Sarah Hargreaves specialises in PR and communications in southern France with her company In The Mood PR. She explains in this Meet the Friend interview how she developed her career there and why she finds the Languedoc-Roussillon one of the most fascinating regions to work with. Amanda Barnes also learns about Sarah’s favourite way to discover new wines and some the vineyard ambles that Sarah is most looking forward to this summer.
How did you get into wine?
I arrived in Montpellier in 1989 for a ‘year out’ and felt immediately at home. I started working at the Montpellier International Dance Festival, doing its press and communication. Obviously wine was part of the scene, but I really got into wine, and the incredible devotion and emotion that wine growers transmit, when I started helping various agricultural organisations with their PR needs.
It became obvious that I needed some sort of initiation into this incredibly diverse and complex universe, so I did a course in ‘how to taste wine’ and another in ‘promoting agricultural industries for export’.
This simply lead me to better understand some of the intricacies in making wine and I began to see it as a form of art. From the planting of vines to the harvesting, vinification, then ageing, bottling… and finally deciding what label to use, what bottle etc… I imagine each step being full of decisions, creating and nurturing a product that eventually will be (hopefully) sold!
So in a round about way, I stepped from one art form, that of modern dance, into another.
You were born in Scotland but say your heart is in the Languedoc. What brought you to Languedoc and how did your relationship with wine producers start there?
I was born in Scotland, and raised in North Africa — Algeria — till I was nine years old. At one stage, when I was back in Edinburgh, I felt the overwhelming urge to be back in a French-speaking environment. So I literally took a map of France, closed my eyes, and put my finger on the map. Well, I admit I kind of pushed my finger towards the south of the map. I bought a one-way train ticket from Edinburgh to Montpellier, and have never looked back!
Initially, a wine organisation asked me to help them with an event, getting journalists along. It all went from there. After each event, another wine grower or organisation asked me to help out and I started to get known by word of mouth.
I now work with many wine growers and organisations throughout the Languedoc-Roussillon, and each time I organise a press trip or a wine event, it’s a learning opportunity through meeting people, tasting and discussing the wines, places and people.
What excites you most about the wines of the Languedoc today?
I think it has to do with the incredible diversity and quality that is now being recognized here. Each area and each wine grower has their own particular styles, grape varieties and blends… add to this the location of the vineyards, in the mountains or by the sea, the different weather patterns and winds, the flora and fauna specific to each area and terroir. It’s a multitude of factors that will have a direct effect on the taste of the wine, and once you add the winegrowers’ input — you have an infinite spectrum of wines being created. The same grape variety will taste totally different when grown at one end of the region or the other, let alone the way it is vinified or blended.
Do you have any other wine regions that are particularly close to your heart?
I’ve become quite chauvinistic! I’m more inclined to appreciate a region and its wines when I’m introduced to them. Either by wine journalists who will bring me a bottle from one of their favourite winemakers (a recent Alsace, for instance), or even winemakers themselves who will organise tastings with neighbouring regions. I recently had the opportunity to visit the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation and its neighbouring Gigondas with winemakers from the Terrasses du Larzac appellation — that’s the best way I’d say.
Tell us about anything that In The Mood PR have lined up for 2022 that might interest members.
Well we’ve been busy since January organizing tastings and press presentations either here in the South of France or in Paris and abroad. We hosted a great tasting in April at 67 Pall Mall for Domaine Gayda which is always a special moment, and were pretty busy at Wine Paris also, with masterclasses and launching new vintages and ranges.
For the upcoming summer months, we concentrate more on getting journalists and the wine world into the vineyards. Not only are the winegrowers really busy at this time and can’t get away, but the vineyards are beautiful and tasting wines in the terroir they are made in is the best way to understand them.
There are also the fabulous Balades Vigneronnes in many appellations. These are five to six kilometre ambles through the vineyards with five or six gastronomy stops along the way with wine growers pouring their wines at each stop. The idea being that people amble from one stop to another, tasting and discussing with winegrowers. You might eat a mise en bouche at the first stop, a first course at the second, a fish course at the third etc until the dessert stop at the end. It’s usually quite festive.
The upcoming Balades Vigneronnes are Picpoul de Pinet on 4th June, Saint Chinian on 5th June, Côtes de Thongue on 11th June, and Terrasses du Larzac on 1st and 2nd July. Then we have Les Vignobles Foncalieu and the 14th July firework celebrations in Carcassonne with a Michelin star chef. And for autumn, we have quite a few press trips lined up, namely for Picpoul de Pinet, Terrasses du Larzac, and the opening of the new Sommelier Institute in Roussillon…
As summer approaches, do you have any nice plans beyond work?
Absolutely! Catching up with friends whom I haven’t seen enough of, enjoying picnics on the beach in the evenings and I’m planning a trip to Thailand with a friend for a total change of scenery.
Though I have to admit that though my schedule is often very tight, there are times in the vineyards with winegrowers and journalists, when it doesn’t feel like work.