I suppose saying the name of the firm that imports Jean-Paul Brun’s wines will say as much about the wine, right up front, as I can in a paragraph. It’s Louis/Dressner, the king among the proponents of “natural” winemaking. Pick a wine from Dressner’s portfolio, and it’s bound to be one of the least manipulated wines you will find in the marketplace. Indeed this is the case of Domaine Terres Dorees: Brun farms biodynamically, typically does not capitalize (- his wines hover around 12%+ alcohol,) uses indigenous yeasts, often does not use SO2, or uses the most minuscule amount. Instead, he relies on encouraging residual CO2 to remain in the wine during bottling to protect it as it ages (which may require decanted the wine before drinking.) With diligence and meticulousness, the wines of Domaine Terres Dorees are routinely phenomenal.
Jean-Paul Brun, Robert Parker, and the Natural Wine Debate
Brun started his winery with 3 hectares of family owned vines, and over the last 35 years has continuously added to his vineyards, bringing his current landholding to a sizable 25 hectares in Beaujolais des Pierres Dorees (in far south near Lyon) and 5 hectares of Cru Beaujolais scattered across various villages. Domaine Terres Dorees produces roughly 300,000 bottles / 25,000 cases per year. What is notable is for a winery of this size to produce wines which are not only biodynamically farmed, but produced in virtually an organic. That’s no easy feat, with so many of vats and barrels to monitor at any one time. Brun claims in the interview on the Louis/Dressner site, that he is not against using SO2. He says he’d much rather see people make good wine by adding sulfites, than produce bad wine because they couldn’t control the results of not using it, which is so often the case. Winemakers who don’t use SO2 and then make flawed wine, “discredits sulfur-free wine,” as a category, Brun says forcefully. By extension, I take that to mean the work he is doing. Jean-Paul adds “For these guys it becomes less about making great wine and more about being part of a “cool” movement.” (see Side Bar, Counselors for more on this subject)
2011 Domaine Terres Dorees, Beaujolais L’Ancien $16
This wine is alive, and so vibrant! You can tell just by the color, but it’s the nose that hits you first, even you as you pour the wine. It virtually shoots out with high-toned cranberry, cherry fruit, and then finally clove and cinnamon notes eventually take over… (these are the tell-tail aromas of stem inclusion, although reports are that he de-stems.) In the mouth, the wine is light in weight yet spreads out broadly. It has an expansive texture that is soft, caressing and willowy, yet tingles with energy and vibrancy. The flavors just keep resonating, with rich black cherry, plum, and fresh, dark, black-skinned grape notes. Brilliant winemaking for a “simple” Beaujolais to be sure, but then this is no mass-produced plonk either. A serious winemaking team put this effort together, using a good vineyard source, and farmed in an exceptional manner.
Don’t count out the fact that it is a natural wine*. I have noticed a bright vibrancy that well-made ‘natural wines’ have in common. It is a unique characteristic that other wines, that have had SO2 added to them don’t share. In the mouth they so fresh and alive, and an extra measure of expressiveness. Could this commonality be no more than the CO2 on the palate? Whatever it is this had that unique characteristic in spades. Highly recommended: 91 points.
Reading Between The Lines
L’Ancien often indicates an old traditional methods of winemaking, but not in the case with Brun’s Beaujolais. Here it refers only to the vine age. They are certainly over 50 years old according to some sources, though the Louis/Dressner site says 80+ years. Regardless of the age of the vines, there is little about the way Brun makes wine that is traditional for the often mass-produced wines of the Beaujolais appellation. Even though I am absolutely sure I tasted stem contact in this Beaujolais, it is written that he favors de-stemming. Destemming is fairly unusual in Beaujolais. Perhaps he de-stems his more prestigious crus, but not this l’Ancien? In any case, there is a bit of cold maceration to set the color, which helps give it its dark color despite its relatively low ripeness of 12% alcohol. It is also written that he releases late for Beaujolais, preferring to give extra time in the barrel, more that 18 months, to soften up the tannins. Again, I suspect this regime is for the Cru Beaujolais, and I am sure this lower tiered Beaujolias l’Ancien only saw any oak, it wasn’t for long. It was very fresh, even now after a year on the market. The 2012 has already been released in the US Market.
