Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rebel With a Cause

As we travel around Languedoc, talking about the wines, one name comes up repeatedly: Mas Jullien. Mas Jullien is on my list of wineries to visit, and today’s the day…I hope! Twice we’ve been by the estate, both times closed. Third time lucky? Yes!

The owner of Mas Jullien is Olivier Jullien, and he’s a revolutionary in Languedoc wine. The history of wine-growing in Languedoc is quantity over quality. Grape-growers turned over their massive harvests to wine co-operatives, which made oceans of vin de table, very ordinary wines. In the 1980s, consumer tastes changed and demand for these plonky wines fell. Many growers got out of viticulture but Olivier Jullien, who graduated in oenology in 1985, thought that the land where he grew up was capable of producing great wines. He set out to turn the history of Languedoc on its head by emphasising quality over quantity. Olivier Jullien took over some vineyards, withdrew from the local cooperative, and set out to make wine under his own name: Mas Jullien.

It’s a testament to the respect for the wines of Mas Jullien that, of their 6 wines, only 2 are still available for tasting. All the others have sold out or are not yet bottled. Fortunately, we’ve already had a couple of bottles – Rouge 2001 and Blanc 2007 – with dinner (at Bras and Prouhèze); both were delicious. The tasting room is low-key; another sign that wine tourism is neither cultivated nor, for Mas Jullien, needed. Olivier Jullien’s aunt meets us. We talk about Biodynamic methods. Mas Jullien is enthusiastic about Biodynamics and they’re convinced that their wines are better for using them. They don’t pursue an official “bio” certification. Given Olivier’s history of rebellion against the status quo, he won’t kowtow to some outside authority.  At Mas Jullien, their enthusiasm for the 2009 harvest echoes what I've been hearing from vintners elsewhere in Languedoc:  it will be stellar! 

Les États D’Âme 2007 is mostly Grenache. Aromas of black cherry and raspberry, dried herbs, leather, and liquorice. Full bodied with a smooth tannic backbone. Mme Jullien thinks that Grenache from Languedoc is under-appreciated by consumers. With a wine like this, that shouldn’t last long! L’État D’Âme translates as “state of mind” and, with each vintage, there’s a different poem on the label. The state of Olivier Jullien’s mind for 2007?

Chrysalides et papillons

J’ai toujours voulu vivre aves la femme qui est en toi
Je ne l’ai pas rencontrée
J’ai aimé une promesse

My translation:
Pupae and butterflies

I always wanted to live with the woman who is within you
I have not met her
I loved a promise

Mejanne 2006 is a vin liquoreux, mostly Chenin Blanc with Manseng. Floral aromas. Pear, apricot, pineapple and grapey flavours. Not too sweet with good acidity.

We leave with a bottle of L’État D’Âme. Even tasting just two wines, it’s clear that Olivier Jullien deserves all the respect that he’s getting. Definitely worth a visit, but check that they’re open before you go!

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