazine. To read the latest issue (and the entire back catalogue of magazines), visit: http://www.ink-live.com/emagazines/easyjet-inflight