Jacques Broustet is a reference when you deal with naturally-made, sulfites-free Bordeaux, oddly my real first recollection of drinking his iconic cuvée Autrement was when I visited the French importer François Dumas in Tokyo, he had ordered this bottle while we were sitting at Shonzui, the natural-wine bar in Roppongi, François had hidden the label with keeping the bottle in a bag. I think that was a good way to taste the wine with neutrality, without the bias that might distort your tasting experience when you know beforehand that you're going to have a Bordeaux (I'm not like that, but many people are obviously, scoffing at the prospect of drinking Bordeaux). The wine was delicious, just terrific, and from that time I knew that i had to visit this guy who was doing such a great job in a perfectly natural way.
Chateau Lamery is a small domaine by its planted surface (4,3 hectares), with the harmonious mansion complete with the walled vegetable garden sitting in a large block of vineyard. The village of Saint-Pierre-d'Aurillac sits on the eastern side of the Garonne south of Bordeaux, the river being very scenic in this area, especially near the villages of Cadillac and Langoiran with its metal bridge named "Pont Eiffel" because it was built along Gustave Eiffel's principles. Wine tourism in Bordeaux focuses on the prestigious Chateaux but there's more to see in my mind in these little-known towns and landscapes thick with real history.
Jacques Broustet's grandparents bought this property in 1935 (they were at the time living in the village) and his father (who is 93, still drives and does tons of things in the vegetable garden) went to the viticulture school in his time and worked on the vineyard in the early 1950s', but it was not enough to make a living and he took a job in Bordeaux, Jacques' grandfather keeping tending the vineyards from then. Jacques grandfather retired in 1985 and took care of the domaine until 1998, it was full-blown conventional farming and he was selling the wine to the négoce, there was a tank truck driving here every year and taking all the wine away. When Jacques took the reins in 1998 there wasn't even a hand corker in the buildings, he was to be the first to make and sell directly the wine in bottles.
Jacques Broustet began to make wine himself here in 1998, having his domaine farmed organic since the beginning, and on biodynamics since 2006. His wine was labelled under the AOC Bordeaux until 2009. In 2009 the wine was tasting super good and his enologist told him to ask the AOC Bordeaux Supérieur, which he did, but he was refused, his wine being said at the agreement commission to smell nail polish and that they'd turn to vinegar soon because he wasn't putting enough sulfites. From then on he bottled his wines as table wine and hasn't to worry anymore about the issue. When I remember the outstanding quality and pleasure of his Autrement 2009, the very cuvée which the wine commission rebuffed, I can't but think that these AOC tasters (who are usually felow conventional vignerons) were just jealous : they were giving the green light to so many bland, undrinkable wine [just buy randomly an AOC Bordeaux Supérieur in a supermarket...] and barring this gem from getting this rather modest AOC status ?!?
The vineyards are split in several parcels, there is this 1,6-hectare block around the house, then 75 ares 200 meters awxay, then 25 ares of white on the other side of the railroad tracks which his father bought in 1950, plus a group of rented parcels (fermage), the whole thing making about 4 hectares. Jacques Broustet farms all organic and with biodynamie bus as he's making a single cuvée with all his grapes and recently took over a rental of parcels which he converts to organic, he can't have the wine certified anymore.
Jacques' friend, a woman from Bordeaux city who helps him in the vineyard and in the chai was there and prepared lunch. Jacques put a surprise bottle on the table, a "nut wine", home made of course, in 2008. He makes 50 bottles of this, so the label is just for fun. He had thought about selling it but as this is a fortified wine (alcohol added) it would have required much more complicated paper work. This wine is made with nut-tree leaves actually, not the nuts themselves : you cut the leaves à la Saint Jean (summer solstice), put them in brandy for 15 days, then you add sugar, wine and cinnamon, very simple (the hard part is going up the tree and get the leaves). This is easy drinking (treacherous probably as it makes 16 or 17 % in alcohol).
Picture on right : the village church and the monuments to its fallen soldiers of WW1.
When Jacques took the small domainee in charge in 1998, his first release was in 2000 and when he worked on the label design his own family was surprised, asking why on earth do you need labels ? They were assuming that he'd do like his elders and sell to the négoce. At the time Jacques was still working in Bordeaux and worked on the domaine on the side, using his weekend free time (his last day job being in the sale of computer services).
