Published in the San Francisco Chronicle
When considering the optimal wine-making terroir - the unique qualities of the environment that influences the wine it produces - it's a safe bet that a coral atoll in the middle of the Pacific doesn't typically come to mind.
Yet, I'm on Rangiroa, French Polynesia's largest atoll, sipping a lovely Vin de Tahiti blanc de corail produced on a nearby motu (islet) by Domaine Dominique Auroy, an award-winning winery.
Surrounding me is the Tuamotu Archipelago, a scattering of more than 100 islands and atolls spread over an area the size of Europe. And serving me is the Paul Gauguin of vintners, perhaps the only man in the world who routinely turns coral into wine - 40,000 bottles annually.
"In the beginning, my friends thought it was a joke when I quit a good wine industry job in France and came out here in just 10 days," says vineyard manager Sébastien Thepenier. He had never been to the South Pacific before responding to the online ad that changed his life.