France Gonzalvez is a young vigneronne who set up her winery in 2008 with half an hectare and gradually grew to 5 hectares today. Her training with Xavier Benier gave her the will to make wines with passion. Since her first vintage she's been moving her facility, at the beginning working under the roof of other winegrowers, then after going through several places she found this available facility for rent, it was neat and well designed if not new, and that's where she makes her wines today. France is also the mother of two young children and as she has been increasing the vineyard surface of the winery, her husband decided to quit his job and join her.
I first met France Gonzalvez coincidently as she was pouring a glass to Mathieu Lapierre in a wine-tasting event in Paris last november (les Beaux Macs) devoted to the wines of the Maconnais and the Beaujolais. I had just arrived in the Salle des Miroirs where this tasting was taking place, I didn't know where to begin (a big challenge when you walk in every tasting event), and falling incidently on a scene with Mathieu Lapierre holding his glass for some of France's wine was just the clue that I needed to stop at a stand...
I was struck by the energy of this frail young woman who was beginning the arduous life of winegrower all the while raising two children and without finacial backings.
France Gonzalvez lives with her husband Olivier and two young children in Le Paragard, a small hamlet above Blacé, on slopes where you find vineyards and also a few horses (and crosses). She rents her current facility in Blacé (the large wooden door on the right).
As soon as I walked in, I smelled the unmistakable CO2 (although it's said to be odorless, I think that I recognized its smell) coming out of the vats. The facility is well designed if quite old, the large wooded door is an easy access for the harvest load and the two rows of cement vats, right and left, leave a convenient room in the middle for the press or other winery tools. In short, a small facility but well designed and well adapted to France's vineyard surface.
I watched as France climbed onto a narrow passageway, I crossed my fingers, gathered my memories of climbing without railing and followed her as she looked over the maceration vat, raising the heavy metal lid to prepare the devatting and ease the CO2 draining.
There has been no pressing or foot stomping here, this juice came out of the whole-clustered grapes by itself, because of the weight squeezing the grapes in the bottom of the vat.
We watch as the juice flow slows, soon there will be only the clusters left in the vat and France is going to fork them out.
You can see on the vat's sides the initial level of the grapes, before it gradually dwindled due to their own weight.
You may have noticed that the inside of this cement vat is lined with metal, actually, it was a vat used by the previous owner/tenant to heat the juice, a practice that has been widely used in the Beaujolais to easily extract, give color and use lab yeast more easily. I had heard about this vinification trick but learnt through Mathieu LMapierre that it became mainstream in the early 2000s' yielding the same wines in all terroirs. Remember that the heating is somewhere between 50 ° C and 90 ° C (122 ° F to 194 ° F), I shiver at the thought of the result (but cool down, the consumer never knows about it...).
Of course, France doesn't heat any of her juices as her vinification philosophy is mostly un-interventionist.
France says that these Côtes-de-Brouilly grapes are purchased grapes from an equivalent of 35 ares, as she also set up a small négoce, and her whites are also made with purchased grapes (from a surface of 0,5 hectare). And France and Olivier also make wine from several rented making a total surface of 5 hectares and taking care of all the farming there. They chose to also buy grapes in order to add other terroirs in their wine range.
France says that this Côtes-de-Brouilly vineyard is something lmike 45 years old.
They bought this horizontal Vaslin press last year, and almost for nothing, she says. There are lots of opportunities in the region to find second-hand tools and vats because lots of winegrowers stop their business, either to retire or because the bulk price is too low for the type of wine they make. There has been a crisis in the Beaujolais Villages area and the generic Beaujolais and many wineries went out of business. Beaujolais is thus a good place to start a winery with little financial investments.
The press is traditional (non-pneumatic) and they use it on the non-automatic mode.
For her first vintage in 2008 she made her wines in the facility of Jean-Claude Lapalu, having no place of her own to work. Her vineyard surface then was 0,5 hectare. For the 2nd vintage, she made her wine on the other side of the street where she lives, as a vigneron had just stopped making wine there. She vinified her 3rd vintage in another facility that they rented in Saint-Etienne La Varenne, and it's only last year that they found this nice place here.
This facility had been unused for 5 or 6 years and his owner decided to rent it but only for winemaking use.
From 2008 to 2010 she kept a day job elsewhere to make ends meet while working on a vineyard surface that reached 2 hectares in total. Her winemaking was natural from the start, having emulated from practicing teachers like Benier and Lapalu, and she likes it this way. Oddly, it's only in the wine school that she was confronted to "modern" winemaking and its technological tricks.
Now France and Olivier manage a surface of 5 hectares, and they still can do it all by themselves.
Asked about how easy or uneasy the sale of her wines was at the beginning, France says that what she heard about the region's woes, like lots of stock and unsold wines, she was a bit anxious and that's one of the reasons she grew her vineyard surface little by little, following the demand for her wines. She sells now in a string of wine bars or restaurants in Paris, which in turn opened the export markets to her, many foreign buyers using Paris as a tasting place to sample the natural wines available in the wine bars and cavistes. France and Olivier make a bit less than 20 000 bottles a year.
