Villié-Morgon, Morgon (Beaujolais)
Anthony Thevenet is a young winegrower with deep wine family roots in Villié-Morgon, a small town which is associated with great winemakers like Foillard, Lapierre, Descombes, Breton and Chanudet. Anthony, who makes wine in the very farm where his own grand-grandfather had his chai, started his own domaine in 2013. The house and facility really feels like a farm, isolated in the middle of its vineyards. To reach it, it's pretty simple, you first head to Jean Foillard, passing in front of his gate on your right, you keep driving (or riding in our case), then a few hundred meters you'll pass the wine farm of Marcel Lapierre also on your right, then the small tree-lined river of Douby and you'll take the second small road on your left, it's a dirt/gravel road if I remember and on our two-wheelers with Aaron it was a bit tricky, especially that we weren't sure of the way. It's slightly on the outskirts of Villié-Morgon and you have a nice view of the village in the far from his parcels of Douby (pic on right, the river flows among the trees in the bottom).
Anthony started with working with harvest combines in a service company in the Mäconnais but he didn't like the job very much, then he enrolled the viticulture school and worked at Georges Descombes for 7 years (from 2005 or 2006), part of this time being shared between work at the domaine and his studies. In the end of 2012 when he switched to working for Jean Foillard and he started his own domaine in parallel at the same time. That's with Descombes (nicknamed "Le Noun" by his peers) that he learnt everything on natural winemaking, he had worked before at Guillot also in Villié-Morgon but this was a big conventional domaine with dozens of hectares in both the Beaujolais and in the southern Rhone, it was like working in a big company. While in the viticulture school one of his school mates in his class was Damien Coquelet and as he was wondering where to find a domaine willing to accept him for the compulsory training during his studies, Damien told him to go ask his stepfather Georges Descombes, and that's how he landed there. If he also went to work later at Foillard, that's because before starting his domaine he wanted to experience the work of another natural grower and winemaker.
Having arrived at the end of the day with the light dimming quickly, we all went to the vineyard, Anthony showing us his vines of Morgon Douby nearby, including an old parcel. The soil was quite sandy, some vines were trellised while other, older vines were by themselves, on goblets standing free of wires and posts and growing on an anarchic way. Anthony is starting with only 3 hectares, of which 2,5 hectares on Morgon Douby, but much of what you see around here belongs to his grandparents as they have 9 hectares on Morgon; they're retired now but they rent their parcels (fermage) to other growers.
There's a good side to have the vineyards grouped around the farm but it's a problem regarding hail because the risks are higher to have all your grapes lost under a hailstorm. Besides that, this is a sandy terroir and when he takes more surface he'd like to try other styles of terroirs. Much of this area was all covered with woods, Anthony says, and his grandfather cleared them and planted his parcels. His grand-grandfather was already a vigneron here, so his family has long roots and good knowledge of the place.
The younger vines are trellised but the rows seem to be very close from each other, Anthony says the width is a bit less than one meter, which is a bit tricky to plow, he says. The soil is indeed very white and sandy, with also some granite. There seems to grow nothing regarding weeds on there, the earth layer here is maybe 20 centimeters and then it's the rock table, so it's pretty arid in summer, especially that with the white sand there's a lot of heat reverberating on the grapes. He says that when the vines were planted by his family they had trouble digging deep enough with the plow, but once planted the vines nonetheless adapted unexpectedly well to these conditions, without many dying vines or missing vines since then. And on top of that it's mostly exposed south, by the way I'm sure that under other latitudes this vineyard would be irrigated.
Overall his yields are moderate but not extreme, this year he made 34 hectoliters/hectare, that's not much, still, and he can't afford to loose wine. This year he hadn't to spray much, he pass 4 times. I spot a few trees on the edge of the slope, Anthony says these are peach trees, his grandfather used to plant lots of fruit trees too including vineyard peach and cherry.
Right now in his 3-hectare surface, Anthony has only parcels on Morgon Douby and on Morgon Cöte du Py.