This wine comes from his vineyards that surround his winery in Beaujolais des Pierre Dorees, – way down South in Bas Beaujolais. Pierres Dorees means stones of gold, referring what is colloquially called “yellow sandstone” that dates back to the Secondary Era (between 30 and 70 million years ago). This “sandstone” is more famous for its use in building the golden stone architecture of the area than it’s presence in the vineyards – since in the past no one took the wines made there very seriously. Sedimentary rock that has or more 50% calcium carbonate in the form of calcite (which often comes from the fossilized remains shellfish) is considered limestone, and less than 50% is considered sandstone. It is well documented that the entire area was covered by oceans millions of years ago, having left many deposits of the calcareous (chalky) remains of sea life across the growing area. Some people have casually written there is a limestone sub soil there. But that kind of bedrock really sits below Domaine Terres Dorees and the rest of Beaujolais des Pierre Dorees? That’s a good question.
* most likely a natural wine may be more accurate.
Read an outstanding and colorful interview with Jean-Paul on the Louis/Dressner website. Be sure to click on the small gray words Read More below the word Interview to open it up – it’s not as obvious as it should be.
Side Bar, Counselors:
SB 1: Can We Just Get To the Truth?
There are conflicting accounts of Bruns methods (as well as for the total area of his holdings) with multiple sources stating various and wildly conflicting things. Where possible, I have used direct quotes from Brun to determine the “facts” I report here. However, here is a typical dichotomy: Brun in a Louis/Dressner interview from 2011 alludes to not using sulfur at all, but the Louis/Dressner producer profile says he uses minimal SO2. It is entirely possible that since the website info was written, Brun had since stopped using SO2 altogether, and the Dressner website simply hadn’t been updated. Other exporters site Brun is a natural winemaker, not using SO2. One website rawfair.com is written as if it were a Torres Dorees press release:
“Le Domaine des Terres Dorées represents 30 hectares in Southern Beaujolais and 15 hectares in the Beaujolais crus. The soil is calcareous in the South with hints of iron and the stone is a golden color hence its name: Pierres Dorées means Golden Stones. Here we labor the soil, we protect the vines with copper and sulfur.”
While the Dressner site says the holdings are smaller at 40 acres, and quotes Jean-Paul Brun in the interview saying he has 5 hectares in among the Cru Beaujolais appellations.
So much wine reporting is done with casual exchanges of information, often being translated from one language to another. Then, with is so much room for error and misinterpretation, the information, gets propagated by multiple sources, be they wine writers, bloggers, retailers, and the general public, appearing all across the web as fact. The original source material is buried by this regurgitation, and there is no reference to when the information was written, or even if it was correct in the first place.
SB 2: The Natural Wine War of Words
That couldn’t be underscored more poignantly than by Robert Parker’s recent essay (if you can call it that) “Articles of Merit: There is No Reason and The Truth is Plain To See”, which was published on erobertparker.com. In what quickly devolves into a rant, he scorns the vocal natural wine proponents who rage against the mainstream wine world, and call mainstream winemaking over-ripe, cookie cutter, commercialized, and soulless. Of course Parker is routinely blamed for most of these vinous atrocities, and who can really blame him for letting loose? Parker shoots back at the natural wine crowd: “just how absurd this notion is becomes evident when the results are oxidized, stale, stink of fecal matter as well as look like orange juice or rusty ice tea being poured into a glass and passed off as “authentic”, “natural” or “real” wine.” Parker goes on and on, skewering and lambasting. And while he has many good points, it ends up sounding like bitter, drunk typing. Clearly the battle lines are squarely drawn, with the hipster/artist natural wine folks on one side decrying wine’s industrialization, and their cries for natural wine with purity and untethered expressions of terroir; and the rest of the wine world, just trying to put a good glass of wine in their glass. The reality is there should not be a war of words here, and I’m sure Jean-Paul Brun is shaking his head in frustration.