Europe Update | Fesq On Tour, March 2019
The Fesq Team went on tour in early European Spring, visiting our producers and scouting the next best things from Italy.
The first day was one for the gods (and Joe Caruso's birthday!) Woke up to crystal clear skies and golden rays of sunshine. Our host lived up to the Germans' warm-hearted hospitality with a little birthday cake for breakfast. First stop was to Rheinhessen to visit Nelly at JuWel (Julianne Eller's right hand girl). The 2018 wines have just been released in Germany, a warmer vintage and looking fantastic! A little less mineral and nicely lifted, they're displaying great palate weight and a freshness you wouldn't expect from such a hot year. Picking in two loads - one early for more green and acidic grapes, one later for more ripe grapes - has helped to create more balanced wines in years like this.
Nelly, Joe & Ash at JuWel Weine, Alsheim, Germany
The next day, we were back on the road following the Mosel river south. We couldn't have asked for better weather, seeing the sun reflecting in the water and being thrown on to the black slate slopes, which absorb the heat during the day and release it during the night to assist ripening. There was astonishment and awe on our faces upon seeing the castle at the bottom of the majestic slope at monopole estate Maximin Grünhaus. Maximin, 6th generation of the Von Schubert family, took us down into the underground cellar where all the magic happens. Seeing, smelling and feeling the old building is absolutely priceless, especially the cellar "carpet" (a fluffy mould that lives off alcohol and maintains humidity deep down underground). The family's cellars hold stock dating back to the late 1800s. No wonder the Queen of England is a regular customer.
Maximin, Ash & Joe underground at Maximin Grünhaus, Mertesdorf, Germany
Once we stepped back out into daylight, Maximin took us for a ride up the vineyards. Drops of water glittering on the tips of vines indicate they're just waking up from their winter sleep, preparing for budburst in about 4 weeks. As for the wines, the new 2018 vintages are elegant, mineral, with fantastic depth and complexity. We've come to expect nothing less from this producer.
The three wise (and nearly jetlag free) wine explorers made their way slowly down south, from the oldest city in Germany to the prestigious vineyards of Champagne, where we met Alexandre the Great. Kind of.
Brimoncourt welcomed us with a committee and presentation nothing short of French prestige and charme! After a detailed and insightful tasting with Diogo, the export manager, Emanuel took us to a beautiful viewpoint high up in the vineyards of Champagne, where we had the compulsory sabre experience (see video on our Instagram story!)
Brimoncourt’s cuvées are born in the village of Aÿ, situated in the very heart of Champagne. It was the first village nominated as Grand Cru in Champagne. Their association with the most desirable terroir, their closely selected growers, sustainable practices, low dosage and long time in élevage is what makes Brimoncourt's boutique Champagnes stand out.
We concluded the day finally meeting Alexandre for dinner in Rheims. A night full of laughter and very French food (struggled with veal glands but creamy dessert was divine!)
Champagne Brimoncourt, Aÿ, France
Waving Champagne farewell, our Caravan of Vin quietly paced through thick fog and silent valleys in the early morning hours. By the time we arrived in Chablis, the sun broke through the hazy cover revealing stunning views of the dormant Grand Cru vineyards. At Domaine Collet, Romain Collet, young winemaker in the 8th generation, showed us around the surprisingly large estate. After two unfortunate vintages with yields down by up to 60%, 2018 was a huge relief for growers and Chablis-lovers alike. Being a warm (not to say hot) vintage, there was no hail or frost in sight and the vignerons happily filled up all their tanks - even the spare ones.
The wines are looking vibrant, complex, with fabulous acidity and a mouthwatering length that stands up to the region's reputation. Not to mention the Petit Chablis that was anything but "petit"! While tasting the estate wines with Romain's wife Charlotte and allrounder Elliot (who by the way worked a vintage with our friends at Elderton), we also had our first taste of Burgundian cuisine - delicious gougère, the perfect accompaniment to the wines.
