'The best growers all know that to ‘live their passion’ demands relentless, hard work. As they looked pensively at the apparent Fat Cat from London (namely moi) swanning around France, Laurent Vaillé, Thierry Allemand and Jérôme Bressy have all said the same words to me: “my work is never finished, David”. If they think I am a Gros Chat, they should meet Tristram and Rupert in their red pantaloons from Corduroy, Brogue and Tweed, a fictitious and stereotypical but entirely believable London wine merchant. I am an under-nourished kitten in comparison'.
My overriding impression on meeting Jérôme Bressy for the first time, the vigneron and owner of this very impressive, small domaine in Rasteau, is that he is a brave mec. You know, honest, down-to-earth, utterly unpretentious. He is a triumph of substance over style in contrast to the that shallow ‘celebrity’ culture, as practised by all those halfwits who have seen their so-called ‘careers’ go down the swanny after floundering on all those reality shows like ‘I’m a Knob Get Me Out Of Here'.
No, Jérôme is here for the long haul, carrying out his work diligently and honestly, knowing that manners makethman and from acorns great oaks grow. Or to adapt this into vinous form, from great vitis vinifera and terroir, great wine can be made. And in this field and terroir, Jérôme is a genius.
And he loves wine, food and rugby. The man can do no wrong in my eyes. Giscard, François I, Jacques, Sarko, François II and all the other introspective, myopic énarques in Paris could learn/could have learned a thing or two from Jérôme on how to create value and appeal to the common people. He is a genuine force for good.
A deep thinker, Jérôme told me “the hardest is always best and makes the best wine”. He reminds me a lot of Laurent Vaillé of La Grange des Peres and Thierry Allemand of Cornas. All three of them have a punishing, Lutheran-type work ethic which frames their lives, based on hard work, determination, frugality and a never-ending search for improvement. They are never satisfied. Jérôme doesn't want to make more wine – he just wants to make better wine. And neither does he want to cultivate publicity.
He is a passionate advocate for authentic, naked, natural, artisanal (but not faulty) wines. Like a Gallic gladiator, he protects his land and practices from the meddling bureaucrats who add nothing but try to take everything. He is determined to uphold the traditions and do what he thinks is right in the face of the economically illiterate fonctionnaires (one of France’s worst creations) who he thinks are destroying the culture. “Ça me fait si mal” he says wistfully.
Like so many great wines in France now, he has declassified his wines as VdP because he doesn’t want to comply with local appellation rules. He feels they stop him making great wines. The Rasteau appellation requires the use of at least 25% each of Syrah and Mourvèdre (which he doesn't have) and the use of 10-15% of other varieties (which he doesn't have). Some varieties are banned and he wants to use these because he makes great wine. Rules are for fools.
He just wants to create a Vin de Terroir and wants freedom to be able to do this.
They all know that to ‘live their passion’ demands relentless, hard work. Looking pensively at the apparent Fat Cat from London (namely moi) swanning around France, Laurent, Thierry and Jérôme have all said the same words to me: “my work is never finished, David”. If they think I am a Gros Chat, they should meet Tristram and Rupert in their red pantaloons from Corduroy, Brogue and Tweed, a fictitious and stereotypical but entirely believable London wine merchant. I am an under-nourished kitten in comparison.
In my opinion, this is the greatest domaine in Rasteau, with Jérôme using organic farming and employing natural and authentic methods which result in wines of extraordinary concentration and terroir. The grapes are situated on Rasteau terroirs whose soil of chalky clay and marl regulate water and give the wines minerality and character. The wines are between 30-100 years old and they are all pruned using the Gobelet method – a method which was diminishing due to mechanical harvesting.
There is no sophisticated laboratory equipment here to help him. He constantly tastes them and completely relies on his palate to make then best wines possible.
He is well read and a disciple of the great and the good of naturally made, French wines such as Nicolas Joly, Henri Bonneau, Jean-Louis Chave. You can see the influence of all three in his wines.
Gourt de Mautens is also a fabulous, memorable name which dates from 1635 and means, when translated from old Provencal, ‘Bad Weather Spring’. It is where water springs up from the chalky clay and marly soil when it rains.
The reds are made from Grenache Noir (typically 50-70% depending on the year), Carignan, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise, Cinault, Vaccarese and Terret Noir.
They are carefully hand picked, sorted and then sorted again on the sorting table. The full crop is crushed together and naturally fermented in truncated wooden vats. Ageing takes place in casks, demi-muids and concrete vats for between 24-26 months. They are bottled unfined and unfiltered. They can age for 15-20 years.
His whites are made from Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanche, Bourboulenc, Picardin, Picpoul, Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne.
His rosés are made from Grenache Noir, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Counoise.
His whites and rosés are made in a similar way – carefully sorted, gently pressed, manual fermentation, ageing in demi-muids and stainless steel vats for 10-18 months. They are bottled unfined and unfiltered. Both can age (yes, even the rosé) for 10-15 years.
