A small contingent of Wines Direct ragamuffins gallivanted off to the Loire Valley to catch up with some of our winemakers in the area. One stop at the King of Pet Nat's cellar left our team flabbergasted. In all the right ways. Here's how they got on!
If the visit with Lise and Bertrand Jousset
were live telly rather than written, the beep machine would be hard at it! They are vociferous and unambiguous about the issues they have with the regulation-bound world of French wine, leading to their decision to leave the A.O.C altogether this year. "F- you, you won't have our money any more!". Lise has had enough of paying to be part of the Montlouis sur Loire appellation every year, only to be told that their wines are not typical of the style, therefore can't be called Montlouis. She's mad as hell! The massive corporations who get twice the yield per hectare as they do, who manipulate their wine to fit the required taste profile, and who have time to go to the Appellation Controllée meetings as they don't work in their vineyards, call the shots. So, they've had enough. They would prefer to give their money to their staff than to the A.O.C. so their wines will now all be labelled 'Vin de France
20 years ago, according to Bertrand, France wasn't ready for 'Vin de France', as in, Vin de France which was excellent, quirky, and naturally made, not cheap, generic table wine. Now, the big cities like New York, Paris and London have embraced this wine revolution, as have many wine bars and restaurants around Ireland. Walking around the cellar with Bertrand Jousset is head-melting. He talks at 100 miles an hour and they have multiple things going on, all of which are particular to their own style of wine, or a new idea which Lise wants to try. While naturally fermented Pet-Nat
is one of their signature wines, they are endlessly curious.
Solera style 'Rancio' which makes a sherry style wine is aging in a little pot-bellied glass tank. Up a ladder which I was too scared to climb, another small tank of Chenin Blanc
was slowly morphing into a Madeira-like wine, using late-harvested grapes. The harvest this year was fantastic both in terms of quantity and quality -'historic' according to Lise- so every corner of the cellar and yard has something on the go.
Fermentation is generally in barrels, some new, most old. This can take up to a year as they use only natural yeast. The barrel fermentation is not for flavour, but because they want to ferment slowly in smaller containers. After fermentation, the wine matures for a year, maybe two, in tanks. How long is up to the Joussets. At the moment, all the wine we tasted from the tank has no added SO2, but Bertrand will see if a small amount is needed. He doesn't follow a dogma about 'no added sulphites', if he needs to add some, he will. He is known by lovers of their wine as 'The King of Pet-Nat'. He isn't a fan of the term 'natural wine' as he feels it has been hijacked, and prefers 'Vin Libre' - wine which is free from restrictions.
Back in the day, when Bertrand and Lise wanted to make Pet-Nat
using only natural yeast, people thought they were mad. They now have a loyal and ever-growing following, but nothing they do is to please the market or follow any trend. They are very proud of their terroir in Montlouis sur Loire and the reason they refuse to manipulate their wine to fit the AOC guidelines is because they want to respect their Domaine and its particular characteristics. Lise has spoken to like-minded producers in the area about forming an alternative association of vine growers and winemakers who farm and make wine with this same respect, but says it's still too much of a jump for people to lose the comfort blanket, and indeed tradition, of the Appellation. They have jumped, and I feel sure they will soon have a very interesting wine troupe jumping after them.