“The shift to working sustainably was just the first step of not wanting to do things like everyone else. We had an incredible desire to do things differently — for both ourselves and our children.”
Isabelle and Jean-Yves Vantey are two people whose paths just happened to cross at the right time. Picture the scene: It’s 1993 in the hills of Valais, Switzerland. Jean-Yves, from Burgundy, is spending some time there working as a DJ. Isabelle, a Swiss native, is an au pair. It’s snowing outside, the fire is crackling and the raclette is warm…. OK, we digress.
Neither were born into winemaking families, but a shared passion for the good stuff eventually led them to a new life in Burgundy. In 1998, Isabelle and Jean-Yves moved into their new home in the Maranges appellation, and just one year later they acquired a modest one hectare of vines in the lieu-dit of en Buliet. Before they knew it (and truly, they couldn’t quite believe it themselves), they were winemakers.
Harvest at Rouges Queues
Meet Isabelle & Jean-Yves
“We had the vineyard, and we had a cellar to make wine in, but there was absolutely nothing else there. There were no tools, no roof, absolutely nothing at all. With that in mind, we really did start from scratch.”
While renovating, they had some friendly visitors - a species of bird named rouges queues. Thus, it seemed natural to them to name the domaine after them; Domaine des Rouges Queues was born.
Although neither Isabelle nor Jean-Yves were born into the trade, Jean-Yves had decided to pursue winemaking at the Beaune winemaking school simply because he had loved the idea. After their move to Burgundy, Jean-Yves got a job at another winery, using the knowledge gathered there to farm their own modest parcel and to make wine from it.
They worked like most people did then (and how many still do) - with herbicides and pesticides. But, by 2002, they decided they couldn’t carry on that way. With two small children and a desire to work with the land, Isabelle and Jean-Yves began to question things.
“Jean-Yves was working in a conventional winery, and so he did a lot of work by tractor. We have two really young children, and when he would come back home in the evening after having spent the day in the vineyard, the chemical smell of the sprays would linger everywhere in the house. What’s more, we were afraid that the smell was just the tip of the iceberg. There was no way it could continue; so we began looking for something that would seem clean and logical instead."
In Maranges, to say they were somewhat isolated in their thinking would be an understatement, but they had crossed paths with Dominique Derain in St-Aubin, who would become a friend and mentor of sorts. He had founded a biodynamic study group which they joined, and immediately they felt at ease with these practices.
Wanting to teach their children that there was a cleaner and more gentle way of working their land – and above all else, remove the smell from their home – the Vanteys embarked on this new biodynamic way of working. It became a way to connect with the land on a more personal level.
“We would go more often to visit the vines – not necessarily to work, but just to go and spend time with them, and to do something for them. And for ourselves too! It really did us a world of good; for our own health as well as that of the vines.”
Give yourself to nature and it will give back. A relationship of true mutual benefit.
Maranges, the youngest appellation of Burgundy (having been granted status in 1989) is situated at the very southern edge of the Côte-de-Beaune and the Chalonnais. It’s very much tucked-away and rather isolated in comparison to the main highway of Chassagne-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault, etc. Here, there are hairpin roads, steep hillsides and tiny bridges. It is the definition of bucolic. There are more trees here, and everything is a little wilder; it’s less of a monoculture than its neighbouring appellations.
Isabelle and Jean-Yves’ vineyards are spread across a total of 5.46 hectares, spanning fifteen plots of twelve appellations in the area, including the Maranges premiers crus La Fussiere and en Buliet, Maranges blanc, and bourgogne Chardonnay and Pinot. Geographically, each of the Rouges Queues parcels differ a little, but everything is composed of the famed Burgundian Jurassic clay/limestone. Isabelle explains that the terroir here tends to be more layered; like a millefeuille cake; which gives something a little edgier or rustic to the wine.
They are proud caretakers of some very old vines; their original parcel of Maranges en Buliet was planted in 1934, one of their Hautes-Côtes Chardonnay parcels in 1961, and their Aligote in 1972. Soil work is very gentle to disturb the microbial life as little as possible; weeding is done by hand, and in springtime their premiers crus and villages wines are worked with a plough horse instead of a tractor, to compact the soil as little as possible. The horse belongs to a friend of theirs; since their first encounter with Derain & co, they have grown a community of like-minded winemakers and farmers. It has become a form of support network:
“What we particularly like about working in the biodynamic way is the exchanges with the other winemakers, and knowing that we were supported by them.”
During harvest time, they welcome friends from near and far; they have a harvest team of twelve pickers and two ‘porteurs’ (the duo who empties everybody’s buckets). Every morning they break for the typical casse croute of pastries, cheese, saucisson, coffee, and of course - wine.
“Harvest is always such a special time for us - even if it’s difficult and long like it was last year  - where it lasted double the amount of time as we avoided picking when it was too hot. All of the energy from picking the grapes and carrying the buckets translates via into the wine. And when we prune in the winter, we’re sure we can still feel that energy amongst the vines.”
Winemaking has always been hands-off; although this wasn’t necessarily on purpose; it was simply due to a lack of time. Isabelle explains,
“We’ve always done it the simplest way possible, without intervention. As Jean-Yves was away working, we’d leave the wines to themselves. In doing so, we realised that the terroir of Maranges tends to produce wines which have quite a tannic structure; wines that shouldn’t be extracted or moved around too much. So, we continued in the same way.”
Everything ferments naturally. The Pinots and the Gamay are foot-stomped to release some juice, after which they are macerated for ten to fifteen days with between 50% - 100% whole bunches, depending on the vintage.
“In cooler years we might destem a bit more, but in warmer years, like 2018, which was very complicated, we feel that the stems help to give freshness.”
Pumpovers are carried out only when necessary to keep the ferment healthy, and to ensure minimal extraction. Everything is aged in old wooden Burgundy barrels (apart from the Aligote which is aged in tank to preserve freshness) and sulphites are only added before bottling.
The final thing that we mention to Isabelle (we were never going to let this slip) is the page on the Domaine des Rouges Queues site titled 'music'. Isabelle tells us that it's been a while since they updated the page, but there you'll find a soundtrack, of sorts, for their wines.
It's a given that music is important for the two (Jean-Yves started out as a DJ, after all) but there's something about their interest in the intersection between wine and music that we can't get enough of.
As for the future? More time spent amongst the vines, with the vines. And some more music too, we hope.