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“It’s not just about producing a kilo of grapes. You observe a plant, you observe the ongoings of the year, you observe the wine that follows.”

Anne-Sophie Dubois

is a winemaker whose unique wines capture not only the versatility of Gamay, but also the ethereal, spellbinding side that it is capable of. She is almost an enigma of sorts - who is this lady in Fleurie who creates wines with names like The Alchemist? And if that’s not enigmatic enough, her cuvée "Ici et Là" is a (friendly) sheep in wolf’s clothing; it contains 80% Gamaret - a rare, little-known Swiss offspring of Gamay.

When we sit down with her, the first thing we notice is her big grin and her humility. She shuffles her feet when we say how much we admire her wines, and thanks us from behind her spectacles. She exudes youthful enthusiasm, and when she tells us that her first vintage was in 2007, we’re shocked, quickly realising that this young lady has grown up amongst her vines. 

Anne-Sophie at Trishna in London, February 2020

Anne-Sophie grew up in a small village in Champagne, where her mother and father were grape growers, but never winemakers. It was, and still is, very commonplace to farm and sell your grapes to the Grandes Marques - the big Champagne houses.

Her family had the chance to purchase some land in Fleurie, in Beaujolais. We ask, “why Fleurie?”

She laughs at our puzzled faces, fully aware that Beaujolais is not exactly next door to Champagne. She explains,

“My father just fell in love with that domaine. I was only a child at the time… I had no idea what lay ahead.”

When she was older, she did some internships at a few wineries in Champagne, but,

“As any rebellious teenager, I wanted to get away for a little while.” 

That is how Anne-Sophie came to find herself in Beaune, where she did her studies while working in the vineyards and cellar with Pascal Roblet in Volnay. It was here that she fell in love with tending vines. 

She thinks for a while, tapping her thumbs with her forefingers. 

“You know... When I first started working in the vines, I said to myself - there's another dimension here. It’s not just about producing a kilo of grapes. You observe a plant, you observe the ongoings of the year, you observe the wine that follows.” She pauses, then smiles and continues, “when you've experienced that, you can't go back. It's as if you're a caged animal who has been outside, roaming the grass for the first time. Why would you want to go back inside?"

A year later, her father rang her up and explained that the winemaker who was renting the vineyards in Fleurie had decided he’d like to retire. It was a sign for Anne-Sophie that now was the time for her to set out on her own.

Anne-Sophie's hillside vineyards in the Fleurie Cru, Beaujolais, in winter

Anne-Sophie's vineyards are at the very top of the Fleurie Cru

Her Vineyards

So, Anne-Sophie found herself high up in the hills of Fleurie, completely isolated, away from what had initially been considered the Grands Terroirs of the Cru, which sit at lower elevation. 

We look at a map, and she explains,

“At 400m above sea level, back in the 50s, my vineyard sites would have been on the cool side for achieving ideal grape maturity, that’s what the older winemakers in the region tell me.” 

But now, with global warming bringing about sporadic roaring temperatures in the region, chance is on her side. Her 2018s are delicately shimmering at 12.5%, while others we have encountered are mounting above 14%. 

She decided to pursue organic certification, which she achieved in 2018. She comments,

“These days, it’s easy to say that you’re organic, or biodynamic, or natural… but it’s hard for somebody to know that for certain unless you have certification, so I decided to certify.” 

The elevation gives her a headstart in terms of balance for the vines. Yields tend to be low, around 35hl/ha, which is fairly low in the grand scheme of things, but she emphasises,

“This is the natural yield for the vine, on these soils and using only natural fertilisers - from manure, for example. The vine is able to find its own harmony.”

Anne-Sophie's vines in the organic wilderness

It has taken her a long time to reach this balance; she believes her vineyards only found their balance perhaps in 2015. The grower who looked after the domaine before her did so with chemicals, and so despite the fact she worked organically since the start, it took her soils a long time to regain an equilibrium that translates into her wines. 

“The vines are no longer drinking an energy drink… like they were before. Now, they’re balanced. You taste this in the grapes too; in their skins. The soil is the identity of the wine...it marks the wine.”

Now, she is happy. We can see that just by looking at her smile and by feeling her exudant energy.

“After years of working organically, I feel that I can now see myself, in a sense mirrored, in the grapes I harvest. Now, I love all of my wines. You only have one try per year, it’s tough. You have to be happy with your final wine.”

She continues,

“All of my eight hectares are on the same plot. That means a lot to me; I have my own ecosystem, my neighbours are far away. Once, I rented a plot in Moulin-à-Vent, that was surrounded by neighbours who farmed chemically. I tried for three years to make wine from that plot but I never succeeded in making something I was happy with. That’s when I truly realised the importance of creating your own ecosystem, and how that translates into your wine. It’s incredibly hard for people who have plots surrounded by neighbours whose farming philosophies you don’t share.”

