Romanèche-Thorins, Moulin-à-Vent (Beaujolais)
There has been new developments recently for Julie Balagny, the young Paris native who happened to become in a very short time one of the sought-after winemakers of Beaujolais. When B. and I visited for my last profile this was in 2011 and she was living in a charming isolated house with a wonderful view, her chai was yet in another place, there was much commuting, and she found now a large farm with a soul in the village of Romanèche-Thorins (in the Thorins part) where she can make her wine, store her tools and she even can keep farm animals, although she'll keep the larger animals near her parcels of En Remond.
Speaking of her vineyard surface, she recently took over an additional hectare in generic Beaujolais plus 70 ares (0,7 hectare) of Moulin-à-Vent and her total vineyard surface is now 4,7 hectare...
For the information it is interesting to remind that before 1936 the Moulin-à-Vent wines were called Romanèche-Thorins wines and the name change took place when the appellation system delimited the area in september 1936. The new name refers precisely to the old windmill (moulin à vent) stiing at the edge of Romanèche-Thorins (on the Thorins side). The windmill is now a historical landmark, it has been built in the 15th century to grind the local farmers' grains, which means of course that at the time farms were into polyculture, and winegrowing was just part of the subsistence economy here. Beside the appellation name setting, Moulin-à-Vent wine was used for a very long time, as documented on an invoice dating from 1757.
Incidently, we're at the border of Beaujolais and Burgundy here, and Romanèche-Thorins is located in the Saône-et-Loire département, thus in Burgundy, which makes more administrative difficulties, like she has to see with the Douanes of Mäcon, Burgundy (the Douanes or French Customs is the short name for the DGDDI, the administation in charge of checking the wineries) for her administration papers and requirements.
Julie has been making wine in this new wine farm for the 2nd year, and before she moved in there, wine was still being made in the chai, if conventional wine. Because of that she had to clean the place real hard in order to get rid of whatever was used (lab yeast and else) in the old chai, using hot water and even soda for the vats. She may have brought some of her former yeast ambiance and vibes with her other tools and vats but still, the chai, its walls and ceiling maintain their own bacteria life and this takes years to resurrect a proper natural aura when the vinification has been conventional. And predicably, for her first vinification in this building, the fermentations were kind of sluggish, and it had nothing to do with the vintage. She could see that with the microscope, the yeast population was lower, except for her Cayenne cuvée (which is a traditionally strong terroir), that's why she started this year with Cayenne and added the other terroirs on top of it.
In terms of capacity, if you count the cement vats here plus all her mobile vats she has enough vats and tanks, even if this year (2015) because the volumes are low she will not make the best use of all the vessels. The volumes are low because of such a long, dry summer, the juice is scarcer in the fruit, and also because of the change in the farming management on her Fleurie vineyards she took over long time ago: these parcels were not used to be plowed as they had lots of surface roots, and the plowing was kind of a shock they still have to recover today.
The farm or facility is located right in the middle of Thorins, in one of the main streets (picture above on left), indeed a very quiet hamlet. When you push the large door you walk directly into the chai, a barn-like building, then you have a courtyard and the house where the farmers lived. The street side offers a contrasted view with the large garden on the other side of the house, which has a direct view on the vineyards (not Julie's alas, but the good side is that the grower doesn't seem to be a heavy user of chemicals. Julie is very happy because she gets everything in a single place, and so much room.
The rest of the farm is wonderfully untouched (farms are too often virtually destroyed by renovations that have more to do with vainness and showing off), I'd think they fully resemble Julie's wines : uncorrected and beautiful. she just had to have a new roof because there were serious leaks but she of course intends to keep this authentic feel and patina. You get this traditional advancing roof allowing you to hide from the sun and the rain, and on the left there's these cute wooden stairs. Beautiful.
Hens are wandering around picking who knows what on the dirt ground of the courtyard and in the garden, with the dog looking on. At night, believe it or not, these hens sleep on the windows on the courtyard side (picture on right), at least they try to sleep when we're chatting outside sipping wine late into the evening... I guess the fenced garden on the other side is not yet safe enough regarding foxes and other predators, we're at the edge of the village and they certainly can get into the garden from the vineyard.
