23 April, 2022
Julien’s wines are here. Finally! Since yesterday! I had been waiting longingly for them. I had thought, actually, that Julien was no longer interested in working with me. He hadn’t responded to my previous e-mails, although we had only agreed in January that I could work for him and look for a German importer for his wines. But what I must never forget: Vignerons are vignerons and don’t sit in front of the computer all day like I do. They’ve got all sorts of other things to do. And in general, not everyone is as obsessed with e-mail as I am.
Julien is one of the three winegrowers I wrote to back in the summer of 2020 and asked if they could use me as a harvest helper. In May of the same year I had drunk one of his wines, »Substance«, a delicious Sauvignon Blanc. At the time he wrote back to me: »Hey Martin, thank you for your e-mail and your kind words. This year’s harvest will begin very soon, like mid-August until maybe the 10/09. But it doesn’t mean that you can’t come after. Come when you can. Maybe I will take some kind of holiday between October and November.« I replied that I had already found someone else: Thomas Puéchavy. To which Julien replied: »Cool. Thomas is one of my best friends. Maybe I will meet you at Thomas’s!«
We met but… only in the year after, when Feli and I visited Thomas to help with his harvest (and pick grapes for my own wine). We needed to drop off a barrel Thomas had borrowed from Julien’s. When we arrived at his place in Mareuil-sur-Cher, the mood seemed depressed. The harvest workers were happy, but the winegrowers present, amongst them Julien and Laurent Saillard, who cultivate the mythical Clos Roche Blanche in equal parts (and share the harvest team) didn’t look happy at all. The harvest hadn’t been good. Beforehand, hail, frost and heavy rain had hit the vines hard. Saillard told Feli that everything that could have gone wrong beforehand, in terms of the climatic conditions, had gone wrong. Nevertheless, Julien was relatively happy to see us and offered us a freshly tapped Pale Ale, unloaded the huge barrel almost single-handedly, very virtuously with a forklift, and encouraged us to stroll through his new workshop, which he had recently built. We were amazed, almost perfect working conditions were offered here, at least that’s what it looked like to me as a layman. From the ground floor, where there are various fibreglass tanks standing next to the press, the wine can flow by gravity, without the use of machines, into the cellar, where it is then aged in barrels.
So, Julien has sent me six bottles of wine, four different cuvées.
1. »Substance«, 2020
2. »Coup d’Jus«, 2020
3. »Monkey Gone To Heaven«, 2021
4. »Chicos«, 2021
The names of the grape varieties are not mentioned on any of the labels – I’ve forgotten whether it has something to do with the fact that Julien sells his wines as ›Vin de France‹, i.e. without an exact designation of origin (which in turn imposes certain conditions on the winegrowers which they, them who make natural wines, often reject or find nonsensical).
I know that »Substance« is a Sauvignon Blanc. The grapes come from Clos Roche Blanche. »Coup d’Jus»? A Côt! Depending on where you come from in France, you may or may not pronounce the ›t‹ at the end. In the south of France Côt is called Malbec – in Argentina, Chile and South Africa, too. The name of the cuvée must be a play on words. ›Coup d’État‹, I know that expression (›Staatsstreich‹ or ›Putsch‹ in German). Hm! Julien sent me two bottles each of »Monkey Gone To Heaven« and »Chicos«, so I decide to open both wines, although, of course, they would be better off in a tasting with one of the potential importers I have in mind. At the same time, I think it’s important to spend at least one time with a wine that I’m selling on my own.
