Ξ August 8th, 2008 | → 7 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, Interviews, Winemakers, Wineries |
I am very happy to pay back, in my own way, a small debt owed to Jean-Marc Espinasse. Years ago he brought to the US a modest selection of wines personally selected for me. Included was a bottle of his family’s excellent Domaine Banneret. Reign of Terroir was a non-thought. But Monsieur Espinasse planted a seed. You see, he was blogging from France quite early, certainly in internet terms. And now he has expanded to You Tube. You may see his early efforts at winemaking here and here. There are a few other instructive shorts under the keyword jmespinasse.
In any event, Jean-Marc has proven a dependable friend. It is with pleasure I present the following interview.
Admin You began blogging quite early, certainly one of the earliest French blogs dedicated to the work of the vigneron I discovered. How is it you hit upon the idea?
Jean-Marc Espinasse I was already blogging through my blog “French Wine A Day” and had about 1000 subscribers who knew my passion for wine and terroir. As I was going to put in practice this passion, I thought I would continue blogging on this venture as a vine farmer and a winemaker.
Would you tell us of your early days at Domaine Du Banneret?
J-M E When my Uncle decided to buy 4 parcels of vines in Chateauneuf to renew the family’s tradition of making wine, I was at the time an accountant. I then initially helped my Uncle designing the business plan and then started to be more involved (the harvest, bottling). When I met my future wife (who is a US citizen), I started to offer his wine to the US market and until then, decided to switch my professional career to embrace the wine world.
When did you begin to make wine?
J-M E I did wine for the first time last year and started with quite outstanding vintage conditions.
Did you study enology/viticulture at school? Could you tell us a little of your educational background?
J-M E I have not studied enology/viticulture. My education is in Finance which is the major of the business school I graduated from. I did a few internships on enology/viticulture when I decided to embrace the wine world. What I learned is that winemaking happens naturally when you harvest a mature grape in a good saniatry state. I also learned that you can’t make a great wine if you don’t have a great terroir and that what happens in the cellar is the continuation of what you harvest. In other words, you may have the very best equipment, but you will never make a great wine if you don’t harvest a great grape.
When and how did you meet your American wife, Kristin, a highly regarded blogger in her own right (French Word-a-Day) and the author of numerous books?
J-M E I met her in Aix en Provence in 1990 in a night club. Then she had to come back to Phoenix to finish her school. We saw each other again in June 1992 and got married in 1994.
Your new effort, Domaine Rouge-Blue, it is farmed organically. Would you tell us about the difficulties organic farming poses to the vigneron?
J-M E In my case (I am using biodynamic principles), it is more the moon cycles which cause work organisation issues. Otherwise, working organically demands one to be well equiped with tools to maintain weeds at a reasonable level.
There is no question organic/biodynamic winemaking allows terroir to properly express itself. But what is terroir?
J-M E Terroir is a combination of all the components that interact directly or indirectly to an area : Soil, underground, orientation, climate, surroundings elements (river, sea, montain) and tradition through the work done by farmers.
What grapes do you grow and what are the yields from your 20 acres?
J-M E We mostly grow Grenache (60%) and since they are very old (75 years old), yields are 1/2 Tons per Acre. Then we have some Carignan (20% – 50 years old), Syrah (10% – 7 years old) and some old Mourvèdre and Roussanne found inside our large vineyard of 75 years old Grenache vines.
What is the make-up of your harvesting crew?
J-M E Family and friends of the family. This year, 5 guys from the US are coming.
How many wines do you make? What is your case production?
J-M E We made 3 wines. One white with the few Roussanne found inside the old Grenache parcel (60 cases done – Côtes du Rhône white “Mistral”), one with a Carignan (55%) – Grenache(45%) blend (1,000 cases done – Vin de Pays de Méditerranée red “Dentelle”) and one with a Grenache (71%) – Syrah (19%) – Mourvèdre (8%) – Roussanne (2%) blend (2,000 cases done – AOC Côtes du Rhône red “Mistral”).