Julie hadn't this cute dog (la Nine) I pictured during my first visit, it was alas killed on a road near her former house, but the new one was another cute dog, discreet and fitting so well with the place. Speaking of her former place Julie says that there was indeed a nice view on the hills of Beaujolais but it was quite noisy with all the tractors coming and going, and these conventional farmers in their modern tractors seemed to take some pleasure at roaring their engines below her windows. Life in the countryside is not as smoot as it looks like from the town, especially when you're single, female and farming organic...
When I first dropped there with Aaron one evening, Julie was in the middle of the pressing of her first vintage of Moulin-à-Vent (it turned out to be a 19-hectoliter batch), quite a landmark day, there were a few friends of hers and they'd regularly turn the manual hand crank on the basket press to add a little bit of pressure. She brought here this venerable vertical press which is entirely hand powered, no hydraulic or electric engine attached (yet). She had this press disassembled in Vauxrenard and reassembled here and it's now sitting here in this building mossibly as old as it is, looks like it has always been here. She has a few repairs to do on certain wood parts that have cracked, and when the pressing season is over she will have her friends work on it piece by piece. She says they'll do whatever it takes to keep this press alive and fit, learning if necessary how to carve the wood pieces. She says if no elder around teaches them how to do that, they'll learn by themselves, no worry.
The juice was flowing very timidly all the time, the pressure being low and very progressive. Kevin aided by Julie and sometimes another girl would from time to time pull the lever back and forth a couple of minutes, just enough to add a few nothces of pressure on the whole-clustered grapes of gamay. Again it's interesting to think about the issue of technology in winemaking, because when you have experienced Julie's wines and look on the tools that are so surprisingly simple and unsophisticated, the grapes being exposed to the air through the staves of the basket and same for the juice while dropping into the large benne below... The only thing she could do one day if she's getting tired to manually power the crank is add an electrical motor atop of the screw, otherwise I see this all as efficient, cheap and maintenance free.
There are already lots of friends with Julie Balagny from what I feel, and this makes the chai and house very lively and vibrant. There's one guy for example named Cédric (the one with the white t-shirt here) who makes honey and stores some of his beehive tools and parts in a side building here, and all of them are ready to help like here on the press.
Here in the background Julie climbs atop the fiber vat where her old-vines Fleurie are going through their carbonic maceration. This year again because of the very low volume of fruit she put all her Fleurie together. After the Moulin-à-Vent is pressed she'd have still the Fleurie and the generic Beaujolais to press.
Julie invites me to climb up there too and see by myself, which I'm too happy to do. I guess the whole-clustered grapes were filling the fermenter to the to when they brought them in, but the mass has somehow shinked under its own weight. The grapes (on the top, at least) are incredibly intact and fit, I eat a few grapes, that's so beautiful and sugary. Some of the grapes are even withered on the outside, like raisin, and these taste even better. Low volumes certainly but I'd say watch out for the quality of this single cuvée of Fleurie...
Julie says that the grapes have been in there for 3 weeks and she doesn't know yet when she'll press this batch, it's at 1070 and from what I understand it has to go down much more before being pressed. I position the floating lid so that on the ground level they can action it down in the proper position. I don't think it has to touch the grapes, it's just meant to prevent the oxygen from coming in, the mass of grapes generating its own CO2 floating at the surface under the lid.
Julie says she got another improvement this year, this is an Inflatable cold storage room which is very important for keeping the grapes cold one night, bringing their temperature down to 5 ° C (41 ° F) before the start of the carbonic maceration. It's a new system rented by Tibbloc, a company she praises for their reliability and 24 hour service. This inflatable cooling room is made in the Vosges département by AMD Froid, you can see pictures and a video of this mobile room on their website. This is indeed very convenient for wineries who need this type of cooling room just for a few days at harvest time. Before that, she would rent the cooling room of Yvon Métras or Jean-Louis Dutraive and now she's more autonomous with this mobile cooling room.
They filled this basket press in the morning and started to press at 1pm, and it's only the following moring that the pressing will end, I guess that they'll pause during the night even though I know they'd stay awake very late this evening. Asked if she was open to the idea to adapt an electric-hydraulic system to ease tyhe work, she says yes but for now she's young and likes to do it this way, plus, it's fun.