In one corner on the side of the gravel road Anthony shows us his very-very old vines which he says are something like 150 years old. That's indeed an old age, and the vines which are not trellised have grown branches and extensions in weird directions, it's a wonder to walk around them. Every single vine is very different, you look at them and wonder how and why they extended this arm here or here, very interesting view. He can't use the tractor here of course and tills by hand to keep the weeds in check. That's the parcel he makes his Morgon Vieilles Vignes with. Of course the yields are low but the fruit is very nice. His grandfather replanted much of his surface along his years but this small parcel has had such a beautiful fruit that in spite of the low yields he always wanted to spare it. Anthony prunes these vines with care in winter, seems it's a case per case pruning here, you don't bend back or rectify such old beauties....
Asked about the differences he came through after learning the trade at two natural winemakers, he says it's pretty similar, there's just the élevage that may vary between Descombes and Foillard. He thought there'd be more differences but still, he says that they both have different ways of filling the fermenters and emptying them, and also Descombes has a basket press while Foillard has a pneumatic press. Also the vineyards are different, Descombes's parcels are more on slopes than Foillard's, except for his Côte du Py which is also on coteaux.
Speaking of Jean Foillard he says that while himself and the other staff (3 in all) write what they've done [on the vats I suppose], Jean arrives at 9am and tastes everything, and suggests something that could be done for such or such fermenter. And what surprises Anthony is that he asks them what they think, being genuinely interested to hear from them, it gives the feel to be part of a team.
We tasted Anthony's wine, beginning with his very first vintage, the 2013.
__ Anthony Thevenet, Morgon Douby 2013. His first vintage was made in pretty bad conditions, the weather was bad and the grapes were partly rotten, not fun when you do your first harvest. Carbonic maceration 100 %. For this one he did a bit of remontage (pumping over) for the sugar. Vinification, élevage in cement vats. A bit of reduction on the nose. Mouth with sugary feel, some torrefaction aromas, coffee too, dust. Light earth filtration. 2 grams SO2 added at bottling, otherwise none during the vinification. He says the terroir of Douby (along the small river) are easy drinking traditionally, because the soil is very sandy. Anthony says he feels a richness in the 2013 which is directly related to the ripeness of the fgrapes, and he also noticed that in the other wines of the region.
__ Anthony Thevenet, Morgon Douby 2014, same but from the last vintage. A nice vintage like 2015 but with small grapes, wonderful fruit quality. Nose : small black fruits. Aaron feels stone fruit aromas, peach and nectarine. He made 6000 bottles of this, all sold, largely because he took part to La Dive (the natural wine fair) last february and got the orders there. This wine is also lightly filtered and was bottled in january 2015, using the bottling line co-owned by Jean Foillard and Jean-Paul Thevenet (nicknamed Polpo here).
Asked if he knew where he'd sell his wines when he was working on his first vintage, he says no, and his total volume was 2500 bottles only anyway [I think he sold grapes for the rest], and the 2nd year after these bottles of 2013 sold well, he made more volume, 8500 bottles and he'll keep making more bottled wine this year for sure. Actually he sells very little wine in France, most of his wine is exported, thanks to his participating since 2014 to the Dive early february in Angers [this wine fair has become the shop window for natural wines and many foreign buyers scour the alleys looking for still untapped cuvées or new names]. He exports to 6 or 7 countries, the U.K. (London - Dynamic Vines), the United States (Savio Soares - Thirst Wine Merchants), Canada (Quebec - Dame Jeanne), Belgium, Japan (Oenoconexion), China. In Paris his wines can be found at the Café du Commerce, also the Café de la Nouvelle Mairie as well as at Autour d'un Verre.
We now taste the old vines, from the parcel we visited a few minutes before.
__ Anthony Thevenet Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2013. 7 to 8 months in barrels, which he buys used (already 4 years old) from Vincent Girardin in Burgundy. After the élevage in barrels he keeps the wine another 7 months. Unfiltered, just racked twice to leave the thickest part deposit in the bottom. The mouth is quite majestic.
__ Anthony Thevenet Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2014. Bottled august 20 this year, not on the market yet. The bottle temperature is less cold than the previous one, tastes well. Rather elegant wine. His vieilles vignes sells for 15 € tax included, and the Morgon Douby (vines around 50) 10 €.
