Jeremy Quastana is a young vigneron who has set up his small artisan winery in the Loire two years ago only. When you taste the wines of his 2nd vintage it's hard to believe that he just started making wine, these wines are just delicious. The first time I had the opportunity to taste them was at the open-doors tasting event held earlier this spring at Olivier Lemasson's Les Vins Contés. Here was a new guy coming out of the blue with wines of a surprising quality
Jeremy had initially enrolled in Historical Studies in a French university and he just happened to work occasionally for Olivier Lemasson whose farm is a handful of kilometers away in this corner of Sologne in the Loire. Don't ever venture into giving a hand to an artisan vintner when you're supposed to pursue a doctorate degree in History, there's a good chance you'll never graduate or become a history professor... I suspect that Olivier Lemasson diverts promising sophomores from Academia's lecture halls by just pouring them a few glasses of his wines when the joyous crowd of pickers have their lunch or dinner together. I guess that when it's time to go back to the University benches after living through such a harvest season, you feel like you're leaving the real life for a disembodied world of virtual achievements. Jeremy Quastana worked with Olivier Lemasson on several occasions, sometimes several weeks in a row, learning in the way the hand picking, the chai & cellar jobs and the winemaking.
Fresnes is a small village in the Sologne in the Loire, in an area on the edge of Touraine, at mid-distance between Blois along the Loire river, and Saint-Aignan along the Cher.
His first harvest experiences with Olivier Lemasson were in 2004, 8 years ago, and as said above this led him to abandon his university studies. He then went to Bordeaux to get a BTS viti-oeno degree at the wine school. For his traineeship he asked to work with Marcel Lapierre in Beaujolais and he stayed 12 weeks there, the ideal training he could dream of for the non-interventionist wines he planned to make. Among these 12 weeks there were 6 weeks devoted to the vinification at the chai during harvest time and this was a very rich experience. After this traineeship and graduating from the Bordeaux wine school, he came back here, in june or something like that, and the following october (2008) right after working for the harvest of Olivier Lemasson, he took over 2 hectares of vineyards and began to work on them. These parcels had been abandonned for a year and before that they were farmed conventionally (chemically), so the resting year was fine for them, and since then he farmed them organicly. This surface was split betweem 70 ares of young Gamay, 60 ares of old Gamay (50 years) and 60 ares of 40-year-old Côt. He'd like to find other varieties and parcels but varieties that he'd like to work with, like Pineau d'Aunis or Grolleau, but that's not easy to find now, and he hasn't the financial means to plant and wait years before getting the grapes..
There was nothing to make wine in this barn or in any of the other side-buildings of this farm (you often find rusting winemaking tools and containers when you purchase old farms in France), and Jeremy Quastana had to find everything he needed, which is not that difficult on the second-hand market. The press (which is not pneumatic) was given to him by Olivier Lemasson, he had only to fix the motor and it was running again. It's an old-style wooden-cage press but for his surface it's perfect. The pressure gauges don't work anymore but anyway he prefers to loose a bit of juice and he stops pressing very early in the process so that he gets the best quality of juice. He tastes the press juice continuously during the pressing to tell when it's time to stop. He bought the big red metal vat for almost nothing, it was at the liquidation sale of a bankrupt winery.
On harvest day, the grapes arrive here in boxes and are poured whole-clustered by hand into this 52-hectoliter red metal tank on the left behind the horizontal press. The square opening on the top is large enough for that. After that, they saturate the inside with CO2. In 2011 they didn't punch the cap for the Gamay and the Côt as well, while they did more extraction in 2010. In 2011 he didn't feel there was a need for such pigeage and they let the maceration unfold quietly for 3 weeks. The fermentation temperature doesn't spike over 22 ° C. In case he needs to cool down some juice, he has a round milk tank (Alfa Laval) on the side (similar to this one), this type of vat is also used by vintners in France when their other vats are not equiped with temperature control.
Speaking of the winemaking, Jeremy makes a direct press from the young Gamay vines to make the rosé. Then the old Gamay get their carbonic maceration, and last year he took off some free-run juice after 4 or 5 days of maceration to blend it with the direct-press juice of the young Gamy, this way he could bring a bit of color in his rosé. The carbonic maceration keeps going until it reaches a density of 1040, after which he racks the whole vat, he presses and will rack the juice into the casks when it reaches 1115, not before because he prefers the fermentation to run full blown first. Last year the fermentations unfolded perfectly, without volatile or anything but the previous year which was also his first vintage, the fermentations didn't want to continue at one point. He doesn't know what was the cause, whether it came from the fact that the vineyards were still impacted by their former conventional farming for example.
He uses old casks even if they look rather new, he bought them second hand in Burgundy from the Damy cooperage, they are from 2004 but they were renovated inside-and-outside by the cooperage which recovers them from different vintners/clients (he paid 50 € apiece only). They behave perfectly from his own experience, he had no aroma problem whatsoever. Speaking of the élevage time, he hasn't fixed rules, it was 6 months last year, same for the 1st vintage but he may adapt it depending of the wine, including for longer cask time.
