This is the sort of tasting experience that you hardly forget. We were scheduled to visit Jean and Agnès the following day and we had reserved for the previous night in the Bed & Breakfast that they run in an aisle of the winery. When we checked in, Jean Foillard was tasting wines with a few people in the tasting room on the first floor, we didn't dare to join but he saw us and told us to please, come in and join the party. First, let me explain about what I call the tasting room : it's more like a community room where Jean, Agnès and the workers eat, there's a kitchen attached and a nice brick oven when they can cook things. Around the long wooden table, this evening, were Philippe Valette of Domaine Valette (center, at the end of the table), Jean-Claude Chanudet of Domaine Chamonard (hidden, on the right), a young trainee of Chanudet who worked previously in a wine bar in Nice (also hidden by the glass-holding arm), and two workers working with Jean Foillard (not on the frame). Now, listening to vignerons commenting their wines and exchanging tips about what they do in such or such situations is passionating and I regret not having taken notes of these relaxed conversations even though I think just enjoying the whole thing was enough. It seems to me that these passionate artisan winemakers making natural wines often visit each other, taste their mutual wines and exchange honestly about their experience on winemaking issues or vintage particularities. There's a real fraternal attitude here, no competition or secrecy between them, but emulation and support.
Then at harvest time, the sorting is very important, the grapes must be very healthy, which means that the picker must let down the unripe grapes and the rotten grapes, cutting some grapes off their cluster if necessary so that only the good grapes arrive in the chai. This strict discipline is an absolute necessity when you vinify without SO2.
Another thing that he considers as important is to bring in the chai grape clusters as whole as possible, the grapes must not be damaged or crushed in the handling and transport between the vine and the vats. That's why they pick in small containers with a capacity of 40 kilograms.
So, after several hours of cooling, the boxes of grapes are lifted with a fenwick, and Jean unloads them carefully into either a wooden open vat or one of these cement open vats. He has 11 of these cement vats, each with a 50-hectoliter capacity. Once in the vat, the load is soaked with CO2 and after 2 or 3 days there begins to be some fermentation, which creates CO2, so they stop adding any. Then, they wait, they check the density, and also the mortification of the grapes : As Jean Foillard explains, the Gamay grape is white inside and the color is in the skins, and with the carbonic maceration (after 25 to 30 days), the color of the skin migrates from the skin to the inside, and the pulp becomes red instead of white (translucid). That's what is called the mortification, and from then on, they know that it's time to press the grapes. In parallel to the slow evolution during this carbonic maceration, some grapes burst even though they don't touch the vat, and more juice is massing up in the bottom of the vat, reaching as much as 3/4 of the load height at the end of the process..
As you can see, Jean Foillard's press is a pneumatic one. He had a vertical press for many years, and he used to press each grape load for 24 hours. When the estate grew, he bought this pneumatic press, it's a Schneider, it's dubbed the Rolls Royce of presses [not a good time to say that, with the succession of failing RR aircraft engines...]. It's the 5th year he works with this press, it works very slowly, like 3 or 4 hours for a load, and he considers that it makes a very good job compared with a traditional, vertical one.
After the press, he blends the two juices into the same vat, he cools the juice a bit to slow the fermentation and make wines that are more refined, because he saw that letting the temperature go too high translates into something gross, wines too tannic. Working at lower temperature, the wine gains in subtility. To be precise, the juice flows by gravity into an underground vat (a conquet) where it is cooled before being pumped back the following day into its initial vat (where it can be cooled also if necessary). There, the alcoholic fermentation will follow its course. There's no rule, some yeasts work faster at 11°C than others ar 13°C on certain years, it's very changing with all the known and unknown parameters. They make lots of analysis here and there. With a fellow vigneron, he set up a lab managed by a woman enologist of their friends who can make tests when needed, they have another friend who is micro-biologist and who makes countings of bacteria and yeasts, and otherwise, there's a classical enology laboratory in the next village where they can ask for analysis of their juices and wines.
About the SO2, Jean Foillard wines don't see any SO2 until the racking, when the casks are blended to prepare for bottling. That's the only time he puts some SO2.
At some point, I asked Jean Foillard how exactly he began making wine : he says he began in 1980, worked very conventionally until 1985, when he veered progressively to end up making the work and the wines we can enjoy today. Marcel Lapierre had a triggering influence on him, and they kept working together and exchanging along the years. Speaking of these exchanges, I tell him that I'm always impressed how artisan vignerons doing their best to make real wines gather very often to taste different wines, exchange their experiences, give tips and so on.
My impression is that it's not so widespread among industry-minded vignerons. Probably, as they're working according to well-tested recipes where additives "secure" everything, they don't need this permanent brain storming (tasting & drinking fellow-vignerons' good wines may be the real reason for all these exchanges and meetings...).
__ __ Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py 2008. Beautiful wine, the first that we taste as we join Jean Foillard, Philippe Valette, Jean-Claude Chanudet and others at the long wooden table that evening. Jean says that he puts the wine in the casks at the end of the alcoholic fermentation to avoid having CO2 gas build up.
__ Jean Foillard Fleurie 2008. So good too... More elegant maybe, lighter color. That's indeed a beautiful wine....
__ Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py 2009. A bit cold but after warming the glass in my hands, it's damned so good... Lots of savoury substance, spices notes.
__ Jean Foillard Morgon Corcelette 2009. No notes, but I don't remember a single wine I was lukewarm about.
__ Jean Foillard Fleurie 2009. Fleurie 2009 is more concentrated in the mouth compared with other vintages. Foillard says about the Nouveau and its fixed date in late november : you don't fight against a vat, you fight against time for the primeurs, they'd need one month and a half more to really be ready [when you vinify like the vignerons in the room with indigenous yeasts]. Then, the 3 vignerons speak about the malolactic fermentation, what can be done so that it takes place in time. Jean Foillard says with a laugh that the total production of Morgon is equivalent in volume to ione glass per French citizen. Then, someone asks how much Morgon it would make for every Chinese...
__ Jean Foillard Fleurie 2007. Very happy drink, very beautiful, a treat. This wine is hearty, light, fruity, elegant...
__ Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py 2007. Nose meat sauce or juice. Sold out.
__ Domaine Valette Macon Villages 2003. Philippe has brought his bottles of course as usual when they're visiting each other. On the lychees side with some light sweetness but still fresh. There's a picture to prove it, Jean Foillard drives himself from the Beaujolais region to Paris to deliver his wines to the restaurants and cavistes. Otherwise, the export share is 40 %, maybe 10 % to individual buyers, and the rest is restaurants, cavistes and wine bars. For this self-delivery, he says that he does it very often because he likes to meet the people who drink and like his wines. On some occasions, it's the occassion to meet also lots of consumers and have fun, like next Beaujolais-Nouveau day, when he'll drive to Caves Augé in Paris with a cask and bottle the Nouveau on the sidewalk along with a public tasting... It's during such a "Nouveau bottling" tasting event at Augé several years ago that I shot these few pictures of Marcel Lapierre bottling his wines.
Outside of France, Jean Foillard wines are exported to the United States (Kermit Lynch), Canada (Quebec - Rezin - British Columbia - Racine Wine Imports), Japan (Vinscoeur & Co), Holland (Winjvriend ), Belgium (Basin & Marot), Norway, Denmark (Mia Rudolf), United Kingdom (les Caves de Pyrène), Australia
This visit took place on the 3rd week of october.