Camille and Mathieu Apffel have entered a new chapter of their lives, and it’s a chapter we’re very excited about. Since 2018, they have been tending their own vines in the Savoie, making their own wines, and selling their own wines. It is the full-circle project they had craved, and they are now living the dream.
Their wines are all about purity; gentle, subtle and nuanced wines that speak of their mountainous slopes and native varieties. Through a love for nature, they are achieving healthier and healthier grapes each year, which in turn enables them to achieve their goal of making wines without additions — pure grape juice, but with more soul.
LITTLEWINE spoke to Mathieu Apffel for this article.
Mathieu grew up in the Jura region of France but had no relation to the wine world until after high school. He says,
“I began studying wine after school. I didn’t know anything at all about it, but I wanted to do something different, and I was curious about discovering wines and vineyards.”
He decided to pursue a degree in wine, choosing Beaune (in Burgundy) to do his BTS in viticulture and oenology.
“Bit by bit I entered this world of wine in 2002. I got my degree, and then worked in viticulture and as a winemaker.”
Since the beginning, organics has been important to him. He says,
“I always worked for organic domaines. Working this way came naturally to me, and having not learnt the alternative, I never hesitated. It’s honest, efficient, and quite simply a nice way to work. I also learnt about biodynamics as many of the domaines worked biodynamically to some degree, and so that became part of what I wanted to do, too. I find that when it comes to the taste of the wine, you find an additional dimension in biodynamic wines. They’re made by people who work very diligently and with conviction, and you find this depth in the wines — a certain verticality.”
He worked with many winemakers – he credits Olivier Leriche at Domaine de l’Arlot in Burgundy as one of his key mentors and inspirations (Olivier has since left Arlot and now has his own winery in the Ardèche, Domaine des Accoles). He also worked with Chapoutier both in the Rhône for two years and in Australia for three years, at Domaine Laroche in Chablis, and with many other experiences in between. However, after more than a decade working for other domaines, he began to get itchy feet — he wanted to start something of his own. He says,
“At that stage, working for larger wineries, I realised I wanted to do my own work. When working for somebody else, it’s rare that you get to do every step of the process from start to finish. I missed that; I wanted to be able to work from vineyard, to bottling, to client. That’s what’s so great about the notion of being a vigneron; you work in agriculture, viticulture, winemaking, and commerce. I wanted to be doing all of those things.”
So, he began to look out for vineyard lease or sale opportunities. Being a native of the Jura — and a lover of Jura wine — he began his search there. However, soon after, he discovered there were more opportunities in the Savoie, and was drawn to the region:
“I had friends in the Savoie and visited the area a lot. I love it here. When it comes to wine, I think of the region and its terroirs a bit like the cousins of the Jura. And there was space and opportunities here, so in 2013-2014 I made the move.”
He took on vines in Apremont, on Mont Granier, facing east, and in Saint-Alban, near to the vineyards of Chignin. This area is famed for its whites, so there is a majority of Jacquère and Altesse, the main white Savoyard grape varieties. He also took on some Mondeuse — the star red grape of the Savoie — on the steep, red soils of St Jean de la Porte, also home to the vineyards of Domaine de Chevillard and Domaine des Ardoisières.
The holdings have varied between 4.5 hectares and six since he began in 2018 (having lost some leases here and there). Camille, his partner and now wife, joined him at the domaine in 2020, and at the start of 2022 they managed to secure an additional three hectares in Apremont; some rented and some purchased; to bring them to a total of eight. Some of this land is being replanted, as they are particularly excited to explore the indigenous red grapes of the region; Mondeuse, but also the lesser-known and rare Persan, Étraire de la Dui and Hibou Noir (also known as Avanà in Piemonte).
“I’m looking forward to restructuring the domaine and planting lots of grape varieties. We don’t have a lot of red, so this will be exciting for the long-term.”
Since inception, they have been working their land adhering to both organics and biodynamics.
