Beaujolais is with Anjou (and the Loire at large) the most dynamic French wine region on the artisan-wine scene, and it has probably a lot to do with fact that the few winegrowers who initiated the natural wine culture with the guidance of Jules Chauvet (Breton, Lapierre, Foillard and Metras) were based in this region. This area turned around from a wine region in disarray and emerged as one of the most looked-after for the genuine wine amateurs of the world (those who care more about what's in the botttle than about the prestigious appellations or estates), even though the vast majority of growers remain conventional and didn't really change their viticulture/winemaking practices.
Like in most wine regions, young vignerons keep popping up, people who follow the same hard-work philosophy in the vineyard with minimum intervention in the cellar, and certainly no additives except minimal sulfur (if any). Remi Dufaître is one of them, I met him a couple years ago in a Paris tasting (Les Beaux Macs) and liked particularly one of his wines, L'Air de rien 2011, a carbonic maceration of gamay, devoid of any SO2, an unfiltered wine that was a pleasure to swallow. I heard later several praising comments on his work by people I trust, including by France Gonzalvez (I happened to stumble on Remi at her place when I visited her).
Remi Dufaitre initially worked with growers and wineries here and there and he met his future wife Laurence during a harvest as she had come to take part to the picking (she was an Art student in the south of France then). Then he had a training at the domaine of Jean-Louis Dutraive, his cousin who is also the first domaine of Fleurie (Beaujolais) to turn organic. Then he had the opportunity to take over a domaine in 2003, the Domaine de Botheland on the outskirts of Saint-Etienne-des-Oullières with vineyards that were partly contracted with the local coopérative, so they began to work like that, selling part of their production to the négoce and the rest of the grapes to the coop (a contract tying a coop with a vineyards and signed by a grower/owner has to be implemented until the end of its term, and ties the successive owners if the vineyard changes hands). For the part of the vineyard contracted with ther coop he had to wait 5 years before he could vinify the grapes himself.
His total working surface didn't move since 2011, it makes about 11 hectares, and from that time he has been selling all his production in bottles, but 2012 & 2013 were low-yield years (20 ho/ha). This year (2014) should be a bit over, 30 or 35 ho/ha, still well below the average Beaujolais yield of 52 ho/ha. This year in 2014 he'll make probably from 350 to 450 hectoliters from his 11 hectares.
To do all the vineyard/winery work they're three people, himself, his wife Laurence who also works full time and a worker, plius he hires temporary workers (saisonniers) to do certain vineyard tasks,
His surface is 100 % gamay plus one hectare of chardonnay. He also planted this year (2014) a half-hectare surface with both cinsault and grenache, an experiment he wanted to try. He'll possibly make a light rosé, a thirst wine with 11,5 % alcohol or something like that. Initially he was looking for a Brouilly to do something different and he had resorted to make this try (Jean-Claude Chanudet later found him the right rootstocks and vines for his brouilly, from what I understand).
Asked about the weather in 2014, Remi Dufaitre says that the year began very well with a dry spring and healthy vines with nice plowings, but things turned sour in june and july with lots of rain and cool weather, which didn't do that bad on the future grapes, just that grass was growing too much and they couldn't try to bring the tractor because the ground was too wet and damp. August was rather correct after the first 10 days and they managed to do some plowings to get rid of the weeds but at the end of august they prefered to stop plowing because the tractor could damage the grapes if it touched the rows and vines, and they ended up using a wire trimmer for the remaining grass. Speaking of the sprayings he says this year he sprayed 78 times (only copper/sulfure as he farms organic) while last year he remembers having sprayed 10 times. On the disease front things were quite good in 2014, the grapes were healthy even if the yields were low.
Plus, he says that natural wines nowadays are not as weird as a few years ago, the vintners master their art better and you don't find the faults, the volatile you used to find in many wines, now natural wines behave better. The administrative checks consider two level in the faults, he says, the minor (mineur) and the major (majeur) type, and although natural wines including his are often categorized as "major fault", this is not prohibitive, meaning that they can still sell the wine, they will just get a warning and may have a subsequent administrative check in the cellar in the following months as a result.
