The Gentle Giant, Bertrand Jousset
Danielle Hilty traveled to Loire, where she met up with Bertrand and Lise Jousset in Montlouis sur Loire.
I’ve always felt that a gregarious winemaker makes good wine, perhaps because he appreciates its true purpose is to be shared amongst friends. In my experience, a tall gregarious winemaker makes great wine. As if his wine was somehow his personality incarnate – like the antic that dogs resemble their owners – some winemakers possess the same gentle benevolence or nervous excitement that their wines exude. Bertrand Jousset is that tall winsome winemaker whose wines, like himself, are teeming with personality and flavor. They are both effervescent, and available in large format.
Perhaps because of his own stature Bertrand likes to bottle his wine in magnums when possible. During our visit to his home, he shared with us a magnum of Bubulle sparkling Chenin, over a crust of the most perfect French bread, followed by a home-cooked meal and a bottle of his coveted Clos Renard, made entirely with estate fruit. And while other winemakers have a few vines at Clos Renard, Betrand and Lise own nearly two thirds of the Clos.
A gentle giant, Bertrand moves about rooms that were never meant to contain him with a large bottle in one hand, pouring out tastes for everyone to share. During his exposition at the Salon des Vins de Loire this year, Bertrand left his table to his assistant to do just this, cheerfully visiting other vigneron friends with a giant bottle from which to pour conviviality.
It’s hard to imagine that before this life as a winemaker, Betrand was an army man. It’s easier to imagine when he explains that he was a “bad student” and entered the French army largely out of a lack of direction. After a few years he made his way out of the army and into the fields farming. A musician to boot, he plays the trumpet and it was during a show at a reggae club that he met his wife Lise, fellow music-lover, dancer, and at the time working as a sommelier in Paris. The two married their passions and themselves and moved to Montlouis Sur Loire to buy some land and teach themselves how to make wine. Their lack of proper oenological education proved fortuitous because they knew they wanted a hands-off approach, to make natural wines that made themselves in the vineyard, with no intervention in the cellar. Hence the bulk of their labor happens in the vineyard, doing everything by hand and never using chemicals, their biodynamic certification goes into effect this year.
Of their 11 or so hectares, most is planted to Chenin Blanc (although drop the blanc when in such company, there is only one Chenin!) and the rest to a tiny bit of Chardonnay, Gamay and Grolleau. The Chenin ranges from 30 to 130 year old vines, of which all parcels are vinified separately and very slowly in 400-500 liter barrels. The barrels are completely neutral and never go empty. For the health of the barrel he never bottles until he is ready to refill the barrel with another vintage so it is never dry. Everything in the winery is gravity fed so the wine is never racked or pumped. Filtration happens naturally through settling and chilling, and never is the wine inoculated or chapitalized, with the most minimal sulfur being used at bottling, if needed at all. This approach might lead one to expect an acidic, tannic, imbalanced “natural wine” but on the contrary his wines are fruitful, balanced and elegant. The wine speaks for itself without having to tell the drinker that it does indeed satisfy all the requirements of the modern natural wine fetish.
Given that he is only working with 10.5 hectares of estate vines, the selection ranges from sparkling to still, white to rose to red, all of which profit from the same natural approach to vinification. In 2012 Lise and Bertrand suffered from a vintage so short they decided to start a second label, Exile, in order to buy grapes from friends so they could actually make wine and have something to sell. Today the Exile is an admirable and necessary accompaniment to the estate line-up and includes a proper pet nat rosé of Gamay that sees no yeast sugar or sulfur ever and drinks like a pink bouquet of strawberries. The exile rouge is a Cabernet Franc made from grapes purchased from none other than our very own Sebastian David from St. Nicolas de Bourgeuil, a man who stands roughly elbow-high to Betrand and for whom Betrand has the utmost admiration and respect as a winemaker. It is with friends such as these that Lise and Betrand have been able to carve a place for themselves in Montlouis sur Loire, humbling themselves to the vines and making wine that they love to drink and share with others, ideally from a magnum.