"I don’t want to wait 10 or 15 years to drink a wine. That’s not my personal philosophy.”
Julien grew up in the Savoie, which aside from its famous ski resorts, is also a key agricultural region of France. Although he didn’t inherit any family vineyards, early on in his life he became smitten with the idea of making wine, and was fortunate to find some vineyards in the village of Cruet.
It’s not only breathtakingly beautiful; the area is also recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Indeed, his village dates back to the 14th century. With this in mind, combined with his personal gardening hobby, he decided from the get-go that he would work organically. His wines taste every bit as pure as the scenic mountains they come from.
“I grew up with lots of vineyards surrounding me, but my family weren’t in wine and there were no family vineyards. But wine became a passion of mine, so I began my wine studies.”
Julien grew up surrounded by vineyards. Being in an agricultural region and as a nature lover, he decided to study agriculture. He soon became interested in wine and viticulture, pursuing wine studies in the Beaujolais wine region from 2011 – 2013, and then in Montpellier in 2014. In 2014, when he was just 20 years old, he had the opportunity to take on a one-hectare vineyard.
“I found my first vineyard the same year I finished school. It all happened very quickly.”
From the beginning, he decided to work organically.
“I have a garden at home, and I’ve always been a keen gardener. I like to grow things; that’s what I’m passionate about. I always did my gardening without chemicals, so it made sense that I would farm my vineyards organically, too. I didn’t see any other path to take; it was a simple decision. Organics was the only way for me.”
His love for cultivation saw him decide to pursue another career path in tandem with viticulture; in 2020, he began organically cultivating corn, wheat, buckwheat and sunflowers across 50 hectares. The family who had passed their vineyards onto Julien had also retired from working these fields, so he took over their work.
“It’s an interesting, different world of plants. With vines, of course they’re perennials, but with grains, you can decide what to plant each year. I’d like to work with my own seeds; to have the freedom to choose what to plant. With corn or grains you can change what you plant every year; it’s an exciting and very different type of work.”
He sells the produce he grows to local millers. From there, it is distributed further, and the final bread and oil are then sold as artisan organic regional products. He makes some of his own bread from the wheat, but just for fun.
It’s an impressive and inspiring amount of work to have on his plate; and it’s crucial for French agriculture; a field of work which continues to struggle to find young people interested in the sector.
Julien’s vineyards are spread across several small plots; like in Burgundy, this is common in the Savoie, as the vineyards have been dispersed throughout the years. After his first hectare, he began looking for other plots, and now has five hectares not just in Cruet, but also St. Jean de la Porte and Arbin
They are planted on limestone, clay and marl soils, to the varieties Mondeuse, Pinot Noir and Gamay for the reds, and Altesse (also known as Roussette de Savoie), Jacquère, Chardonnay and Malvasia for the whites.
For him, organics isn’t just a matter of eschewing chemicals. He’s also dedicated to figuring out how best to bring organic matter to the soil. He explains,
“At first, I left the natural cover crop in the vineyard. But I’ve realised it’s not always ideal for viticulture… As human beings we can interfere and help the vineyard to be healthier by sowing seeds to grow beneficial plants. So, I began with choosing some certain local plants to focus on. The goal is to bring a lot of organic matter to the soil. Many of the plants that appear spontaneously don’t fulfil that role. Rather, plants like clover (and why not sunflowers?) provide more mass – and so more organic matter – to the soil. That will then nourish the vines for many years.”
Julien worked at a local domaine in the Savoie, and then at the organic Château de Marrans in Beaujolais, where he was introduced to a more natural style of winemaking. He says,
“For me, wine began as a passion – I made some microvinifications to learn more, and just because I loved the process of turning fruit juice into wine.”
Then, partly through tasting with other winemakers and listening to their methods, and from carrying out his own trials, he’s developed several cuvées over the years. He muses,
“You learn a lot just by doing, and so every year the wines get better and better. You get to know your vineyards and your cellar more with every year that goes by. Everything becomes a little more familiar, and that helps you to learn.”
His focus has always been to let the fruit speak for itself, and to bring out the best possible version of that fruit. To do this, he lets the juice ferment naturally, and works only with old wooden barrels, fibreglass and stainless steel; meaning he doesn’t introduce any flavours from new oak. He also keeps sulphites to a minimum – only adding a touch before bottling; none during fermentation or ageing. His white wines are direct-pressed and made with as little intervention as possible, to let the variety and terroir shine through. He also makes a traditional method sparkling wine from Jacquère, and doesn’t add additional sugar for ‘dosage;’ again to allow the fruit to speak for itself. This is winemaking, without the make-up.
For his red wines, he uses whole cluster fermentation, as he likes the freshness this brings to the wines. As well as varietal examples of Mondeuse (from the renowned St Jean de La Porte village), and his Gamay ‘Montassoulaz,’ he also creates a blend of Mondeuse, Pinot Noir and Gamay, called Paradoxysme. He explains,
“In this area, there used to be a lot of blends, but that’s less common these days; many people focus on varietal Gamay and Mondeuse. But I thought, let’s blend Gamay and Pinot Noir with Mondeuse, as I have so many different expressions across different vineyards. Why not try to see what that creates?”
At first, he attempted to do this via co-maceration (harvesting and fermenting all the varieties together at once), but he wasn’t content. They ripen at different times, so he didn’t feel the fruit was in harmony. Now, he ferments them separately, blending them after each component has aged, right before bottling. Each variety is fermented whole cluster for around 20 days, with very gentle extraction – just one pumpover a day (the process of bringing the juice from the bottom of the vat to the top).
“The gentle extraction means the wine doesn’t have much colour, but I don’t care about that. What’s most important to me is the fruit and the aromatic profile of the wine. By fermenting the wine at the natural temperature of the cool cellars, you end up with this lovely fruitiness. That’s what I’m looking for; I’m always focusing on the fruit.”
To ensure that Paradoxysme is as fruity as possible, he’s chosen a blending proportion of 45% Pinot Noir, 45% Gamay and 10% Mondeuse.
“Mondeuse can be very powerful and dense, whereas Pinot Noir and Gamay are lighter and fruitier, so this proportion gives a nice balance.”
We ask whether the Mondeuse is a little like adding salt and pepper to a dish; not the main ingredient but adding a touch of seasoning which elevates the dish. Julien nods, “that’s exactly it.”
There’s a beautiful simplicity that runs through all of his wines; a cleanness and brightness; unadulterated fruit. We tell him this and he thanks us, saying,
“In my wines, and all wines for that matter, I’m always looking for the ‘nose’ of the wine—something open and ready-to-drink. I’m always looking for fruitiness, but the lighter side of fruit—not something jammy or confected. I’m also not a fan of wines that are closed; I don’t want to wait 10 or 15 years to drink a wine. That’s not my personal philosophy for wine.”
Julien has succeeded in his mission of creating approachable, youthful wines. These are friendly wines; impossible not to like. They’re like your oldest friends who you instantly feel comfortable with; wines that spark chatter and wines that are utterly unpretentious.