“It was evident to me that I wanted to work organically, and I also have my own approach to biodynamics. For me, biodynamics is about disconnecting from day-to-day life, and instead focusing on the earth, and using your senses. It’s about trying to integrate ourselves into the environment and ecosystem, and using our observation more.”
“You learn to cultivate energy — energy in the vineyard, the environment... the grapes. It’s about seeing people in relation to plants, to the ecosystem, to the fauna, and to spread this energy.”
They create ferments, extracts, compost, and use the biodynamic preparations 500 and 501. However, it isn’t about following a certain recipe. Mathieu explains,
“I must admit that we are very experimental. We like to try things, and then observe how they work. Personally, I’m not by the book when it comes to Steiner’s methods. I like the idea and the basis of the philosophy, but for me it’s mainly about your personal point of view. This is about seeing the long-term, and to do so, it’s crucial to experiment and try different methods. So, we use the plants described in the initial biodynamic teachings — like valerian and horsetail — but we are also carrying out experiments with other plants, and comparing our findings and ideas with other winemakers. It’s about sharing, observing and experimenting, rather than doing things according to certain rules.”
“We try to cultivate the earth; to cultivate our microorganisms. This isn’t just about growing grapes. When we work in vineyards, we must cultivate these microorganisms, so that we can have the truest expression of our fruit when we make wine.”
Mathieu explains that by ensuring the soil is alive and at its healthiest state, they can ensure healthier fruit, which means they can intervene less in the wine.
“We try to work with no additions. We will only use sulfites if absolutely necessary; if things don’t go well or if the conditions are particularly difficult; but we never add yeast, for example. I would say it’s my objective to not add sulfites — not because I’m against other people using them, you can have good wines made with sulfites — but just because I see it as essential to my personal vision of making wine. By making wines with no additions, I can see the freest expression of my grapes, and a certain energy in the wines — a purity and a liberty — whereas sulfites control the wine.”
He explains that their farming methods are inherently linked to the vision in the cellar:
“I see biodynamics as a method that helps us to bypass oenological methods and additions. By farming this way, we cultivate energy, and I want to find this energy in the bottle.”
They use a mix of stainless steel and old French barrels, together with some amphorae for experimentation. Most of the white wines are made by directly pressing the grapes, apart from the Avant la Tempête 2020 cuvée, which featured a 15% potion of skin-contact wine. As 2020 was a warmer vintage, they wanted to figure out a way to capture more texture and salinity.
“The terroir for Avant la Tempête is at the heart of the domaine, and it usually gives us something more salty and bitter in character. As 2020 was warmer and rounder, it lacked a little of the salinity, so I thought it could be a good idea to add a skin-contact portion in order to extract a bit more of that minerality, salinity and chalky quality in the grapes.”
For the reds, they do a very gentle maceration period of 10-12 days, with whole bunches. They avoid extracting the fruit as much as possible, so the grapes just create a little juice from their own weight at the bottom of the vat.
“The idea is to have some intracellular fermentation, and to bathe the grapes in their own juice. This method creates a wine that is limited in its extraction, which is what I am looking for. For me, the best quality Mondeuse is when you achieve this silkiness and delicacy, and that’s difficult to achieve in this variety. I look for the floral side instead of the dark side, and this method helps us to achieve that.”
When tasting their wines, it’s clear that Camille and Mathieu are already achieving their dreams; these are beautifully transparent and elegant wines that speak of their place. When we ask Mathieu what he hopes to find in their wines, he says,
“Pleasure! And texture is very important to me. I also always look for balance; something fresh, vibrant and silky. I like to taste the fruity, juicy side of the wine, but also to realise this isn’t just fruit juice; I look for a certain gentleness. And aroma-wise, I look for something energetic, a certain freedom. I am very sensitive to sulfites, so I like to sense things other than sulfites. When I smell and taste a white wine which is free, which is pure, it makes me happy. That’s the idea.”
We nod and smile. It's not only an idea — it’s already reality. We can’t wait to see what comes next from this talented, dedicated couple.