When I had called for an appointment and a visit, Jacques Broustet had kindly offered me to share their lunch, and I gladly accepted. I'll not bash Bordeaux again but the prestigious Chateaux for which Bordeaux is world renowned aren't at least known for casually inviting visitors for lunch, and if yes in the case of a press event, this would be with catering services et al, don't expect a soul. First the owners don't live in these beautiful Chateaux and your guides there are usually too stressed with the business of running their efficient operations for having the time of sitting around a table and have lunch with you. He's doing this cuvée every year, at the beginning it was a sweet wine but he encountered problems when he began to vinify without using any SO2, so now he has been making dry Sémillon for the last two years instead.
__ Sémillan, Vin de France 2014, 100% Sémillon. The other good surprise was this very nice Sémillon Blanc, bottled as table wine. Very aromatic and full-mouthed white. Jacques named the cuvée Sémillan which means frisky in French, an innocent trick to go around the punishing rules restricting what you can tell on table-wine labels. He says he bottles this as Vin de France because the surface is a mere 22 ares which translates into 1000 bottles. This is too small to go through the paper- and administrative hurdles of the AOC, especially that here in this area it would be the Côtes de Bordeaux Saint Macaire appellation, not a very sexy AOC indeed... His buyers buy his wine because of his organic, natural-winemaking works and the qualities of the wine that go with that, not for an AOC stamp.
This wine went directly from the press to a vat, and was bottled 11 months later, nothing else. Early january he had trouble with the sediments that didn't stick to the bottom and would turn the wine cloudy, but this settled since then.
Chateau Lemery is known mostly for its iconic cuvée Autrement but there's also a white (Sémillon), which is now dry, and Jacques Broustet still has some sweet sémillon to sell as well, dating from before he decided to vinify it as dry. Oxymore is the sweet Sémillon which fermented over the course of 3 years and which he is still letting age in a vat, he will put it on the market in about a year. This is a blend of 2011 and 2012 and because the wine had an unorthodox fermentation it will certainmly be one of its kind, being hard to reproduce.
__ L'Oublié, Vin de France 2009. A micro cuvée.
There is yet this other wine which we had at the end of the meal, a very special wine which came to life by accident, Jacques Broustet says : This was supposed to be a sweet wine, a liquoreux, but when he pumped this wine out of the barrels it was just undrinkable, it was just all acidity and no sugar. The enologist he worked with back then wasn't well into whites, he tried to kind of salvage the wine but it didn't work, so he just dumped two barrels and bottled one just to see with the idea of keep the bottles under the lid and see later if he'd dump the wine or if it somehow changes for the better. These bottles were stacked under a tarpaulin in the very bottom of his cellar and 3 years after, he tried a bottle and people just asked him why on earth he had dumped 2 barrels of this... The wine had beautifully improved indeed and it seems that because the wine comes from very old vines (planted in the early 1950s' and before) there has been a mysterious process with the substance and the sugar passing over time over the acidity, turned into a superb balance with a tamed sweetness.
The wine has a lot of character with still a strong acidity, and also this noble bitterness which makes it very special. He says he wouldn't be able to reproduce this, this is the beauty of having accidents. One of the first person to tell him this wine was great was one of the women who run Le Lapin Blanc, the natural-wine bistrot at Ménilmontant in Paris, she visited him here and loved the wine.
This is the 2007 version, sort of the predecessor of the cuvée Autrement, when the domaine's red still had its AOC label, the cuvée which was then labelled as a Bordeaux AOC was named Le Défi de Lamery. When it became the cuvée Autrement thanks to the incomprehension of the wine administration, he also changed the label esthetics because a caviste who was a regular buyer of his wine (and would obviously loved it) dared the remark that this triangular label was crappy, nul à chier in French [something about which I'd dare to say I would have agreed...]. The new label, the one of Autrement was more classic and also much cheaper.
The wine is delicious, a great Bordeaux with a chewy substance.
This is the cuvée Autrement 2012, the one you must try at least one before you can speak of Bordeaux wines. While sipping this delicious wine you'll also have a thought about its eviction from the Bordeaux AOC and you'll begin to understand why some often say that the Bordeaux AOCs are doomed. How can such a wine be refused the AOC ? And we don't even take into account here how respectful and traditional the vineyard management and the vinification are.
He began to sell this vintage in 2014, it was earlier than normally, in part because all the 2013 turned bad and had to be distilled and he needed some wine to sell. For the 2013 disaster he says he's not alone in this situation, quite a few other vintner may not have any 2013 to sell.