The Wines

Anne-Sophie makes four cuvées; Ici et Là, Les Cocottes, L’Alchimiste and Les Labourons. They are all made from the Gamay variety, apart from Ici et Là, which is 80% Gamaret and 20% Gamay.  

Huh? Gamaret?

Don’t worry, most of us haven’t heard of it either. Gamaret is another vinifera variety, that was bred in Switzerland in the 1970s, by crossing Gamay with Reichensteiner, an obscure German grape variety that we wouldn’t have heard of if we hadn’t Googled it. Today, Gamaret is predominantly found in Switzerland, in the Valais, but some growers are experimenting with it further afield. Anne-Sophie planted a tiny parcel of just 200 square metres in 2011.

Due to appellation laws, only wine produced from Gamay (or Chardonnay, for white wine) may be labelled as Beaujolais. Otherwise they must be labelled with vin de France. We ask her how she came to the decision of planting Gamaret. Her eyes twinkle as she replies,

“Ah - yes... I have a magnificent terroir for Gamay. I could have planted more Gamay, and made more Fleurie, not vin de France! - but there I was, planting Gamaret. That’s rebellious youth for you!”

She winks and laughs, swirling the wine in her glass, and continues;

“I love Gamay. We only have Gamay in Beaujolais. The combination between the soils and the climate here for the variety is unparalleled, but I just felt like trying something else too, just to see…” 

Gamaret, she explains, has a lot more tannin in the skins - so it creates wine that needs a little more time to develop. Aroma-wise, it tends to produce wine that has more notes of black fruits and spice, whereas Gamay lends itself to floral and red fruit aromas. She dwells,

“It’s hard to say… It’s just a different aromatic experience. It’s also still a very young vineyard. You can’t judge a vineyard when it’s only been producing fruit for five years! Let’s talk again in thirty. Maybe I’ll do a verticle of Gamaret!” 

We laugh in unison: the world has only just come round to the idea of ageing Gamay, let alone Gamaret. If one lady will persuade the world though, it’s Anne-Sophie. Gamaret has become her creative outlet.

Whole bunch fermentation in concrete at Anne-Sophie's winery

For all four wines, harvest is done by hand, and all the bunches are sorted in the vineyard and put into tiny cases so that the skins of the berries aren’t broken, to make sure the first juice has no oxidation. 

They start their lives in concrete cuves - the typical fermentation vessel in Beaujolais - after which they are aged in old barrels, to not give the wines any flavour of wood. Ici et Là is the only cuvée that is destemmed; as the Gamaret grapes have much tougher skins, and it’s not easy to get the juice out from the berries.

Les Cocottes, l’Alchemiste and Les Labourons are usually whole bunch fermentations. However, this wasn’t always the case. Having learnt how to make Pinot Noir from destemmed grapes in Burgundy, she comments,

“I wanted to destem when I first started making wine here: that’s how I’d learnt. It took me a while to realise that actually for Gamay I prefer drinking the wines that are made from whole bunches - so I started to work with whole bunch fermentations in 2015. That said, there is no recipe. In 2017 I destemmed Labourons. Such low yields meant we had these teeny tiny grapes - the proportion of stem to berry would have been enormous - so I decided to destem.”

Les Labourons takes its name from the historical name of the vineyard site - the “lieu dit” - which she wants to celebrate by highlighting its name on the bottle  - and is created with her oldest vines, which are over 60 years old. Les Cocottes and l’Alchemiste are blends from her other vines; once Anne-Sophie has tasted how they are developing, she decides which will become which. Les Cocottes will always be the wine that she feels is more fruit-forward and delicious to drink straight away, so it sees less maceration, whereas l’Alchemiste has a little more maceration time, becoming a slightly more structured wine. 

Almost no remontage or pigeage is carried out; instead Anne-Sophie treats the vinifications like “infusions;” like tea. 

Although she already has thirteen vintages behind her, it’s still only the start of the road for this young woman.

“It’s not just about organic grapes; it’s about avoiding additions, and listening to your grapes. You have to have a passion for viticulture and vinification. Yes, you’re a farmer, but you also need to pay attention to the wine you are making. I don’t accept faults. This way of making wine - it’s not about “doing nothing…”

As she continues to experiment and to make modifications every year, the wines become even more expressive, and act as little windows into her own evolutionary journey.

Thirsty?

Want to taste a wine that's named "Darling" (Les Cocottes in French) or The Alchemist? Curious about the rare grape variety Gamaret - the child of Gamay?

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