You can find her wines in a couple of wine shops in Paris, Mi-Fugue Mi-Raisin, Crus et Découvertes and Les Caves du Panthéon.
She sells 50 % of her wine outside France, to the United States (Thomas Calder), Canada (Marc Frandon of Primavin), Japan (Mr Ito, Oeno Conexion) and a bit to Belgium and Holland (Bolomey Wijn Import).
Meanwhile, France filled a test tube with juice to check the alcohol level at this stage. She also checked it the traditional way, by drinking some of it, an excercise where you need experience and gustatory skills to really understand the particular qualities of the juice and foresee the future expression of the wine.
I asked France about this vintage, beginning with the harvest that started later than usual. She said that the picking took place 15 days to 3 weeks later than last year, but otherwise she and Olivier are quite happy with the result. They thought they'd have less grapes than what they actually picked, there was some sorting in the vineyard but not that much. Also, they had some hailstorm damage on a couple of parcels but as the damage came early the grapes could recover and dry correctly. They still had problems, they had some shatter (coulure) and shot berries (millerandage), the flowering having not unfolded correctly, and this translated into lower juice volume. Otherwise the late season like september was quite nice and sunny. The yields this year are maybe 20 to 25 hectoliters/hectares for their vineyards, on average. The parcels are spread over 4 villages, Blacé, Sain-Etienne-des Ouillères, Saint-Etienne-la-Varenne and Le Perreon. About the wine from Le Perreon, she says that she stopped asking for the AOC label after the wine was rebuffed at the agreement, so now the wine is labelled under the table-wine status, but Vin de France (which is the table-wine name now) also sounds like Vin de France [gonzalvez], as France is her first name. She says that although she's happy when she getqs the AOC, wine is first about what is in the bottle, and she sells her table wines as easily as the AOC one.
I also taste what will become her cuvée Le Perreon and also her Beaujolais Nouveau (Primeur), there's still sugar in here, it's an enjoyment of velvety silkiness, but there's already about 8 % in alcohol, she says. I ask here how many bottles of Nouveau she makes, she says not much, maybe 3000 bottles. The wholesale price for her Beaujolais Nouveau is 4,2 € without tax, and you'll pay a bottle in Paris 9 €.
I also taste the juice from her cuvée Point G. Very nice with a nice tannic grip on the sides of the mouth, but France says that it may rather be the acidity that gives this tannic feel. Part of this wine may spend time on old barrels.
France now plunges the gravity hydrometer into a sample of her white, which is still fermenting and has slowed its fermentation because of the colder temperature, she says. Nice almost dark color. They make white (Chardonnay) or Beaujolais Blanc since 2011, a volume of 25 hectoliters or 3000 bottles. I taste the white juice, gorgeously pleasant.
__ L'escapade 2012. Sold out now. Malolactic is completed, I feel like a bit of residual sugar but there's none, it's just the richness and the type of aromas that carry this impression.
Notice the humorous "Vin de ...France" on the lower part of the label, a small provocation as the wine actually got its AOC Beaujolais label (which is also printed at the bottom), but her first name being France and having no negative opinion on table wines, France added this line, which you actually see better than the AOC one (which is in smaller print). The joke mirrors the ones of Olivier Cousin who was targeted by the appellation administration for doing the opposite : displaying AOC-related informations not authorized on a table wine. France and Olivier were indeed raided by the wine administration (we know that their sense of humor is limited) when they first added this line on one of their AOC labels. The administration would have had a hard time prosecuting them for displaying Vin de France on a higher-status bottle (AOC) anyway as there was no deceit to make people believe it was a "higher" appellation, so the DGCCRF (the acronym for the wine police) "let them go" based (they said) on the fact that the three dots between Vin de and made a difference as long as her first name is France.
My opinion is that after the uproar created by the Olivier Cousin affair, the French wine administrations prefer to avoid another blunder that would further damage their image.
__ Ceuillette 2012, labelled as table wine since 2009 when she got rebuked from getting the AOC status. She decided not to ask the AOC for this cuvée in the following years and she bottles it as table wine instead. Vinified in cement vats.
The vineyards for this wine are located in Saint-Etienne la Varenne and Saint Etienne des Ouillères (2500 vines only on this latter terroir), both being sandy terroirs.
I like the fruit on this gamay, but France says that it usually tastes better than this day. At this point a visitor walks in, this is Remi Dufaitre, a friend of theirs who is making wine in the area (pictures a few pics above speaking with France). I actually met him briefly and tasted his wines at the same tasting where I met France 10 months ago in Paris (scroll down to 3rd picture).
__ .G 2012 (G Spot in French, for gamay and also maybe because it's made by a woman). "Appellation Beaujolais Villages" in small print at the bottom of the label, with Vin de ...France displayed in larger print.
Made from vineyards at an altitude of 500 meters on the upper slopes of Blacé, on a granite terroir.
the nose is more expressive here, nice fruit. The mouth is very nice and generous, more complexity and depth here, obviously the upper cuvée.
Picture on left : strange harvest pickup truck parked along the facility in the street. I noticed that the Beaujolais has lots of such strange vineyard vehicules of different makes and sizes.