And in the winery, would you tell us a bit about your barrel regimen, yeasts used, cold soaks, etc?
J-M E The red Mistral has 25% of the blend that has aged in old barrels (3 to 5 years old) for 9 months. No external yeasts (of course) and no cold soak. I use concrete tanks (without epoxy paint inside) for the winemaking and this porous material permits a small oxidation during the winemaking.
What ‘green’ practices do you employ?
J-M E I don’t destem since our grapes are old and since, thanks to that, we have mature stems. Mature stems bring a lot of interesting components to the wine, especially acidity (the kep point in the south), mineral salts and oligo elements. The stems also help to balance with high alcohol levels. At last, the natural micro-oxidation which happen in the concrete tanks permits us to smooth down the tannins.
You’ve visited America many times. What wines produced here have you enjoyed?
J-M E I will always remember my very first emotional experience with an American wine which was with a Zinfandel from Ridge Vineyards (Lytton Springs). Since then, I have kept in touch (I know personally one of the winemakers) with this wonderful winery which, for me, is way ahead in many fields (terroir, environment respect, marketing). In California, I am a big fan of Zinfandel and besides, Ridge, I enjoy the wines from Hendry and Rochioli. And I am also a big fan of the Northwest wines, especially in Oregon where I have many friends. I enjoy the wines from Jay Somers (J. Christopher), Ken Wright and a new one named Winderlea (vineyards which belonged to Neil Goldschmidt – ex Governor of OR).
The film Bottle Shock will be widely released here very shortly. What is your take on the ‘Judgement of Paris’?
J-M E Mixed feelings… I think it was a good thing that the French and the European discovered that other places can produce great wines. Now, the way the tasting was conducted (the wines from CA were ready to drink whereas the wines from France were way too young since they were not made the same way) does NOT permit one to make any “judgement”. I am also personnaly an ANTI wine judgement guy since I think a wine can express itself so differently depending many outside factors. A wine is a living material and it is tasting by human beings. Put together, that makes so many possibilities to make a mistake.
How can France compete with the US? I am thinking especially of the influence of Parker. He has arguably ‘motivated’ a change in the wine styles of Bordeaux and some wineries in the Languedoc, not to mention Australia, Spain etc. I am interested in your thoughts on how France can better promote its wines. How is one to market finesse and elegance?
J-M E I think that there is a market for everybody. Some people just want to enjoy a wine and a “style” that they will find every year (even if this totally takes off the notion of vintage) and some some people will also start enjoying wine with this standard style before realising where the right path is…So at least and even if I disagree with RP methods and his way of leading the wine world with his “own” palate, I think it can in fact bring more people to drink wine and eventually turn into REAL wine lovers.
What is your opinion of CRAV? And the future of wine production in the Languedoc?
J-M E The riots conducted by CRAV are mostly people belonging to coops which are in very poor shape. The reason for this comes from the French government, which instead of encouraging a new generation to leave the coop and start their own cellar, has continued to subsidize those coops which, most of the time, have not worked on the qualitative side and now have to compete with new world cheap wines (North Africa, Chile…) and can’t, actually. When you look at all the great vineyards of the Languedoc that have emerged recently, you tell yourself that there is room for many more. And guess what: You don’t find people from those vineyards in with the CRAV guys.
How successuful have you been in finding an American distributor?
J-M E Even if I know quite well the US market, it has been hard since this time period is more about the reduction of portfolios. But I am quite happy since, after 4 months, I have 5 importers in NY-NJ, TX, OR, CA and WA.
What is the most important thing we should understand about Domaine Rouge-Blue?
J-M E Old Vines. They explain the quality with their deep roots that we are trying to take care with our farming methods. They are also in the spirit of the farmhouse (in which we have installed the cellars) which dates from the 16 century.
Thank you, Jean-Marc. I look forward to your next West Coast visit.