Clos des Vignes du Maynes: A Virtual Tour
This year, so great, look the leaves are not sick! We are lucky in South Burgundy. We start with the hot Spring and now we have just fourteen degrees. And look the sky is nice. The clouds stop the UV. During flower it’s important. But as they say, “don’t put the horse before the cart…”
Sat in our living rooms, studies and kitchens we are being given a tour of Clos des Vignes du Maynes by its exuberant and proud proprietor Julien Guillot. He’s just driven down to the Clos sporting a gleeful grin, one which says, wait until you see this, how can we talk about my wines, guys, without seeing the vines. Jumping out of the car he pans the camera from one crossed path to another which mark out blocks of vines. So, I arrive at the vineyard now. So, ta daa! Here we have everything. We have seven hectares. We know every proprietor since nine-ten, every proprietor made natural wine!
Watching the screen, you can almost smell the tonic air and feel the energy, the vines in neat trellises have vitality, their leaves every shade of green from pastel to deep lime. Trees hem the vines and the Clos is framed by open country on three sides and a four-hundred-hectare woodland to the rear.
Here, Julien tends myriad old varieties of Pinot Noir, Gamay and Chardonnay. Since 2008, he tells us, he has planted very old selection massale. We [France] used to have two-hundred types of Gamay, today, just five clones [are in general use]. We lost a lot of diversity. Conservation of these old varieties is because it is important to keep the past, to build the future. The gift of the past is here!
The reason for preserving these old varieties is in part to make wines which nod to the lands’ heritage, but also to spread his bets. Behind the poetry there’s practicality. Julien, like many vignerons and farmers, is concerned by the effects of climate change. Different varieties offer a chance to make unique neo-historic wines, they’re also an insurance policy. Each variety ripens differently, responds differently to weather, and so through trial and error Julien can continue making wines of vitality and acidity, despite climate change.
When asked what else he does to nullify the effects of climate change, walking between rows, kneeling down by a trellis he ponders, yes, many things. First, we have to change height. He points to the first line of the trellis and then incrementally scoring the air between the first rung of the vines and the soil, he explains: Before, thirty-five centimetre. Then forty. Now fifty centimetres! Because during the dryness the warmth arrives and after it is like a kitchen. Picking up a stone, he continues, after sun these store the heat and can get up to fifty degrees. Fif-ty really, not fifteen. Standing up he draws his hand from his head running it parallel to the tops of the vines. He speaks in French, Didier translates: So, he says it’s his height, the height of the vine is… one-twenty centimetre, which is the same height as him. Didier gives a wry smile and retranslates his translation to Julien, Julien mock-cursing chuckles something back in French. Didier corrects his intentional mistranslation, so, ok, he says one-hundred-eighty centimetres (grinning) which probably means one-seventy, really…
Jokes aside, the reason the vines are trained higher, as with the surrounding trees, is to offer shade from the potentially harmful sun.
His family has worked this land since the end of the Second World War, when his Grandfather arrived. Having been unwell, his Grandfather couldn’t drink wine with sulphites. So, he set out to make wines without chemicals, no chaptalisation, made with natural yeasts. Today we could make a very nice vertical since 1944. It’s true, fast-forward to 2020 and not much has changed apart from the wider World’s attitudes toward natural winemaking. Julien explains, eschewing chemicals was a big deal then, because large-scale, modern, chemically-charged farming practices were just coming into vogue. Now he doesn’t need to fly the anti-establishment flag quite so vehemently. Unlike his Grandfather and Father, the only thing I have to worry about is the nature that surrounds me. So, it’s easy.
In 1998 his Father handed him the keys to the house here, they are for you. Overjoyed, Julien immediately sets about having a massive party in the cellar. In 1998 the winery converted to full biodynamics and in 2001 Julien released his first solo vintage. That year all of the wines had to be labelled VDT – vin de table – because they were too a-typique. We suspect this means because they weren’t oaked and sulphured, they weren’t Burgundian enough. Either way Julien adds, this was a real problem because my Grandmother’s family had been making wine since the 1780.
Since 2001 the world of wine has changed sufficiently for Julien’s wines to no longer be scornfully branded a-typique. Thankfully they are still atypical, but are allowed appellation status. Cuvée 910 for example is made from different varieties of Pinot Noir, Gamay and Chardonnay. All co-fermented, whole bunch (where possible) with temperature controlled semi-carbonic maceration before a gentle ageing in large foudres (no small format oak here!). The wine is neither fined nor filtered. An homage to the wines of yesteryear and the vines planted by the monks of Cluny more than 1,100 years ago.
Another delightful oddity is the Macon-Cruzille Rouge, “Manganite”. Manganite here refers to the soil which is rich in manganese. Made with a single variety (of a single varietal) Gamay à petit grain, which is much different from the five widely used Gamay clones. The fruit is noticeably smaller, which leads to a pepperiness and fine, slightly astringent tannins, which Julien loves, although this is not Gamay not as you know it at least.
A slight lull in proceedings allows time for an anecdote as Julien paces the vines. Listen to this, because it’s very funny. Some journalists arrived to make a movie because we work with a horse. One Sunday, the grandmothers in my village watched the show. Ah I know this young Julien, they said. A few days later they arrived in my cellar and say, you know we have eighty hectare, we don’t like chemicals. We saw you; we’d like to rent them to you and you can work them with your horses. Eighty hectares! So, I drive a hard bargain and now I work half a hectare for them.
It is agreed that next we will go to the winery. Although the old cellar which is skirted by an ancient Roman wall is impervious to the internet, above is a more modern outfit with some new equipment that he’d like to show us. Walking up the path he explains. L'abbaye de Cluny was very famous in the 10th century and the vineyards Vignes du Maynes. The word maynes, is the old name to say monks (pronounced with Gallic emphasis on the ‘o’ rather than with anglicized ‘u’). So, ‘the vineyard of the monks.’ Ok, maynes – monk – maynes, monk (he half sings).
As we enter the winery his phone spins 90° to the left and, suddenly, a heavily bearded colleague is now in profile. Ahh an authentic monk, from the 10th Century, Julien cries.
After a brief tour of the winery which is all large format barrels of varying age, and a slightly more modern set up than might be expected of the guardians of an 1100-year-old vineyard, talk turns to what Julien is working on and a few technical questions. Things are now wrapping up - he has been very generous with his time the call now running to well over an hour.
We need to organise a real tasting, Julien says. Didier replies with the beginnings of a mischievous grin, I think yeah, you know anytime you are welcome in London. I mean we would need a little wine… for tasting. Julien quickly follows, of course. Didier returns (perhaps in case the joke hasn’t carried across the Zoom call) otherwise, you are welcome to come, even if you don’t have any wine, don’t worry. Sometime after harvest is duly pencilled in.
Julien signs off by drawing some wine from a large barrel, it’s the Bourgogne Rouge Les Crays, 2019. Comically supporting the glass in his mouth while working the tap above, which requires both hands. He charges his glass to us.
A chorus of Merci, Julien resounds from living rooms and kitchens with a solitary à bientôt thrown in for good measure. Thank you, Julien, we hope to see you soon!
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*Note: We are still open for business, doing deliveries, and keen to help everyone with their booze needs in this difficult time. Natural wine lovers can visit our online shop and order online!
Photo credits: vignes-du-maynes.com