His rosé is not like any other rosé I have tasted. It needs to be drunk (not too chilled) with food. It was made in 2010 but isn’t made in every year.
He usually harvests late to optimise maturity, and take advantage of the cold Mistral wind which allows the grapes to concentrates slowly the tannins to soften. He normally finishes the harvest by early October but this year’s will finish three-four weeks late. The Mourvèdre wasn’t picked until the end of Oct.
Here are the other key facts:
· The domaine goes back 6 generations. Before they made their own wine, they sold grapes to the local coop. His first vintage was in 1996. Before they sold grapes to the coop.
· The whole domaine went organic in 1989
· He farms 13.5 hectares. He only has 1 full time employee and employs 8 people in vineyard during harvest.
· He should be making 50,000 bottles but he makes about 15000 although this year (2013), he is making 6-8000 due to coulure which badly affected the Grenache. He has very low yields of 10-15hl/h.
· Since 2001, he has used no new wood.
· Since 2007, he has employed no destemming and does whole bunch fermentation.
· His grape by grape triage is very exact.
· His vines are circa 40 years old. There are 7 different plots where his grapes come from. He uses only gobelet for tying his vines because it is very important for the health and quality of the vines.
· He presses the grapes very slowly. For each of his 3 wines, he ferments all the different grape varietals together in the vats and adjusts accordingly during cuvaison. There is no pigeage and no special cuvée.
· According to Jérôme, 80% of wine in Cote du Rhone is machine harvested in an effort to make more and more wine, cheaper and cheaper, whatever the effect on the quality and traditions. He thinks is destroying the culture.
The wines we tasted
A powerful, rich wine for autumn with aromas of game and cèpe. It needs decanting but I have now had it twice (first time in Jérôme’s cellar and second time at home over dinner with friends) and thought it was a fantastic – and this was a difficult vintage. This isn’t a silky, oaky, fruit bomb; it is a traditionally made vin de terroir with cherries from the Grenache and earthy, gamey flavours from the Mourvèdre. It was slightly reduced and whiffy on the nose to begin with but decanting sorted this out quickly. It has a great spine of acidity so has freshness and isn’t heavy. It won’t appeal to sanitised palates which are used to international styles but they aren’t the target audience. I have just ordered another case which I know won’t last long.
This was a good year in these parts. The wine is darker than 2008 and has more of the garrigue on the nose plus the cherry and earthy aromas on the nose and palate. It is supple on the nose, if that makes sense, more so than the 2010. It is a rich, gras, unctuous wine with fine-grained tannins but these still need to soften a little. I ordered a case for laying down.
This was only bottled 6 months ago so is still settling down. There is a lot of kirsch on the nose and the tannins are very present on the palate. This was another good year so it should be a rich, balanced wine which lasts well over a decade. I ordered a case for laying down.
Tasted from the concrete vats. There is stunning, clean fruit which gives it droiture. We noticed that all the 2011s were drinking more easily than the 2010s although the latter is deemed to be a better year. The 2011 tannins are so silky smooth, they caressed my mouth. These will be bottled in Spring 2014.
1998 Red (drunk at The Quality Chop House, London in October 2013)
It had a muted nose and wasn’t revealing much to begin with. It had been double decanted and then poured from bottle but I think it needed to be decanted into a wide based decanter a good 2 hours before serving. It is very rich though and I ate pigeon and venison with it. The game, cèpes and garrigue reveal themselves after a while but it lacks a little fruit. It has good, smooth tannins with good acidity but the lack of fruit suggests to me that it is on its last legs. There is licorice and a little kirsch on the palate. It is very redolent of sitting in the Vaucluse on a warm Autumn evening.
My eating at this restaurant was as a result of some effective marketing from the Quality Chop House. It was only upon seeing a tweet from them late on the Monday afternoon that I decided to go to the restaurant at late notice that evening. Over an autumnal dinner of venison and cèpes, it was an excellent accompaniment.
This was like no rosé I have ever drunk. It is rich and coated the mouth. Unlike Tavel rosés from nearby which can be highly alcoholic, this is balanced and unctuous. It will be the inquisitive wine connoisseur which buys this, not the average rosé drinker over the BBQ – they should stick to the lighter, sweeter stuff. It is like Jérôme’s white wine but had a touch of peach, red berries and orange peel on the nose and palate. I ordered a case for laying down.
2012 White (from the vat)
This reminded me of Beaucastel’s Vieilles Vignes. It is a combination of mouth coating lusciousness with a spine of cleansing acidity and minerality to keep it honest. It is light yellow with strong aromas of pear, spice, jasmine, honeysuckle and summer flowers. It has focus (what the French call droiture) and the acidity cuts through the fleshiness like a knife through butter. It has enough freshness and body to drink with a variety of foods such as a southern French dish like Bouillabaise or Chicken Provencal. These whites match the herbs and spice of southern Rhone food very well. I ordered a case for laying down.