"It's not very charming, as a terroir," says young Fleurie vigneron Justin Dutraive, as we tramp down a muddy path to the 8000m of Beaujolais vines he began leasing in 2015. "But it was a good terroir to start: all flat, very mechanizable, with low rent. And no one wanted to take it, so it was going to be uprooted otherwise."
Dutraive isn't being modest. The parcel from which he produced his first wine in 2015 hugs the Duboeuf-dominated village of Maison Blanche so closely it practically constitutes urban farming. To the south is a copse of trees and a stream; to the east, train tracks; to the west, a cornfield. To the north is the Hotel Les Maritonnes. "In the summer, when you're on the tractor, you stare at the pool," jokes Dutraive.
From this unlikely patch of what is known locally as "corn terroir," Dutraive produced a powerful Beaujolais tout-court as well as a pétillant-naturel. The parcel's poor drainage and proximity to the stream paid off in 2015's scorching dry-spell: he brought in a solid 42HL/ha. Less bountiful, but no less notable, was the micro-parcel of Fleurie "Chapelle des Bois" he also vinified that year. Just two barrels were produced, a small but very successful addition to his family's renowned range of wines from the cru.
Justin is the eldest son of Jean-Louis Dutraive, the unfailingly festive Fleuriaton vigneron whose indoor voice can be heard as far as Paris. (Dutraive père is fortunate to already have two offspring follow his footsteps into winemaking: his daughter Ophélie, currently completing her studies, is one of the copines behind the "Cuvée des Copines.") Prior to producing his own wines this year, Justin did internships with Jean Foillard and Julie Balagny, and did harvests at wineries in Oregon and Australia. For now Justin Dutraive's solo winemaking is an extra-curricular activity to his work for his family's domaine.
|The only good pic I have of Jean-Louis and Justin together includes some blond chick from Abruzzo. Damn!|
Dutraive's basic Beaujolais was a sizable enough harvest to do two bottlings. The first, this past January, saw less sulfur at bottling (none until then) and was initially a bit frisky and volatile. The second bottling, in early May, nicely overcame the issue. It's the destiny of the terroir - especially apparent at this nascent stage of the vines' conversion to organic viticulture - that the wine will never be as refined as Domaine de la Grand' Cour's Fleuries. But at a time when the basic Beaujolais appellation is continually maligned as producing weak, limp wines, Justin Dutraive's début is a richly characterful standout, its confit cherry fruit kept alert with a klaxon of acid.
It was, of course, easier than usual to make forceful wines in Beaujolais in 2015. Dutraive already expects that 2016, shaping up to be comparatively cooler and rainier, will require him to do a green harvest to keep yields in check and combat the risk of rot.
Dutraive's 800m patch of 100-year-old Fleurie "Chapelle des Bois" is also, in its own way, urban farming. "The access is a bit narrow, let's say," he says as we pull over by the roadside in Fleurie.
|On our way back out of the Chapelle des Bois parcel.|
The parcel lies lies directly behind some houses owned by his grandfather on the road leading west out of the village. It's only directly accessible via a kind of overgrown gutter. A disused child's swing-set hilariously takes up the space of about twelve vines.
Here too there is a sub-optimal drainage situation, in that the neighbor's scaldingly herbicidal farming takes place directly above the vines.
|The Chapelle de la Madone visible in background.|
The Dutraive family have been farming this patch organically for five or six years already, though Dutraive points out that since the parcel wasn't used in the domaine wines, it wasn't plowed. When he plowed for the first time in early May, it was hard to avoid breaking some plants.
Here the long forbearance of chemical viticulture and the innate nobility of the "Chapelle des Bois" climat are already perceptible in the wine, which was soaring even from barrel back in January. More recently I tasted the final results, eighteen days after bottling in late April. The wine is lush, gourmand, with saturating red licorice and currant notes - interestingly, it's quite distinct from Jean-Louis Dutraive's "Chapelle des Bois," which derives from the other extremity of the same climat, and in which a high-toned, feminine cherry-rhubarb fruit is usually foregrounded.
|The Fleurie, right, won't have orange wax. This was a tank sample with a label mock-up and a reused mag.|
Differing vinification plays a role. While Justin's grapes, like his father's, are harvested in small benne and refrigerated before vatting for a pure style of semi-carbonic, the former's wine is vinified in a spherical fiberglass container known locally as a "sputnik." Instead of pumping over, one can simply turn the axis of the sphere, which was done a fair amount towards the end of the wine's 21-day maceration, probably accounting for some of the wine's richer texture.
At time of writing, Justin's pétillant-naturel is still finishing its sugars in bottle. I last tasted it back in January, when it made for an odd change from finished wines we'd been sipping till then.
In conversation Justin Dutraive is demure and prone to understatement, as chill as his father is ebullient. Yet the resourcefulness and energy that are presumably Dutraive family traits are well apparent in his generation. Already next year he'll be supplementing his tiny production - and his family's range of Beaujolais wines - with a new Beaujolais-Villages, from vines recently acquired near Saint-Etienne-de-la-Varenne at the borders of the Brouilly cru. I have high hopes, given what Dutraive can accomplish with mere railroad-side corn terroir.
Domaine de la Grand'Cour
Beaujolais, Winter - Spring 2016:
Julien Merle & Nathalie Banes, Legny
La Fête des Conscrits, Villié-Morgon
Domaine Leonis (Raphael Champier & Christelle Lucca), Villié-Morgon
Beaujolais, Autumn 2015:
Xavier Benier, Saint-Julien
Jean-Gilles Chasselay, Châtillon d'Azergues
Marcel Joubert, Quincié
Nicolas Chemarin, Marchampt
Anthony Thévenet, Villié-Morgon
Romain Zordan, Fleurie
Yann Bertrand, Fleurie
Domaine Thillardon, Chénas
Sylvain Chanudet, Fleurie
Patrick "Jo" Cotton, Saint-Lager
Pierre Cotton, Odenas
L'Auberge du Col du Truges, Le Truges
Julie Balagny, Moulin-à-Vent
La Cuvée des Copines 2015
Beaujolais Harvests 2015
Beaujolais Bike Trip, Summer 2015:
Georges Descombes, Vermont
Jean-Paul Thévenet, Pizay
Jules Métras, Fleurie
Rémi et Laurence Dufaitre, Saint-Etienne-des-Ouillières
Jean-Claude Lapalu, Saint-Etienne-La-Varenne
Benoit Camus, Ville-sur-Jarnioux
Beaujolais Bike Trip, Summer 2011:
Karim Vionnet, Villié-Morgon
Café de la Bascule, Fleurie
Isabelle et Bruno Perraud, Vauxrenard
Le Coq à Juliènas, Juliènas
L'Atelier du Cuisiner, Villié-Morgon