Bordeaux ‘Bad Boy’ Jean-Luc Thunevin (pictured left), and his wife Murielle Andraud, bought their first plot of unclassified Bordeaux vines in 1989, in Saint-Emillion. Working against the grain, Thunevin aimed for low yields and in 1991 released his first vintage of Chateau Valandraud, one of the world’s first “garage wines”.
Using new oak and favoring extraction, Thunevin rocked the industry in France, not caring what anyone was thinking. Each year, Thunevin increased his production, while Robert Parker fed him points.
In 1995, Chateau Valandraud wine won a 95 rating from Parker, and soon, its wines were out-pricing established Bordeaux classified growths. Coined a “bad boy” and a “black sheep” by Parker, Thunevin crumbled the clos in Bordeaux, home to a very traditional practice. He began as an innovator from off the map, who modeled an alternative for the aspiring garagiste wine producer. A self-coined “modern winemaker”, Jean-Luc now produces six different wines at Chateau Valandraud, but he’s also a Bordeaux négociant for Jean-Luc Thunevin Selections.
As the holder of about 20 properties, including Chateau Valandraud, Virginie de Valandraud, Chateau Bel Air Ouy, Chateau Prieuré Lescours and Clos Badon Thunevin, all of which are Grand Cru vineyards in St Emilion, Jean-Luc represents an additional 25 to 30 properties, mostly located in the area of Bordeaux, especially the Right Bank.
Preferring natural wine production, Jean-Luc favors concrete steps over labels, such as using no herbicides or insecticides, and employing cover crops. His entire company policy is based on the environment, including social policies and working conditions for employees.
Recently, Jean-Luc paid a visit to our office, to taste us through a selection of nine wines. With slate-blue eyes, he’s a man of great affect, humor and grace. When speaking of his wine, Blanc De Valandraud, he said, this is “my favorite of my collaborators…I sleep with her. She’s my wife.”
Born from a small parcel of 0.6ha that the couple purchased in 1989, Chateau Valandraud now totals 10ha, a domain that consists of a number of parcels, which are fermented separately in wood, steel, or concrete vats, before being blended together every March. The Blanc de Valandraud cuveé no. 1 is then fermented in 100% new French oak, while the no. 2 ferments in barrels that were used for the first. In St Emilion, only three white wines are produced, two of which come from Chateau Valandraud.
Blanc de Valandraud no. 2 2006–Produced from vineyards that were planted in 2000, with Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion, the more recent vintages include Sauvignon Gris. Considered a “haut-couture” wine by Jean-Luc, it’s made from grapes that are hand selected and picked when ripe. With light pineapple fruit and floral notes, the Blanc de Valandraud has an accessible acidity that’s nicely balanced with baking spice notes.
Chateau Bellevue la Randee Bordeaux Rouge 2009–Located north of St Emillion and inland on the Right Bank, Chateau Bellevue la Randee is a producer that Jean-Luc follows yearly. A recent addition to our portfolio, this is a blend of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc, fermented and aged in cement tanks. With notes of dark berry fruit and graphite, it’s rustic yet silky on the palate, and quite accessible to drink.
Domaine Virginie Thunevin Bordeaux Rouge 2006–Also recently added to our book, a wine from clay and limestone soils that was purchased in 2006 by Jean-Luc’s daughter, Virginie. This blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon is fermented in concrete and stainless steel tanks, and aged in 30% new oak. On the palate, the wine drinks like fresh fruit, first soft and round like skin, followed by great acidity as one ‘bites’ into the contents of her glass.
Chateau Prieure Lescours St Emilion Grand Cru 2001–A “gourmand and hedonistic wine” says Jean-Luc, an en primeur wine, from soil of gravel and stone with excellent drainage. Made from 30 year old vines of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc, 2001 was a very good vintage, adds Jean-Luc, despite the fact that it’s often overshadowed by 2000. Aged in 100% new oak, the 2001 shows elegant red berry and plum fruit with acidity that hits the palate once the fruit settles, followed by earthy notes with a hint of baking spice. Very nice…
Chateau Compassant Bordeaux Rouge 2004–A “classic” vintage, says Jean-Luc, from the best terroir of limestone and clay; “lawn chair terroir,” he termed it, because it’s beautiful with minimal effort. Here, you’ll find dark fruit and granite with a slight herbaceousness. The fruit comes in waves, receding on the palate, only to appear again at the end, accompanied by velvety tannins.
Mauvais Garçon Thunevin Red Bordeaux 2007–Coined “Bad Boy” everywhere but the U.S., the Mauvais Garçon was first produced in 2005, and was then named one of the best 14 values from Bordeaux by Wine Spectator. It sees 100% new oak and shows baked fruit (dark berries and plum) that’s initially a little tight until undressed by floral mineral notes.
Virginie de Valandraud St Emilion Grand Cru 2006–Produced from the vineyards of Chateau Valandraud as a second brand, Virginie de Valandraud saw 30,000 bottles of this classic Bordeaux vintage. With lovely aromas that are savory and floral with hints of graphite, this Grand Cru is silky like porcelain skin, finishing with velvet tannins.
Chateau Franc Maillet “Cuveé Jean Baptiste” Pomerol 2006–Named for Jean-Luc’s grandfather, who bought a few parcels in 1919, after World War I, this property sits 500m from Petrus. With 40 year old vines, this parcel is isolated specifically for this cuveé, which is vinified like a Burgundy. A luxury item with a great price point, the “Cuveé Jean Baptiste” always receives 90+ points, and the holdings are limited, as only 3,000 bottles were produced.