We walk to the chai again to taste the Vieilles Vignes 2014 from a tank (where it'sbeen racked after the élevage in the barrels). The chai is quite big for his present surface and he has room if/when he augments his surface, plus, his younger brother would like to also begin making wine, so Anthony keeps purposely a vat room aside for him. There are 6 cement fermenters here and with 3,11 hectares he fills 3 of them only. These fiber tanks are very useful to help the wine sediment, because the temperature can go down faster than in a cement vat. At night he sometimes leaves the door open so that the chai gets real cold, like many winemakers do to settle their wines.
__ Morgon Douby 2015. Tastes pretty well already beyond the gas, with fresh fruit aromas, Anthony says it reminds him the fruit smell of the beginning of the harvest season. Incredible, this is already wine and we're only in the last days of september.... It was racked just 3 days ago. He began to pick august 31st on his surface, so there's been one month to get this resulting wine.
In a corner between the cement fermenters, the press stands idle, its short season already over. To fill the press, he positions the press near the cement fermenter and he glides the whole-clustered grapes on a toboggan into the press below. His grandfather used a large pump to do that but he prefers to keep the clusters as intact as possible. His grapes which are of course hand picked are transported in large 16-hectoliter tubs from the vineyard to here, he still can't afford to do it with boxes or bennes like Jean Foillard and others do, but that's an improvement he'll do in the future, as well as having a refrigerated room to cool down the old-vines grapes prior to the carbonic maceration. 2015 is only his 3rd vintage so he needs time.
__Morgon Côte du Py 2015, from a fiber tank that is full to the top, he just racked the wine into this vat an another so that it settles its lees and sediment before going into barrels by gravity and staying there for a few months. This wine stays a total of maybe 15 days in this tank, just to clear a bit. Anthony fills our glasses. This is his first vintage for this parcel (which is also owned by his family), so he's pretty excited.
The wine has a nice, pleasurable chew, I love the tannins, even though they may still be a bit rough (this is a 2015, it's already great at this young age). He has 40 hectoliters of this Côte du Py, and half will have an élevage in barrels and half in neutral vat, resulting in 2 different Côte-de-Py cuvées.
__ Morgon Vieilles Vignes 2015, from another tank, he also racked this wine before filling later a few barrels with it. Back on chartered territory, this is the 3rd vintage for this wine (again, the old vines pictured above). Darker color. There were only small berries in 2015 and the wine will be higher in alcohol, 14,5 %. Unsulfured at this stage. Nice appealing nose. Mouth : very concentrated with a very enjoable juicy feel, very interesting wine, alas he may filter it from what I understand. Not to miss when it'll be bottled, that's good.
Next we went to the barrel cellar, Anthony calls it his grandfather's cellar, and beside Anthony's casks you can see the long-disused large-capacity foudres (one makes 28 hectoliters, another 31) that his grandfather used in his own time. Anthony will put them out soon, it's been 10 years they haven't seen wine and it's safer not to keep them near healthy barrels, it could have some incidence on the vinification. This long cellar is where he does his élevage, as you can see there is still room for more barrels, but if I remember he stores barrels also in another place.
Anthony says that a few decades ago his grandfather who had another domaine, had these foudres brought from there and reassembled in this cellar, the job was done by an old man, maybe not even a cooper, in a single day, locals were very experienced with handling and assembling large capacity barrels at the time. And these foudres were certainly thought to be used for life, unlike today where many vignerons throw away their barrels after a short use.
At the far end of the long cellar there was a long rack with dusty, I'd rather say mold-covered bottles dating from his grandfather, including a few magnums. Anthony offers us to open one of the bottles, just to see what's inside, adding that it will be a surprise for himself as he has no idea what wine and vintage this is. It happened to be what they call here a Rikiki, which is some sort of Ratafia, you find that in every wine region in France, it's basically freshshly-pressed grape juice mixed with marc (pomace brandy), the result being an easy drinking apéritif because of the sweet grapr juice part. I think people in the old time used to drink a lot and with this type of aperitif you don't even feel you're drinking high %, which is a bit dangerous (like with Pastis, actually).