“Now, people don’t even realise that I’m English…”

Just what does it take to beat the French at their own game? After 21 years living in the Languedoc region, winemaker Katie Jones has the answer

When Katie Jones visited France 21 years ago, little did she know she would swap her office job in small-town England for the outdoor life of a winemaker. In the interim, her hands-on approach and nose for quality has led to Domaine Jones becoming one of the Languedoc’s most-talked about labels with a string of awards to boot. But it’s not all been plain sailing…

Learn the lingo “I came to France on holiday 21 years ago and decided to stay. Tuchan, the backwater village I call home, is in the Languedoc and I quickly realised that speaking the language well is so important. You don’t have any authority if you can’t articulate.”

It pays to be wary “What people say might not be what they think. Recently, I attended a celebration do, which was all friendly smiles and laughter, and I wrote about how nice it was on my blog. Shortly after, I got a nasty email from one of the locals telling me to remove the entry. You can’t take people at face value.”

Your perception may not be reality “It’s difficult to be objective about your own product. When we started out, it was meant to be a hobby. We liked the wines we were producing, but we didn’t have any idea how good they were until we entered them into competitions and came away with gold medals – including one at the prestigious International Wine Challenge.”

Do business face to face “To build business relationships that you can trust, meet the people involved. I’ve tried to do business via email with people who promised to sell my wine, but one took six months to pay, another placed an order he never collected and yet another I’m still chasing payment from. You have to go and meet the people you’re dealing with.”

Expect the unexpected “A couple of years ago, I went to a trade fair. When I returned, I took a couple of customers out to sample our white wine, which was in vats, ready for bottling. When I turned the tap, nothing came out. Two years’ work had been sabotaged and drained while I’d been away. It was £60,000 [€75,000] worth of stock and a massive financial blow, but Naked Wines (which sells our wine) found out and started selling a ‘Katie Jones Rescue Case’. The take-up was incredible and within a month we’d pre-sold enough to get back on track.”

Interact with your customers “I enjoy being in contact with the people who buy and drink our wine. The messages of encouragement I received after losing those vats of wine were incredible – in fact, their support has enabled us to increase production of our Fitou. I go on tour every year and meet customers, too. It’s good to build a picture of who you’re selling to.”

If you want something doing… “Our vision at the start was to do everything ourselves and to get a good-quality product you have to remain hands-on. We once trusted someone to work a vineyard of ours, but – surprise, surprise – when we got to harvest time, the quality just wasn’t there. A lesson learned.”

Do your research “When I purchased my first vineyard, it was from a lovely old farmer and I fell in love with the place. It had fantastic old vines with an amazing view over a valley and a castle. I wanted to produce red wine, but when I looked at the paperwork on the day of the deal, I noticed that half of the vines were white. I bought it anyway and, luckily, that white wine launched the business.”

Sometimes luck goes your way “We age one of our whites in oak barrels, but when we used new barrels in 2009, the oaky taste was so strong it ruined it – the wine tasted of planks! I put the error down to experience and forgot about it. However, I went back to this overlooked barrel last year and it had turned into a fresh, nutty, almost sherry-style wine. We bottled it and are going to repeat the experience!”

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