Typically here is how Autrement is made : You have 4 varieties in there : Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon and you don't pick them at the same time. Merlot and Malbec are usually picked together, the Can Franc comes some 8 days later and Cabernet Sauvignon still a bit later. Each is vinified separately in vats, after which each goes into separate casks (old casks, he's not looking into oaky flavors). He has two chais, the one in this house and another one 7 kilometers away, the wine being split between the two. When he has filled all these barrels he leaves them untouched until the following july, he doesn't even tops them up. That's very interesting and I think other vintners might think about it : the wine isn't turning weird at all although it's not even topped up in the barrels for months in a row, which means that this wine can be secure even with some air in the barrel, isn't that going against the usual narrative regarding of the needed precautionary measures for wine ? This reminds me what Alain Dejean told me, that when the soil life is strong and the vine lives in harmony with it, the resulting wine can endure a lot, it's not fragile nor unstable. Bordeaux rocks, you learn great truths here...
The chai and vat room isn't even isolated, just thick stone walls and yiu can see the beams and the tiles when you look up.
When the grapes are brought in the chai, he destems them and puts them in the cement vats which, with an average capacity of 60 hectoliters are not filled to the top, and the end of fermentation is sometimes difficult. He waits that the fermentation is totally completed before filling the barrels with the wine. After that he and an aide fork out the grapes with shovels in order to have them pressed, after wich more barrels are filled with the press juice, all the barrels being sealed tight and will stay this way until the 14th of july. these wines are neither tasted nor moved, he says that if he opened the bung from time to time he'd be obliged to add SO2 which he refuses to do. His friend is amazed at the fact that he doesn't taste his wine, but for my part I think that the outstandingness of the cuvée Autrement comes precisely from that long isolation without any intrusion of SO2...
Jacques shows the remains of an old basket press, the screw still stands and you can see the simple and efficient gutter in the floor (the cement slab was poured in 1965) leading to a decantation vat underneath, the opening of which can be seen on the lower right. Simple and age old process, makes great wines forever and easy to maintain... He used this press with its underground tank in the beginning, he says it would take two days to make a press because you had to do all thing by hand, including when you had to open everything to cut the "cake" (the pomace) and spread it again in the basket for a last press. Now he uses a traditional, non-pnematic horizontal press.
When he considers the barrel time reaches its end, he pumps all the wine in a single vat, precisely in order to make this single cuvée, now named Autrement. This racking is done on a fruit day in lion. He cleans of course the now-empty barrels with water and uses a sulfur wick to protect them. The wine will stay another 4 months in the cement vat before the bottling which will take place typically in november, the bottling being also done on a fruit day in lion.
for the bottling he has someone come here with his bottling line and he'll keep the bottles in the cellar for another year before putting them on the market.
Long time ago there were two wooden fermenters here an these cement vats were built on the orders of his father, there are 6 of them, plus two underground vats.
On this picture Jacques shows the door or window through which the grape boxes are brought in : he does the sorting himsel here by hand, then he pours the grape clusters on the destemmer, the bare grapes being immediately put into o,ne of the vats. The cement fermenters make from 40 to 60 hectoliters and if the year is good he can fill fermenters to the top for respectively Merlot and Malbec, for the Cabernet Sauvignon it's more difficult and for the Cab Franc he definetely has not enough of it to fill a fermenter to the top even on generous years.
These walls are almost black with the molds and fermentation ambiance, I guess there is also an indigenous yeast life of its own here...
You can see on the wall near the screw of the basket press, among hoses of different sizes, the fork and the axe used to move the pomace and cut the "cake". Speaking of the pomace, he uses it as organic compost for his vineyard, but (take a seat), as he is supposed to give his pomace for free to the French administration for distillation purposes (another, indirect way for the French state to levy taxes from the vignerons), he has to give wine instead. The administration doesn't buy the organic-compost thing and wants something to make spirits from, so he gives some wine.... Of course, the state does this on a very modern way, this is for environmental reasons, you see, so that the pomace and other sous-produits vinicoles (wine by-products like pomace, must and thick lees) don't "pollute" the environment...
Read this interesting and quite exhaustive document (in French) about these sous-produits vinicoles and their compulsory distillation. From what I hear from several vignerons of several regions, they don't get any money for this and they have to pay to bring these by products to the distillery. You have more legal info on the procedures on this webpage found on the French Senate's website, you read here that producers get a symbolic 99,5 € per hectoliter of pure alcohol (less than 1 € per liter...).
Jacques has two barrel cellars, this one here and another 7 kilometers away. The barrel cellars aren't isolated or temperature-controlled either, they're surface rooms with rough cement floor exposed to temperature swings but that just doesn't seem to bother the wine. If you've had his cuvée Autrement and enjoyed it as I did a couple of times, remember these unprotected conditions, real wine can go through anything, even the lack of topping up for 9 months...
