One goes on your neck and the other goes down your neck. They both have histories dating back to ancient times and their aromatics come from natural products. But do perfume producers and winemakers have much in common?
Both need to have a good nose for identifying individual flavors and creating a balanced product, but the two camps see themselves as worlds apart.
Perfume producers work on “stable” material, while winemakers have to rely on nature and the weather to grow the perfect grapes. “Everything is determined by natural phenomena, climatic conditions, which perfumers are not, or rarely, subjected to,” says Frédéric Brichet, a wine producer in Vienna who has a doctorate in enology.
“The basic products of the perfumer are generally more simple and more stable,” he adds.
Denis Dubourdieu, professor of enology at the University of Bordeaux and owner of several estates, including the Sauternes property Château Doisy-Daëne, adds: “The perfumer has an idea of what he wants to achieve, just like the winemaker, but the perfume producer can blend an infinite variety of components and bases. He is totally free from the constraints of nature. If the cinnamon or the jasmine he adds from a certain place aren’t right, he can try another. But for the winemaker, if there’s a frost in Meursault, it is more complicated.”
Dubourdieu explains that a winemaker “puts all his or her scientific knowledge into the art of winemaking. He guides what nature gives him, intervening as little as possible to create a product that is both pleasing to the eye and palate.”
For Dubourdieu personally, “What guides me is revealing what each site can produce in terms of taste and specific, inimitable flavors that are found naturally.”
In contrast, the perfumer – affectionately known as the “nose” in French – is not constrained by the vagaries of the weather. They have “total freedom” to create a perfume with base materials that are consistent from year to year and from the same supplier, explains Mathilde Laurent, the “nose” at the luxury perfume house Cartier.
However, there are similarities: multinational companies dominate both the wine and perfume markets, making it hard for lesser-known brands to gain prestige. “When small, unknown companies launch a perfume,” says Brichet, “they will rarely attain or compete with the fame of a perfume launched by a large brand.”
He also points out that the prices of top wines reach heights that are not seen in the world of perfume. Nevertheless, the price and reputation of both wines and perfume “don't always reflect their quality.”
For winemakers and perfumers, the ability to be a big nose “is not a gift you are born with, or related to the quality of your smelling ability. It is the brain that analyzes the smells,” stresses Laurent.
The ability is related to each person’s individual memory bank of aromas they have smelled over their lifetime. For example, if someone has never smelled or tasted gooseberries, they would not be able to identify this aroma, which is found in many sauvignon blancs.
Professional training also helps. “There is an apprenticeship, which some choose to take up, and that differentiates perfumers from others,” says Laurent. “The perfumers are the Olympic champions of the discipline.”
Brichet thinks that history and tradition are also important in distinguishing perfumers from winemakers. He believes that winemaking is a “product of tradition” whereas perfume is a “product of creation.” While a perfume maker has to know hundreds of molecules, the winemaker has to constantly remember “thousands of wine labels which change from one year to the next.”
The two are very different, he concludes.
- AFP, with additional reporting by Wine-Searcher