Domaine Jean Collet et fils, Chablis
A relaxing drive to the next region: Sancerre, where Sauvignon Blanc reigns as a king. There is a real countryside atmosphere in the Loire Valley and a beautiful air of relaxation. Typical of the countryside in France, we see people here play petanque, keep geese as pets, make goat’s cheese in their backyard, and lots of trout fishing. C'est bon!
La Clef du Récit is located in a small village called Récy, it's where we meet up with Anthony Girard: charismatic, playful and, well, a little crazy! Charismatic because the wines are deliciously authentic and honest Sancerres. Anthony has returned to his true “sancerroises” origins here with his own 8.5 ha estate. Playful because Anthony’s reply to everything is “I want to make a party!” His enthusiasm is contagious! And slightly crazy for the trashy 90s French techno pop played at the winery by Anthony “MacGyver”, who is so multi-talented and manages the whole winery himself. Safe to say, he's fairly run off his feet.
Anthony Girard in his La Clef du Récit vineyards, Loire Valley
But most importantly, Anthony has a heart of gold. He’s a real treasure and La Clef du Récit is one of the most memorable stops on our journey so far!
We arrive the next morning a little tired and foggy, but happy and full of new excitement for Sauvignon Blanc, at Claude Riffault. Situated in Sury-en-Vaux, Stéphane Riffault, returned to Sancerre in 2001 after working in Burgundy, and has now taken over from his father, Claude.
The vineyard today is composed of 33 different parcels, situated in 8 different lieux-dits, spread across 4 villages, for a total of 13.5 ha. Unlike most Sancerre producers, the vineyard is certified organic and biodynamic, the entire harvest is carried out by hand, and an extensive sorting takes place before the grapes are crushed. Precise and thorough work we’ll say. Stéphane is seeking harmony and precision, each one of his cuvée being very different and representative of its own terroir. It was a fantastic learning curve seeing the different plots and terroirs of Riffault’s vineyards and being able to taste these exact differences in his wines. A selection of wines with great finesse, terroir expression and depth of flavour that must convince even the last Sauvignon Blanc doubter!
Stéphane Riffault, Sury-en-Vaux, Loire Valley
If Claude Riffault and La Clef du Récit are from the same region, the difference between the two couldn’t be bigger. A deep passion for wine is what they have in common, and to our pleasure they express it in very unique ways.
Our little trio arrived in Burgundy to smell the flavours of Grands Crus, European spring and fresh butter! Beaune being the melting pot of wine lovers from around the world, we were excited to be there!
Our first stop in Burgundy was at Alex Gambal. Resident winemaker, Matthieu took us on a tour through the estate, where deep down underground, we learnt about the history of the domaine while standing in a cellar from the 16th century surrounded by 700 barrels. Matthieu started with the estate in 2014, he’s a very talented young man and you can see his precise signature in the wines. All of the wines displayed a beautiful vibrancy, freshness and elegance - all while being undeniably Burgundian!
Coming back to the daylight, Matthieu talked us through a beautiful selection of 2017s. The wines are made using natural yeast and with minimal intervention (all whites undergo malo and sit on lees for at least 12 months, no battonage, while the reds are mainly destemmed and see gentle pump overs). Matthieu is trying to avoid pumps as much as possible. Even bottling happens in the gentlest way: via gravity.
Matthieu, Joe & Ash at Alex Gambal, Beaune, Burgundy
Next stop in Burgundy, Maison Harbour. A lovely afternoon, we sat in the backyard of winemaker and proprietor Nick and his wife Colleen while tasting through the wines. The couple’s tale is one of romance, passion and hard work. It’s a story that makes the heart of every wine lover beat faster. We’ve all wished this at one point… But in 2012, they actually did it. They packed up their lives working in the finance industry in Luxembourg to pursue their dream of making wine in France, settling in Savigny-Lès-Beaune in the heart of the Côte-d’Or.
Today it is a tiny and humble family operation, the winery covers as the office, their kid’s playground, their garage and barrel cave. Harbour’s wines reflect the spirit of the family as much as the terroir of each and every plot they’re accessing with their negociant fruit: elegant, gentle, lifted, authentic, pure with a length that has rarely been seen. Small format, used oak barrels are deployed (bigger ones wouldn’t fit into the tiny cave!). Such a precious find!
