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Philosophizing the Vines at Domaine de la Vieille Julienne

T. Edward Wines, Organic wine importer, Jean-Paul Daumen, Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, Karen Ulrich for T. Edward Wines

“The most important part of my work is in the parcel.  If I find good blending in a parcel after harvest, then 80% of my work is done,” said Jean-Paul Daumen of Domaine de la Vieille Julienne.  “If you go often to the parcel, you can feel the maturity.  I do the blending in my head, but you have to be a little crazy because it’s all about repetition.  Spending time in plots. Watching for change. You get to know the parcels well.”  During one particular vintage, Jean-Paul said he tasted 15,000 grapes.  “I ate half the harvest,” he added and laughed, explaining that he doesn’t eat during harvest because he tends to eat grapes all day long.  And because his fruit has been organically and biodynamically farmed since Jean-Paul took over the Domaine from his father in 1990, he can be sure that his intake is clean.

“What I find most interesting and admirable about Jean-Paul Daumen,” said Patrick Burke, our French Portfolio Director, “is his dedication to nothing other than his vineyards, the terroir they are planted on and his own personal definition of what wine from Chateauneuf du Pape should be.  He is completely removed from any and all inter-appellation politics.  He doesn’t belong to either of the two syndicates.  When many aspiring estates in CdP were looking to the services of famed consultant Philippe Cambie, Jean-Paul was actually fending off his advances.  Cambie tried numerous times to acquire Vieille Julienne as a client, most certainly because he thought it would bolster his resume.  Jean-Paul told him to get lost.  In a word,” continued Patrick, “La Vieille Julienne is authentic, as authentic as it gets.  It also just happens to be, in my humble opinion, one of the finest red wines in all of France.”

Closely tuned to the rhythms of his vines, Jean-Paul is a philosopher of terroir.  Tall and lean with a salt and pepper beard and a soft-spoken manner, he is a reservoir of historical and contextual information that paves a well-lit path for decision making.  “Some parcels have three harvests,” he said, “it’s the typicity of the terrace.  The terraces are a result of landslides, so there are completely different soil types on each terrace.”  Working with vines that were purchased by his family in 1905, Jean-Paul worked with his father, who started bottling from the family estate in the 1960’s.

T. Edward Wines, organic wine importer/distributor, Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, Karen Ulrich for T. Edward Wines“My father’s wine was a little too rustic,” he said, “the tannins were not too ripe.  It’s why I started de-stemming, but now with the climate change I might [decide to] leave stems.”  With all of his vineyards facing north, Jean-Paul also spoke of the benefits here with the inevitability of global warming.  “Twenty years ago it was difficult to obtain good maturity.  With global warming everything is changing.  It’s good for the balance of alcohol and tannins,” he added.  “Northern exposure gives quality to wine.”

Making wines from three lieux-dits, Jean-Paul shifted his focus to wines that could show the typicity of micro-soils in Chateauneuf du Pape, releasing “les Hauts-lieux” and “les Trois Sources” in 2010. Named for the three natural springs that still supply water to the locals, “les Trois Sources” comes from two CdP lieux-dits, including Maucoil, with its soils of pebbly clay-limestone, and Bois Lauzon, which contains red clay, with galets roulees and a sandy gravel sub-soil; “les Hauts-lieux” (the highest — or coldest — parcels) comes from the lieu-dit Cabrieres.

Across the road (D72, or Route de Caderousse) from Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, which is located in Clavin, Cotes du Rhone, Jean-Paul has vineyards on the five terraces that come down from the top of Mont Redon, spreading across the two lieux-dit Maucoil and Cabrieres.  A result of erosion that occurred at the end of the quaternary period from the top of Mont Redon, these parcels are planted to high elevation (100-115m) north facing terraces of quartzite galets roulees and red clay.  It is here that Daumen has some parcels of 100+ year-old Grenache vines, in addition to the 40% of vineyards that are home to 80-90 year-old Grenache, yielding the grapes that go into “les Hauts-lieux”.  Harvested last, after the fruit for “les Trois Sources” and after the vines for “lieu-dit Clavin” (which is generally the first to be picked), the vineyards here yield 18hl/ha, or just 500 cases. A blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 5% Counoise and 5% Cinsault, “les Hauts-lieux” contains no Syrah because it is his latest ripening parcel.

T. Edward Wines, organic wine importer/distributor, Domaine de la Vieille Julienne“I need to be completely in the vintage,” said Jean-Paul, regarding harvest-time.  “Our problem is that we vinify for three weeks only, and so you can [easily] keep the last vintage in your mind.  I need to forget the last vintage to be free.  I need to forget all I know to try to understand the new vintage,” a spontaneous action that actually causes a lot of stress, because he then feels like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. “But I’ve been vinifying for 25 years,” he added and laughed.  “I know what I’m doing!”

Situated just north of D72, Clavin is home to the vineyards that surround the winery.  With soils that are identical to those of Cabrieres, Clavin was shut out of the 1933 creation of AOC Chateauneuf du Pape, which drew the line along the edge of the Cabrieres plateau.  And even though Jean-Paul’s great grandfather was then regarded as an expert on the terroir that sits north of the CdP village, he did not wish to appear as if he was granting himself special treatment, and so he himself recommended that the dividing line between Chateauneuf du Pape and Cote du Rhone be drawn at D72.

Working only with indigenous yeast, and adding only minute amounts of sulfur at bottling, Jean-Paul also prefers cement to steel for his fermentations.  He has a good feel for wines in cement, he said, but not for steel.  “There’s no exchange or transfer of oxygen with steel,” he said, “with cement, its porous.”  After de-stemming the fruit, Jean-Paul ferments his wines before transferring them via gravity flow to foudres for malolactic and then racks for 1-3 years in foudre for the CdP wines and 1 year for the CdR, using 20hl for small parcel selections and 57hl for the larger fermentations.  “I tried to vinify whole cluster,” he said, “but I didn’t find the result interesting enough.”

After bottling the entire production so that there is consistency from start to finish, Jean-Paul holds on to all bottles for a minimum of four months, disregarding market demands, even if it causes a shortage.

Click here for Part II, Cellar Tasting Daumen and Vieille Julienne

Click here for more on offerings from Daumen and Vieille Julienne

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