Remi grabs glasses and fills them with wine from a tap on a vat, this is the first pressed juice of the year, a vivid-red gamay with milky shades. Fruit forward, the fermentation is already well engaged, tastes like a bernache that passed it's sugary stage, still fermenting. The horizontal press is a Vaslin Veritas 32, also an old-time press frrom maybe the 1970s' or early 1980s' I'd say.
the next step is the pressing, part of the juice will go into oak and the rest in cement vats. The whites were pressed directly and the juice went into a cement vat. This year he'll take 10 casks from Pascal Clairet in the Jura, he also buys old casks to Fred Cossard. He says that gamay being a lighter wine it's better to use old barrels, that's why he buys casks with already a few years. Fred Cossard works with very good casks and he likes buying from him.
All the wines are bottled unfiltered, and regarding the SO2 he let himself the possibility to add a bit of SO2 at bottling even if generally he doesn't. The primeurs are the ones you can be sure there will never be any SO2 because they're made for a quick consumption. If he decided on a particular cuvée to add SO2 it'd be 1 gram per hectoliter, so to say, nothing. In the conventional wineries sulfur is usually added on the incoming grapes, after thev 1st fermentation, then again after the racking, then after the racking, and again at the filtration and a last shot at bottling... this makes 5 additions of SO2 at the dosage of 2 grams/hectoliter, this is a lot, the motive being security and the will to make a linear wine that expresses itself the same way year after year.
Remi and Laurence have three children if I remember and they were playing outside in front of the chai and the house while we were looking at the facility, Laurence finds the time to take care of them and do her job in the winery.
You can see on the picture below the intact load of grapes in this cement fermenter. You can see from the stain on the wall that the mass of grapes has compacted a bit in 10 days, but the whole-clustered grapes still look pretty intact and uncrushed. Remi says that even if you dig a bit with the hand and grab take some grapes underneath, they're also in very good conditions. These old-time cement fermenters are indeed very practical in the sense that the lid is large enough to access the inside or do whatever job you need to do on the grapes.
Speaking of his work philosophy, all the grapes are hand picked, this year he had 23 pickers plus the guys carrying the grape crates/buckets, they all sleep at a farm where he has dormitories and showers for them, this is much more comfortable than what many growers offer : just a prairie to plant their tents or park their camping van and no food. I shot the picture on the right just outside the village where Reli and Laurence have their family winery, and you see people camping more or less everywhere in the area, some coming from eastern Europe to make some quick money through several weeks of hard work.
The harvest lasted 9 days in all this year. Remi says that this year the picking team was pretty international, there was an American guy sent by his importer Jenny & François, plus several Japanese, and Mr Ito (the importer for Japan) with all his staff. At one point i asked him if he takes part to some group tastings, he says yes among them la Beaujoloise, the iconic natural-wine gathering initiated by Marcel Lapierre some 10 years ago. You might find Remi in the group portrait in the linked page among the several dozens of winemakers. His first Beaujoloise was in 2010 or 2011, he says.
I saw later on the Internet that Remi also takes part to Vinicircus, one of the top natural-wine fairs which takes place in Brittany (I never attended alas).
I shot the picture on left while leaving the winery on the other side of the village, the signs warns of danger because of harvest activity, not because of drunk tractor drivers pulling gondolas but just slow traffic and tractors coming out of the vineyards onto the winding roads.
We have alook on the barrels, some of them being demi-muids (500 liter), he bought some of them also to Marcel Richaud in the southern Rhône.
Near the house we see first a parcel of Chardonnay (picture on right). The soil here is very sandy, it's unusual to have chardonnay on sand, Remi says, it's usually on clay and limestone with a firmer soil for more yields but he isn't looking for that, he planted these vines 7 years ago.
Just along the chardonnay we walk through an old parcel without any trellising, the vines in goblet are standing on their own the old way. They don't look that old, they're not thick and big but tey're still about 90, and you feel it somehow beyond their modest proportions, nice elders... One of the reasons they're pretty small and thin for their old age is that the soil is shallow on this parcel, plus it's sand, it's not particularly rich. This is the very parcel from which Remi makes his cuvée L'Air de Rien, a particularly tasty gamay which goes through a one-year élevage in casks and 500-liter barrels (demi-muids).
Asked if it's not too hard for the pickers to work in such a parcel (it looks so low !), Remi says no because you see all the grapes with one glance, it's actually simpler to pick in this configutation, the goblet is wide open from above.
This parcel is the first one that he purchased, it was not included in the winery surface initially, buying back parcels here and there because of their inherent quality and along the opportunities that calme his way.