Joe, Nick Harbour & Ash in the courtyard at Maison Harbour, Savigny-Lès-Beaune, Burgundy
Heading south again, but still in Burgundy we arrived in Charnay-lès-Mâcon. Thrilled to report that Mâcon is looking and tasting more exciting than ever! Here we met with Vins Auvigue Proprietor Jean-Pierre, and were introduced to his nephew Sylvain who is taking on operations at the winery, and to their new winemaker Cecile.
The domaine has been in the family for generations, a continual rising star with main assets in Pouilly-Fuissé and other best parts of the region, they are specialists in the great Mâconnais whites. It’s been a long time coming, but the great news is that Pouilly-Fuissé will soon be formally given Premier Cru status by the French authorities.
Auvigue closely follows traditional methods and filters lightly before bottling to retain all the elements of their true Burgundian nature. The wines are standing up to our expectations of the best of Mâcon: juicy, fleshy with a great mouthfeel and acidity line and a hint of minerality. We’ve left more certain than ever that more than just a “must have” on wine lists, Mâcon is fashionable again!
Clockwise from top. Jean-Pierre, Sylvain & Cecile; Ash & Joe at Vins Auvigue, Charnay-lès-Mâcon, Burgundy
With some plans diverted due to France's yellow vest protests, the Fesq team continued their road trip south. The vibe in Beaujolais is undeniably cool, where rules are lax and winemakers are rockstars in leather jackets.
Glou glou; verb or adjective we're not sure (possibly both), but defined as "the uninterrupted consumption of copious amounts of joyful, scrumptious wine". Yes, we’ve made it to Beaujolais!
First stop was Jean-Paul Thévenet and his son Charly.
Tasting through all the wines, they were equally analysed by Charly, of course not without some heated, but we’re certain very loving, discussions with his father. Having definitely inherited his father’s talent, (one of the famous Gang of Four members dubbed by Kermit Lynch in the ‘80s), Charly has all the focus, dedication, passion and great love for discussing all things wine with his father.
Charly’s Regnié 2018 is one for the books and looks at least as perfumed, vibrant and sexy as the previous vintage. (Interesting side note: we’ve even heard from several independent winemakers across France that this is their favourite new wine). Jean-Paul’s Morgon 2018, which is still slumbering in barrel, displays elegance, fine and velvety tannins, incredible depth and fruit shining as bright as shimmering dew on a crisp and sunny autumn morning.
After out tasting and quite mid-conversation, Charly turned around, shouted “mangez!” and disappeared. Through the language barrier, we understood shortly after that it was not only his appetite that was moving him, but more so the thought of his mother’s fabulous food. We eagerly accepted the kind invitation to share a family meal, and his mother Annick kept serving more and more mouthwatering dishes as we exchanged stories, laughter and gym routines (check out @charlythevenet on Instagram for his love of CrossFit). While indulging in hearty and traditional French cuisine, we also tasted Thevénet’s younger Morgon ‘traditional’ as well as an aged Gamay from 2009. Let me tell you, this family knows how to do the good, the old, the young and most importantly: the seriously delicious!
Jean-Paul Thévenet, Villie-Morgon, Beaujolais
Next up was Château de Grand Pré, where young gun Romain Zordan is trying his hardest not to be labelled a 'rising star'. We say he can try as hard as he wants, but we were left in awe after tasting through the clean and bright 2018s. He is making his wines according to the teachings of Jules Chauvet, the godfather of natural winemaking, farming organically and biodynamically. It never gets boring with Romain's wines, in addition to the estate wines there'll be some new wines released at the end of this year under his funky negoc labels. He is an incredibly honest, generous down to earth man who loves to experiment and share his love of wine. The smashabillity is dangerously high - glou glou!
His new right-hand-man, Alex, completes the duo and helps to make our favourite quirky Beauj. Another of his tasks, apparently, is to help Romain make his distributors tipsy and introduce them to half of the village in the local wine bar...the rest is a little blurry. We might keep this part of the story for another day...
