All In: Winemaker Xavier Arnaudin
I’ve employed a few people during my tenure as a chef. While there are countless people I’d acknowledge for their hard work and dedication, there were only a few I could say were key players in the success of my business. Passion and dedication are requisite to making it in the hospitality industry: anyone can show up but to be instrumental in creating and maintaining the standards necessary to be competitive at a professional level you must become obsessed with the craft. In the industry, we call these people assets and they are vital to the success of a restaurant. (You don’t want to know what we call the other people.)
Recently, I sat down with Xavier Arnaudin, Assistant Winemaker of Sans Liege and Union Sacré Wine Company. I wanted to know why he left France to make wine in America and why, out of all the beautiful growing regions in the United States, he chose to set up shop in Paso Robles. Arnaudin gave me the CliffNotes: Born in France, catering school at 20, oenological degree from a university, and then a job as a sommelier in a restaurant where he met Joe Davis of Arcadian Winery. In 2009, Xavier came to the United States for the first time on a student visa to study winemaking with Davis, followed by a return to Paso Robles in 2010 to help McPrice Myers and Russell P. From kick off their then infant project, Barrel 27. Currently, Xavier makes wine with Curt Schalchlin and Phillip Muzzy of Sans Liege and Union Sacré, respectively.
Xavier didn’t come to the Wild West to make free-wheeling blends; he didn’t come because of a woman and he doesn’t stay because he lacks other options. He’s here because he says it just feels right. “I’m an intuitive person and Paso felt right immediately,” Xavier explains. “When I first came here, it wasn’t obstacle-after- obstacle [as one would imagine uprooting your life to work in a foreign country might be]. I made friends. They helped me find a car, a house and work.” He recalls how, like an omen, he saw the city seal of Santa Maria, which depicts the same scene as the seal of his hometown, Thiers. You mean to tell me you left your family, country and livelihood to come to Paso Robles because you wanted to bootstrap your way with the rest of these cowboys? went my internal dialogue as we talked. Then I tasted the wine. Holy bubbling bung-hole this wine is incredible!
That’s when it hit me: Xavier is an asset. He’s in it, all the way in. It’s no wonder the cowboys want him. You know the feeling you get when you realize you’re clearly playing for the stronger team? That grit-your-teeth, pumpyour- fist-and-relish-in-your-imminent-victory feeling? I bet the boys felt that when Xavier popped his first bottle of Counoise. Time to squad up.
Saying Xavier is a decent winemaker is like saying Floyd Mayweather is a decent boxer. Yeah, his wine is good—like, 50 and 0 good. It draws you into the glass and bleeds across your palate with no single quality overpowering another. His wines deliver exceptional balance, near-perfect expressions of the craft, made by a guy who has clearly sunk his soul into each bottle. You know it at first draw. I dare you to take a sip and not feel compelled to fist pump.
Philip Muzzy, partner and owner of Union Sacré says it best: “[Xavier] was there when Russell made his first two barrels, he was there when Curt made his first four barrels, he was there when McPrice and Russell started Barrel 27, he was there with the first fruit of the Fablist and Groundwork. He was there, doing the work of three or four people on all these projects …There is no doubt in my mind that, without Xavier, much of what has come to pass would ever have gotten off the ground at all, or certainly not with the same lift.” An asset indeed.
Fortunately for wine drinkers and the winemakers he’s worked with, Xavier feels at home with his craft here on the Central Coast and wants to share his medium with all of us. Bienvenue, Xavier, and thank you for pouring your (he)art into each bottle.