»Monkey Gone To Heaven» is, I definitely think so, a Gamay. »Monkey Gone To Heaven« is also a piece of music by The Pixies. And as far as I’m familiar with Julien’s taste in music – »Substance« shows his love for New Order who released a compilation under that name in the late 1980s – he likes this North American indie rock band. When I pour it, I immediately notice the fine colour: like a raspberry! Unfortunately I’m bad with colours. It’s definitely not red. Pink? Pink? I don’t even know the difference between rose and pink. Awful. The liquid seems very thin and light. I like light wines, wines that are light enough not to be heavy in the mouth, not tongue-depressing but floating weightlessly. That’s what »Monkey Gone To Heaven« is all about! I smell dark Knupper cherries (these cherries are grown in the Alte Land, in Hamburg’s south, my hometown) and then find them in the wine as well. Tannins are there – I don’t like it when a red wine has been macerated in such a way that they disappear, at the same time I don’t like it when they are too incisive. Here they are friendly, reserved, but determined, and they give the wine structure and a perfect balance. The wine makes a very lively impression. It is animating! After the last sip, the wine is still very present. So, I’m guessing Gamay. Am I right, Julien? I’m studying the counter-label. Oh yes, I forgot! Julien had to buy grapes due to crop failures! Julien personally harvested and vinified the wine, not in his vineyards, but in the Domaine de la Providence in Lambesc, in south-eastern France, in the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, 20 kilometres north-west of Aix-en-Provence. I have to ask him how it feels ›having‹ to buy grapes. It’s probably not a nice feeling. But what if the result is such a great wine? How did he find the producer he bought the grapes from?
»Chicos« could be Spanish and would then mean ›boys‹. Or is Julien referring to… another piece of music? Or a band? Anyway, I pour the wine. I sense the same ›thinness‹ of the liquid as before, as with the »Monkey…«. I already like it. I smell a beautiful, perfectly ripe pineapple. In the mouth it quickly becomes clear: This is a Chenin Blanc. Pineapple, pineapple, pineapple! Fresh, not too young pineapple. And pineapple juice, from pickled, canned pineapples. It’s unlike the Chenins that I know best – the ones coming from the Loire. I take a look at the contre-etiquette – this wine doesn’t have a front label yet (will it ever get one, Julien?) – and use the internet to find out where exactly Courrensan is. It’s in… the south, again! But this time in the south-west, in the region of Occitania, between Bordeaux and Toulouse (closer to the latter). Julien, again, picked the grapes himself at the domaine of Jean Daugé and then vinified the wine himself, at his cellar (of course, he also put the wine into barrels and then later bottled it). Does Chenin even exist this far south in France? My God, how tasty this wine is! So carefree! Here, too, the balance is right. It has enough acidity to sustain a tension that invites you to take a second and third sip. Very stable without being even a bit cramped. The aftertaste also lasts a long time. I’m thrilled, especially since a slightly salty note shows up later, the icing on the cake!
I had asked Julien if I could ask him a few questions about the wines. He suggested to send him the questions via e-mail, he could then concentrate and formulate better.
What do I want to ask him? I have already asked some questions here. I wonder: If you decide to buy grapes, and become a négociant, aren’t you spoiled for choice? In theory, couldn’t you use all the grapes in the world? So, how did Julien end up with Gamay and Chenin Blanc (assuming these are the two grape varieties I just tasted)? How exactly did he make the wines? How were they pressed, how…, how…, how… And how important was the wine school in Amboise, which so many other winemakers I’ve met over the past two years have also gone to? What makes this school special? Should I also go to this school?
The website of Julien’s American importer, Louis/Dressner Selections, who last visited Julien in July 2021, answers many questions. Sisters and brothers in spirit, it seems! Great how they write! (I would love to interview Denyse Louis and Joe Dressner! Such a great style of writing, approachable, funny, honest and precise! Although: Their son wrote the texts about Julien and also the very good ›About‹ on their website! So, I would also like to speak to Jules Dressner, too. The whole family!) In any case, Jules knows a lot more about Julien than I do and has spent more time with him than me, that’s for sure. (By the way, there’s plenty of info on the Clos Roche Blanche, which Julien and Laurent Saillard co-own, on the L/D website!) I learn that Julien no longer wants to grow Sauvignon Blanc on his land because of climate change; that he is interested in an indigenous grape variety called Meslier Saint-François. Ever heard of Baco Blanc? What else? He has now planted Chenin Blanc himself! I don’t have that many questions left except for one. Julien, do you like Electronic?