There is no sulfur addition on the incoming grapes and the fermentation begins by itself on wild yeasts, there is no chaptalization and no acidification either. Speaking of SO2, on his 1st vintage he just added 1 gram per hectoliter at bottling, and last year he added no SO2 at all. The bottling was made under nitrogen which offers the best guarantee. It's a service company which does that, the same people who bottle Olivier Lemasson's wines, plus they love wine and the good work, and they don't charge Jeremy more per bottle in spite of his limited volume and the fact that they spend almost as much time bottling his wines as if it were a larger shipload. Back on the SO2, Jeremy shows me the lab analysis for the Gamay 2011 (he has to collect this data for his exports to Japan) and the lab found a total SO2 of 2 mg per liter (or ppm), that's what we can point as virtually non-existent, and as he didn't add SO2 it may be the tiny amount generated by the fermentation itself or a residue from the sulfur wick in the casks (see the lab results on left). The Côt and the sparkling had 5 mg total SO2 left, and this was last february...
Beyond this particular analysis, Jeremy checks regularly his wines through lab analysis, each wine going through 10 of them during its entire vinification and élevage time. The good side of his studies in the wine school is that he learnt to interpret these results and make himself some of these checks. On his first vintage with his troublesome fermentations he could thanks to these lab checks decide to fine in order to bring down the lactic bacteria which were appearing. He says the aromatic consequences of such a fining are toned down if you don't bottle right after it and leave the wine in the casks for another 6 months.
Jeremy makes three cuvées in all, the sparkling rosé, the Gamay and the Côt. The Côt is alas sold out. I had tasted it at the open doors last spring, and I understand why it has dried out, it was such a nice wine, and it was incredibly low in alcohol : 10,5 °.
He decided to label his wines as table wines and not try to get the appellation approval (his wines could apply to the Tourraine label). His choice was motivated by the problems encountered by Olivier Lemasson and other same-minded artisan vignerons with the Appellation commissions and the understanding that knowledgeable consumers buy what's in the bottle, not an Appellation status. Plus, by choosing the table-wine labelling, he has no obligations or account to give to the appellation adminidstration about this or that, he feels more free. Same for the organic-farming charts or labelling, he says it's a matter of trust between himself and the consumer, he doesn't need the certification on the label. He considers that he and the people he learnt from work well and without chemical tricks and they have nothing to prove.
__ Jeremy Quastana L'Insurgé 2011, 100 % Gamay from 50-year-old vines (pic on right). That's a very nice wine, with a nose that makes you salivate and a voluptuous mouth with fruit, a beautiful job indeed. No extraction here, it's light fresh and goes down so easily. Excellent drinkability, the new word in French being torchabilité. 12 ° in alcohol. At 8 € public price (tax included), that's a very good value. Don't pass this one if you see one on the shelves. Jeremy says that he loves these 50-year-old vines because from 2010 where he had made more extraction (he vinified in wood at Olivier Lemasson for the 1st vintage) to this 2011 where he vinified differently without extraction and in an enamelled vat, he still finds in both vintages the same frame and nose, which proves that the terroir is very strong on this vineyard. The soil is sandy with flintstones too.
__ Jeremy Quastana, sparkling rosé 2011. The color is darker in 2011 than in 2010. A bit closed on the nose, in the mouth it's light without the tannins that you might expect with the darker color brought by the fre-run juice of the old Gamay. Last year the sparkling was lighter in color because while having also added darker free-ru juice, he had made a one-day maceration when in 2011 it lasted almost 5 days. These tries help him tune the wine from year to year.
When in the cellar, I spotted a picture on the wall featuring a group of pickers, they were quite a bunch, Jeremy says that there were more than 50 of them in 2011. Harvest here is a family & friends event where everyone participate in a joyous mood, starting with picking 3 hours in the morning, then lunch and in the evening an apéritif with barbecue and lots of good wine. In 2011 the harvest took place in the beginning of september. This year in 2012 it should be much later, they don't know exactly yet but it could be around september 20 to 25.
His vineyards are not certified but he farms them organicly. The year has been harsh with frost and lots of rain and mildew. He stopped spraying 15 days ago because it will not be of any use and he prefers to let the remaining grapes mature quietly. The frost alone killed off 60 % of the grape load and then over that you have the mildew so the harvest will have to proceed in two pickings and the overall yields will be very small. Jeremy Quastana doesn't seem devastated, he says that this brings you back to the reality in which mother Nature decides. Besides this, he still works on the side for Olivier Lemasson, which gives him some side earnings in addition to hiw own sales. I ask about Kevin and Jean at Lemasson's, if Jean is still living in the Yurt like a nomad, he says yes. Great lifestyle...
We then walk among the 40-year-old Côt. The leaves are rounder compared to the Gamay, without the fingers effect of the open palm that most vine leaves have. He says that these grapes are quite a disaster when he thinks to how they looked on the rather normal vintage of 2011. On the other hand, we walked on the conventional vineyard bordering his block and they still get damages on their grapes even though they sprayed with systemic chemicals. The overall impression was better in terms of damaged/redish leaves, but the clusters seemed to have sustained damages. The growers around in the region say that they never experienced such a disastrous year with first the frost (Last march's frost was a record-breaking frost all over France) then these endless rains in summer. It's the type of once-in-a-century disaster. Now, Jeremy thinks that nice wines can be made from these grapes if the latter season stays good, but there will be a lot of work in terms of sorting and very low volumes of wines at the end.
Jeremy's' wines are sold out for 2011, you'll have to be patient or rely on what you find with the importers or in selected shops and wine bars in Paris :
Le Verre Volé, Ô Divin, A la Renaissance, Crus et Découvertes, la Cave des Papilles, Tandem, Versant Vins.