One of the most poignant things that I remarked upon during my recent trip down to the Loire Valley (March 2016) is how many growers there are approaching retirement age. In the next five years, the landscape will have changed dramatically.
I was also surprised to see how many fresh and youthful faces there were at the Rue 89 tasting in Paris back in May. Here are five of my favourite discoveries.
Valentin Morel (Jura)
One of the very newest winemakers in France is Valentin Morel. Despite having obtained a Masters degree in International Law, he recently made the decision that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and learn to make wine. The official hand-over took place in 2014 and, like many others of his generation, Valentin is converting the family’s 6 hectares to biodynamic agriculture.
I particularly liked his Chardonnay “Les Trouillots” 2015; a rich, confident wine with generous minerality.
Definitely keep an eye on him over the coming years!
Domaine des Côtes Rousses (Chambéry, Savoie)
Nicolas Ferrand (right) founded the Domaine des Côtes Rousses in 2013. He works with indigenous grape varieties such as Mondeuse, Altesse, Jacquère, and more recently (2014 and 2015) he planted some Rousanne and Roussette.
What is apparently the most important fact for Nicolas is to preserve and continue ancestral agricultural methods. For a young man with a Master’s degree and two years experience working in an office, this approach is rather surprising.
He defines himself as a paysan-vigneron, and with his tiny plots composing just 4 hectares on sharply-sloping vineyards (some as much as 45%) he certainly is! As an aside, he is waiting for organic certification (it takes several years) and is currently experimenting with biodynamics.
I bought a several bottles of his “La Pente” (100% Jacquère) and “Mon Blanc” (100% Chardonnay) both of which at least partially aged in Burgundy barrels. Very interesting.
Florian and Mathilde Beck-Hartweg (Alsace)
Florian, born in 1987, belongs to a long line of growers – the fourteenth generation, to be precise – in Dambach-la-Ville, one of the most important villages for viticulture in Alsace.
In the interest of full disclosure, Florian and Mathilde are personal friends of mine… and I was at their wedding just a couple of weeks ago (July 2016.)
As a result, instead of telling you about their wine, let me recount some of their secret “winemaker qualifications.” Having been at the wedding, I’ve seen all the embarassing childhood photos of them both!
Mathilde, it would appear from the family photos, has always been the sweetest and most kind-hearted… but also the most greedy! Her nickname is “The Carrot” and although now she’s fully involved in the family winemaking business, her background is food.
Being the son of a winemaker has a small advantage and it’s that Florian is completely at ease behind the wheel. I’ve seen him reverse a tractor for 5 kilometres carrying six pallets, several tables and a very large and precariously balanced vat of water.
He was also able to turn his car in my most miniscule of Parisian parking spaces. It’s a three-point turn at an odd angle which has eluded me for years… however he manages it on the very first attempt with an even larger car. “Just think of it like a row in the vineyard,” he called out.
Romain Zordan (Fleurie, Beaujolais)
You may not have heard Romain’s name before but he’s the latest in a line of winemaking family and also a recently established part in the interwoven tapestry of French natural winemakers.
Now approaching 30 years old, Romain’s first official vintage for his share in Chateau de Grand Pré was in 2012. Not a fervent subscriber to the principles of biodynamic agriculture, that year he said was a “safe wine.” The following year, however, he was feeling more confident to take greater risks and make a “natural wine.”
You may be aware that in 2013, Jura-superstar Jean-François Ganevat made two collaborative wines with ‘some gamay grapes’ (Madelon and De Toute Beauté.) The gamay grapes were from Romain. Serious credentials!
Romain’s own wines – from Morgon, Fleurie and a plot of old vines (approx 60 years old.) – show substantially more body than you may associate with Beaujolais. Romain keeps his yields low, doesn’t over-extract and produces very interesting wines.
Further reading: see Aaron’s account of a visit to Romain Zordan on his blog Not Drinking Poison.
Domaine des Pélissols (Hérault, Languedoc)
Vincent is – how do I put this nicely? – the “least young” of these five new winemakers. Born in 1976, he studied chemistry before turning his hand to oenology. A hugely varied CV; he worked in Chile and London before moving to China for six years.
2012 was his first vintage at the reins of the family vineyard (6 hectares / 15 acres) and winery. He makes between 20-25 thousand bottles per year.
Try his Blanc (70% Muscat à Petits Grains, 30% Chardonnay.) Fresh, aromatic and elegant. I can’t wait to drink a bottle (or three) of this wine over the summer.
I’m just waiting for some sunshine……