Remi has most of his machinery at his uncle's place, mostly old tools too, a tractor to plow and another to spray, a small straddle tractor that was designed to weigh as little as a horse, a Jacquet with a two-horse power engine. Only Beaujolais could produce such wonders, where is the economic powerhouse who will restart this inventive industry ? Remi's Jacquet was made in 1976, hepaid 2000 € for it and he is sure that he makes the job just as well as those expensive-heavy-unnesserarily-sophisticated modern tractors.
Remi brought a few bottles to sample his cuvées. He makes a white, a Beaujolais Villages, L'Air de rien, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, plus a pet'nat (a try he has been experimenting with since last year).
In the bottom of the room there's a nice old wood stove, actually a wood cookstove dating possibly from the 1920s' or even earlier. I asked if it was in the facility when he purchased it but no, he brought it over here. I visualize the cold autumn/winter evenings with a table full of friends & colleagues à la Foillard with the bottles popping up with the warm presence og the stove on the side...
Wood stoves sell well these days in France in the countryside (I mean new ones), just look at the wood-stove sections of hardware chains, they're full of models at this time of the year. Using a wood stove is maybe one of the last freedoms where the state doesn't meddle, of course it's also cheaper to heat yourself with wood as one metric of heating wood (oak) sells in France for 40 € (at least that's the prices I know in the Loire) but there's another dimension with a wood stove, something almost of the survivalist excitement, you don't need electricity to make it work or start and in a corner of your mind you like to think that if things really turn bad you might even collect your own wood. It's a simple pleasure watching a cook stove at work in winter, as obvious and immediate than a good glass of wine.
__ Laurence & Rémi Dufaitre, Beaujolais Villages "le Blanc" 2013. Chardonnay. This wine fermented a whole year which was unusual, usually he can bottle the whites between january and march when the fermentation unfolds swiftly, but here it lasted much more time, which yields more
richness and roundness in the mouthfeel. Makes 12,5 % or 13 %. the fermentation stalled during the winter and started anew but at a low pace when the sun began to heat again. It was made mostly in barrels (70 /) with a vit of vat because he lacked barrels for the whole. The yields were at about 10 hectoliters/hectare last year, so this wine is coming a long way when you count the longer-than-usual fermentation. It certainly reflects this seriousness, there's a particular density in this chardonnay, a nice rich feel and a sizeable power that gets swallowed easily. Few vignerons make white Beaujolais including in the natural group, so this wine is quite rare. This wine is unfiltered and got 1 gram SO2 at bottling. It is dry (residual sugar 2,4). Of course the wine had its malolactic (nature wines always get their malolactic because of the lack of SO2).
Asked what the sandy soils brings into this wine, he says that there's a floral and saline touch that might unsettle certain people (some people prefer the drier style of chardonnay he had last year for example).
In june he had racked the wine at the best moon stage thinking that it would be OK to bottle it the following moon window but no, it needed more time. The fact that the racking vat could get sun beams if he opened the doors (this was in june) didn't quicken the thing, the wine wanted more time. He ended up bottling it at the august moon.
This Brouilly was bottled last april. It's almost sold out now, same for the chardonnay.
At that part of the visit I asked him about the training he followed, he says that you're not obliged to get a training to make wine but he had one in a village nearby, although he relativizes the value of what he learned. What really counted for his real training is the expertise and exchange with fellow winemakers of the region like Jean [Foillard], Jean-Claude [Lapalu] or Yvon [Metras]. When Foillard called him by the phone one day a couple years ago, he told Remi that he didn't know him yet but that he had tasted his wines and he liked them, they were among the ones he prefered in the young generation, he also was wondering why they weren't more well known around. Since then they see each other regularly, go to Paris together to deliver their wines and things like that.
__ Laurence & Remi Dufaitre, Cote de Brouilly 2013, with an élevage in barrels coming from Fred Cossard (the magician winemaker of Beaujolais). the bottled was opened the day before, the bottling took place in march. Very nice nose, the color seems deeper, darker here, Remi says that the Cote de Brouilly is a slope like its name (Côte) hints. Vines age : 70. A more structured wine, but there is freshness too. The previous cuvée (L'Air de Rien) is more aerial in its style. The Côte de Brouilly is certainly more a long-keep wine. SO2 : 1 gram at bottling. Easy to drink too, even if this is the morning and we haven't had lunch yet. Third sip : I notice the nice tension in the mouth, a good energy with the fruit notes.