Asked about the temperature in the chai during the harvest and early fermentation, wouldn't it be too warm, Jacques says the grapes are brouhght in at 16 or 17 ° C (62,6 F) and on the opposite it's rather low and may make the kickstart of the fermentation difficult. He remembers that when he was vinifying conventionally he'd have his juice temperature go up to 33 ° C91,4 F) and with organic/biodynamic farming and indigenous yeast it's much more gentle, like last year, at 1/3 of the fermentation the temperature of the juice/grapes was still arounf 17 °C (62,6 F), which is too low, the ideal temperature starting around 23 or 24 ° C (75,2 F) because it helps extraction, especially at the beginning of the fermentation. He doesn't help the temperature raise until now but he may try an aquarium thermostat in the future.
The strange container on the right is a new model of dynamizer tank, the one you use to make the biodynamic preparations (horn silica for example). The designers of this new tank found out through sensitive-crystallization analysis that the usual copper tanks released some unwanted material into the preparations while this type of tank is perfectly neutral. Jacques bought it last year, it's a Cosmophore, made by a company named CMFP in Villié Morgon (Beaujolais).
The system to move the water/preparation around is also
different (pic on left), supposed to be softer and because of the fabric of the tank (some sort of resin or plastic) the electrical fields are neutral for the preparation, which is a big difference from copper or metal tanks. The special ovoid shape is also designed according to the golden section. The company makes this dynamizer tank in different capacities, 75 L, 200 L, 450 L and 1000 L.
Jacques told me that although lighter and easier to build than the other dynamizer tanks it costs about the same.
The open container you can see on top (picture on right) is another tool used for biodynamic preparations : it is some sort of flow basin (in French vasque vive) and you can see on this video a horn manure preparation being dynamized in such a basin. The basin is kind of heart-shaped and the preparations gets flushed in a 8-shaped pattern. Jacques says it's not efficient enough and ideally there should be 3 such basins flowing into each other to optimize the dynamization process. He still uses this vasque vive for the herb tea to be sprayed on the vineyard.
I just found out this picture of Jacques' flow basin in use while writing this story, it comes from this visit report in English (you'll find also there an old picture of Jacques standing atop his basket press).
Here is something that hints at a long history of vineyard management on the property, with autarcic and low-cost ways that our ancestors had the secret of : I spotted these two discreet trees near the parcel and along the wall of the outbuildings, and I guessed rightly what it was : willow trees that growers used in the past for their thin canes and shoots because they're the perfect ties to strap the vine canes to the wires. Can you imagine something more sustainable : the farmers just planted this sort of tree near the vineyard and year after year they'd have an unlimited volume of thin ties that would just dissolve naturally after use, but growers weren't bothered with plastic and its realated issue of pollution at the time of course, this was just cost-efficiency and common sense, using what nature provided as free tools instead of buying ready-made stuff at the shop. The trees had a short cut in winter but they'll grow their long shoots very soon.
You can see similar trees along a parcel belonging to Domaine Buronfosse in the Jura (3rd last picture, above the one of the Citroën 2CV).
We went out to see Jacques' staff working in the parcel near the mansion which looks like a clos. There was Serge, a middle-aged man and Sophie, a young woman who is an experienced vineyard worker and who had come with her baby girl. This woman was an interesting character, she was working barefoot although the weather was not that warm, but what I loved the most was seeing her baby girl (who was warmly dressed) watching us like a queen, sitting between the rows.
I think there's nothing like such things to later yield exceptional personalities in their grown up age, we're all deeply impressed by what our parents brought us into when we were very young even if we don't remember it, and watching this baby girl looking at her healthy-vineyard environment with her mother tending the vines was simply elating, this made my day...
Their job that day was to finish the job of the tractor, they had to do it by hand, tilling the blocks of weeds away from the vines. Part of this parcel has been replanted two years ago and Jacques says he may not have dug holes deep enough for these plantings because the vines are slow to grow up. This is Cabernet Sauvignon.
70 % of Chateau Lamery's wine is exported : first to the United States (Seattle - Garagiste & marginally, New York - Jeffrey Alpert Selections), Japan (François Dumas - le Vin Nature Selection), Belgium (Basin & Marot), the United Kingdom (les Caves de Pyrène), Denmark & Sweden (Rosforth & Rosforth), Holland (Chabrol Wines), Switzerland, Germany (through a restaurant in Munich, could be M Belleville), Luxemburg (Allwine).
The rest (25 %) is sold to restaurant and cavistes with a mere 5 % sold directly. In Paris you can find his Autrement at Coinstot Vino, Racines, les Caves de Reuilly, la Cave de l'Insolite, Vins de Coeur, , Coureurs de Terroirs, Le Verre Volé, la Machine à Coudes, les Trois Garçons and a few others (all good venues as you can see...).
Chateau Lamery is part of the AVN, the natural-wine group.