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In a long line of unlikely stories, Ryan O’Connell might be near the top of any list. The gregarious 20-something has made waves in Southern France with social media, talk of tourism, and  unabashed enthusiasm.
I met Ryan while attending the 2012 Millesime Bio organic wine fair in Montpellier, France, in January. I met him after discovering his blog and making contact with marketing guru Louise Hurren. Hurren promotes a group of young winemakers called The Outsiders.
A young man in perpetual motion, Ryan O’Connell

O’Connell and his parents are certainly outsiders. O’Connell was a student at Tulane about the time his father was closing down his home construction business.  “I have this crazy dad who after a bottle of wine at dinner says, “one of these days we’re going to sell everything and buy a vineyard.’ I think whatever! Oh, Archie!”

But the senior O’Connell was more serious than his always-smiling son ever imagined. The O’Connell’s, and note the Mrs. Is of French descent, packed up and moved to the Languedoc region in Southern France. The result was O’Vineyards winery.
They were indeed outsiders. “We’ve definitely had our moments,” O’Connell said of being newcomers. “We’re the weird ones in the room. Then we have moments that prove we have been accepted by certain communities here. Some people were awesome early on. Then there are other times you definitely know others aren’t a fan.
“Even if you come from Toulouse, you can feel like you’re from really far away.”
Ryan has worked in exporting and with distributors and restaurants and found it all frustrating. He does work in the vineyard and winery with his father. They do use a consultant in winemaking but continue to take on more of the effort each year.
“Dad does tons of field work and construction on the winery,” O’Connell explained. “Mom does tons of administrative work and feeds us and whatever guests maybe are coming through. I do tons of computer work, traveling, and tasting wines.”
O’Connell sees his biggest challenges as growing social media usage and tourism in the region. “We’re a region with thousands of wineries,” he said. “It’s beautiful here. It’s easy to have a good time visiting two or three wineries. I’m trying to develop as many like-minded people.”
O’Vineyards welcomes tourists and even offers a Bed and Breakfast. Ryan shocked some neighbors when he decided to charge 25 Euro per person for a tour and tasting. But he explains the tour includes two hours with the winemaker and barrel tastings. Traditionally, wineries in the area never charge for a tasting and most wineries require an appointment.

Whether others follow suit remains to be seen but its cause O’Connell intends to pursue. He’s also made real inroads with social media and it all started with his popular blog, “Love That Languedoc.”

Ryan O’Connell gets noticed. And sometimes the notice comes from halfway around the world. He’s currently in California’s Napa Valley learning about the wine business there and Napa’s marketing machine. As one would expect, he’s blogging about the experience as “kid napa.”
Many of the things I’ve written about wine in recent years are about the people. O’Connell makes O’Vineyards a people business, not just wine. He’s bustling bundle of enthusiasm I’d never bet against.

Watch the video below: O’Connell talking about social media and Southern France.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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