Speaking of her philosophy she says she wants to keep making wine only from parcels she works herself, she doesn't want to do négoce wines (i.e. buying grapes farmed by someone else and vinify them), considering this as being unethical. Samely she is very serious in her approach to the appellations and if there's a cuvée she's not fully satisfied with, she's ready to bottle it as table wine without even trying to get the agreement, it's not because she would fear a refusal by the tasting commission but it's because she would consider her wine not good enough.
Regularly, Julie would switch the pump on to lower the juice level in the receiving benne under the basket press, filling a vat step by step (although with the small volume of grapes it'd be difficult to fill a sizeable one). This grey plastic benne is the mosern equivalent of the ones spotted at Yvon Métras and Julie uses this type of container I guess for the picking and transportation between the parcel and the chai. I didn't dare to taste the juice as there was so little volume overall.
Julie says she's been on an average of 25 hectoliters/hectare since she began to make wine . It's a good thing that she has other wines to sell from previous vintages, like Simone 2014 which is still in the cellar (40 hectoliters) after finishing its sugar this summer. Usually on her 3 hectares of Fleurie she makes 3 cuvées if she reaches 25 ho/ha, but under that yield she makes only 2. In the next years with the vines slowly recovering from the organic plowings, she should had yields that are slightly higher.
When things somehow cooled down Julie offered us to have a glass of a mystery bottle, that was a blessing especially since I know she has small volumes, she told me later that right now she can't really afford to drink her own wine, which you can understand both in terms of low volume and also in terms of tight budget. We're enjoying the treat with the bottles on a pallet, at easy reach of the press is something went wrong.
__ Julie Balagny Fleurie En Remond 2009 (I didn't guess). My stomach seems to praise again. Beautifum chew in the mouth, with a thin silk paper texture and an enjoying freshness. She says this wine had its élevage in bottles in Tours in a good cellar, with the help of Olivier Roblin of the Caves du Panthéon, a wine shop in the 5th arrondissement where Julie sells her wine. Julie tells us about the vintage 2009, the weather then, all the while rolling a cigarette.
The following day we drove to her new parcel of Moulin-à-Vent, the vines are sitting on a relatively-steep slope exposed north-east, with a terroir rich with quartz (typical of Moulin-à-Vent from what I understand). Part of the parcel is very old, around 100 years (planted in 1913),
and she points to the fact that it's planted tightly like they used to do in the past, with barely enough room to pass with a horse. She says they just plowed in spring with a cable-powered plow and in autumn they're doing more plows. Her Bene tractor was at the repairman for some fixing and as soon ast it would be repaired, after the end of the pressing, she'd go for the autumn plowings.
The vintage Beaujolais-made tractor has a unique cable system on the side, she has just to park along a given steep parcel and, extending the cable to the other end of the row, plows her way back to the tractor (see the vintage multi-purpose tractor with Julie showing the motor-powered cable winch on the lower left side).
She found this parcel by chance when, curiously, she was enquiring about a parcel of Generic Beaujolais (the one she ended up finding recently). She was simply looking for this parcel of Beaujolais, finding an available parcel to rent near the village, and when the deal was concluded by word, the owners asked if she was also interested by a small parcel of Moulin-à-Vent, which she was of course, this was an unexpected good surprise. On one side she is "protected" from the other conventional parcel by a former quarry overgrown with bushes and diverse insect/animal life.
The owners of her parcel who are from the old generation are conventional growers and they contacted her directly because they knew the way she worked and in spite of their own vineyard management they kind of admired what she is doing and they were eager to have her take care of these parcels.
Julie Balagny exports 3/4 of her wines, to the United States (Louis Dressner Selections, Japan (Oenoconnexion - Hideaki Kito, in Nagoya.), Canada (Quebec : Martin Labelle - Glou), Switzerland (Le Passeur de Vin), Sweden (Vin & Natur), Denmark (Pétillant), Germany (KNU Nürnberg) Australia (by a sommelier from Noma).
In Paris : Caves du Panthéon -- Les Papilles
Read Aaron's piece on Julie Balagny (we were there together)