Joe, Alex, Ash & Romain, Fleurie, Beaujolais
Our last stop in Beaujolais is at Guy Breton. Also being a member of the legendary Gang of Four, Guy is making a lighter drinking style of gamay compared his other gang members, but they are anything but easy drinking. Vibrant and aromatic with great acidity, and with good length and complexity of flavours. They make you smile and want to glug glug immediately!
We were cast under the spell of the maestro himself, all French charm and charisma, personality ++, just like his wines. His appreciation of lightly clothed ‘90s calendar beauties posted on the walls are also a feature attraction of the winery.
Guy Breton, Villie-Morgon, Beaujolais
The beautiful Ardeche finally came around on the agenda and the moment to discover the stunning estate Gallety.
Located at the very northern end of the southern Rhône, the winery is only a few hundred metres away from the Rhône river.
David-Alexandre, son of Alain and partner since 2004, took us on a tour through the superb, state of the art winery. Short channels between picking and processing, gravity fed tanks, gentle handling and big foudres all contribute to the freshness, elegance and beautiful concentration of the wines while helping the unique terroir shine through.
Being known as the best producer in the Côtes du Vivarais, the entire range of organically farmed wines stood up to their reputation.
David-Alexandre Gallety, Saint Montan, Southern Rhône
We arrived at La Vieille Julienne in the late afternoon, this small winery is only a few minutes out of the historical town.
Jean-Paul Daumen has an incredible knowledge, while being softly spoken and humble at the same time. He explained 2017 and 2018 were hard vintages for most producers as powdery mildew destroyed much of the crop. La Vieille Julienne lost around 80%, but of the wines that are available, we couldn’t be more impressed.
It's definitely foolish to think that Côtes du Rhône is of any significantly less quality than Châteauneuf-du-Pape, when you see the two appellations are only separated by a 3 metre road.
We tried a couple of producers and were able to pick La Vieille Julienne from a mile away. Nothing beats the concentration, texture and perfume of these wines. We left here with a huge smile on our faces from this little piece of heaven.
Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, Orange, Southern Rhône
In the northern-most part of the Rhône, in Saint-Joseph, we met with Bastien Jolivet. His vineyards are planted in granite soils on a hillside, some of which are just next door to Chapoutier plantings. A young man of just 30, he took on the family business in 2014, deciding to stop selling their grapes and instead make wine of their own. Bastien admits that after a few years, he is finally now happy to see his intention for the wines come to fruition. From the 2017 vintage his cuvées display the characters he’s been searching for in Saint-Joesph: very fine, elegant, pure fruit and layered complexity.
The Saint-Joseph white was outstanding, but sadly for us is already fully allocated before bottling even comes around. The reds l’Instinct and his Vins de France Cuvée de Louis are also incredibly good, with razor sharp purity and length, while the velvety tannins envelope the juicy structure and freshness of this 2017 vintage. An up-and-coming star in Saint-Joseph for sure!
Domaine Jolivet, Saint Jean de Muzols, Northern Rhône
Our last stop in France, we drove further south towards the Mediterranean to Domaine de Cala’s brand new winery in Brignoles, Provence. We were introduced to Fabrice, the new winemaker. With an impressive history working for great Burgundian names like Bouchard et fils, Picard and Nicolas Potel, we were very excited to see the new vintages. 2018 looks fantastic, blend has changed a little, and very much benefiting from it: the nose is more perfumed and vibrant, while the body displays the so familiar fruit and mouthwatering minerality notes that make this wine so much more than “strawberries and cream”. Nothing compares to this unique appellation.
In other news, we are super happy to announce that the 2018 vintage will be available under screwcap for us. Also that the winery is working on organic and biodynamic certification, which should be finalised within the next 3 years.
In the evening, the winery took us for a fabulous last dinner at La Table Saint Roux, and we wouldn’t have expected anything less from a gourmet like Joachim. A beautiful restaurant with rustic French Charme and outstanding service and food. What a way to top of our road trip in France!
Joachim Splichal, Domaine de Cala, Brignoles, Provence
Next week, we look forward to Joe Caruso's stories as he makes a wine trip of a lifetime to his homeland in Italy...