The prolific and indefatigable Marcel Joubert, arguably the most senior natural winemaker in Brouilly, made his last vintage in 2015. He's been producing ruggedly natural wines in a plethora of appellations since meeting pathbreaking Morgon winemaker Marcel Lapierre at motorcycle rallies at the end of the 1980's.
The two winemakers couldn't have more different profiles today. Lapierre, who died in 2010, is a legend, the subject of books and cartoons, perpetually fêted in the press. Joubert, alive and well, is almost a ghost by comparison. While beloved by his peers in Beaujolais and his direct clients, Joubert's larger-than-life personality, like his individual winemaking style, remains unknown to most drinkers. A fourth-generation winemaker who began his career in 1972, Joubert belongs to a previous generation of Beaujolais winemakers for whom discretion bordering on anonymity was part of the game.
As of 2016, he's handing over the reins of his domaine to his tall blonde daughter Carine, who worked in human resources before deciding to devote herself to the family business. "I'll stay as an intern," he said slyly in November in his tasting room in Quincié. "If she lets me."
|The cuves tronconiques were not used this year, due to low yields. Joubert prefers to vinify in cement where possible, citing greater temperature control.|
No one I've spoken to in the industry actually believes Joubert will toodle off softly into that long night. But his eye is indeed on the future of his domaine. Presently he and his daughter have been replanting parts of their domaine, which comprises 12ha in total. No more than 8ha are currently in production, due to said replanting.
The Jouberts have taken the decision to replant with high-trained vignes larges, with about a meter and a half between rows. This facilitates plowing and vineyard treatments, at the expense of Beaujolais' traditional vineyard density - Joubert cites it as a loss of 2000 plants per hectare. It's a controversial decision, if only for the fact that no one I speak to can name a great Beaujolais wine deriving from vignes larges, which from what I understand have only been legal in the crus since the last decade.
I arrived slightly late to my appointment, so I didn't get the chance to tour Joubert's other vineyards, an omission I hope to rectify someday. He indicated that many are visible from this perspective; he has some on either side of the ridge separating Quincié from the Côte du Brouilly.
|Unusual wooden slats on his Vaslin press.|
Joubert is a believer in relatively long vatting in the traditional whole-cluster semi-carbonic style. His Beaujolais Nouveau cuvées see up to ten days, depending on the cuvée, while his cru wines are vatted between 15-17 days on average. (For the primeur this is indeed long. For the crus it is long compared to most others working in his style, i.e. without pre-refrigeration of the harvest. Winemakers practicing cool-carbonic often go longer.) Fermentation temperatures don't usually exceed 25°C. He does cool down the tanks after a day or two if the temperatures spike.
Joubert's range of wines is wide and slightly opaque. As I understand it, his vineyard holdings are predominantly in Brouilly and Beaujolais-Villages, but he also possesses vines in Beaujolais tout court, in Fleurie, in Morgon's Côte du Py, and in Chiroubles. For a special cuvée, on which more later, he rents Beaujolais-Villages vines further north in La-Chapelle-de-Guinchay.
Almost all of the Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages is sold as Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau. Joubert's Brouilly production is largely sold as "Brouilly Vieilles Vignes"; average vine age is between 50-60 years.
There are also several Brouilly micro-cuvées, of which I am aware of three: the "Cuvée du Chateau," an exclusive for Paris caviste Alain Hing from purchased fruit within a clos of a nearby chateau, the cuvée "Renaissance," from 100-year-old vines that belonged to Joubert's grandmother, and "Les Grès Roses," first produced in 2014, from a specific pink-granite parcel high on the hill of the Sabodin lieu-dit.
To my great delight, we spent much of my visit discussing Beaujolais Nouveau.
Joubert, being of the old-school, enjoys tailoring his cuvées to his clients. The first we tasted was the "Paris" cuvée, which tends to be lighter and finer than the others. This being 2015, it wasn't especially light, with a rusty swath of dark fruit. But it retained a crucial acidity, with a tolerable kick of volatility.
For comparison we tasted a Nouveau cuvée from the same vintage, made for the Biocoop organic market chain. It bore the same label, save with an organic logo added to the front. (The domaine overall has been certified organic since 2012.) The wine was richer, less volatile, though somewhat flattened and glycerolic in comparison to the "Paris" blend of same cuvée. Joubert reasons, rightly I reckon, that people purchasing primeur in a supermarket are less likely to drink it on the spot. They'll have it with a meal.
The Jouberts are nonetheless planning to steer away from supermarket distribution of their wines in the future, a commendable and somewhat belated move. Not only does supermarket distribution hurt the image of the domaine, by situating its products among more mass-produced wines, it effectively obviates the possibility of wines reaching their most engaged audience, i.e. informed drinkers who do not purchase wine at supermarkets.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of a cuvée I hadn't realised existed until that day, a Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau entitled "L'Empreinte de Jules Chauvet."
The fruit derives from the Chauvet family's vines in La Chapelle-de-Guinchay, rented from Jules Chauvet's niece Bénédicte. The same vines that source or partially source Jules Métras' "Cuvée Bijou," Karim Vionnet's "Beur dans les Pinards," Christophe Pacalet's Beaujolais-Villages, and Domaine Robert-Denogent's "Cuvée Jules Chauvet." Joubert is the only one to release a primeur from these vines.
We tasted the two first vintages, 2014 and 2013. Carine and I adored the 2014, which upon opening was crisper than a tap-dancer in a strawberry blazer. I detected aromatics in common with Vionnet's "Beur dans les Pinards," a softly keening rhubarb thing.
The 2013, by contrast, was richer, more muscular, with more cherried fruit. Joubert found it cleaner, saying he detected a mild volatility rising in the 2014. He was right, though I found it an even trade for the '14's acrobatics.
Why hadn't I heard of this cuvée before? For the first two years it was sold exclusively in Galeries Lafayette and Franprix. (I believe they are changing their commercial strategy for the 2015, which will not be released as a primeur.)
Both wines, it has to be said, are significantly more fluid and aerial than the rest of the Joubert oeuvre, which tends towards stolidity in comparison to his natural Beaujo peers for reasons both geographic (Brouilly is further south than Fleurie or Morgon) and stylistic (Joubert digs richness).
He says that while he's based in Quincié, he prefers, in the context of Brouilly, fruit from Cercié or Saint-Lager, which tends to be heavier. "For me personally I like heaviness," he admits.
To attain this in Quincié, which he comparies to Saint-Etienne-La-Varenne for its fruitiness, he practices the aforementioned longish vattings, followed by up to six months in old foudre and barrique. As with the vatting length, it's all relative. Six months is not an eternity. (For comparison, some of Charly Thévenet's 2014 Régnié is still not yet bottled.) Among Marcel Joubert's fascinating qualities is the way his forthright commercial instincts - to please customers and sell lots of wine quickly - run somewhat counter to his own tastes in wine, which might otherwise demand longer elevage and vatting, or a lower proportion of primeur production.
|Big old foudres.|
|Beautiful arches in their cellar.|
I was unable, in the course of this tasting, to avoid commenting upon Joubert's labels, which, in their hapless anonymity and their use of Comic Sans, are among the most endearingly awful in the region.
The Jouberts have a sense of humor about it. "We did a bit of everything, but we came back to the classic now," Marcel Joubert says cheerily. "We don’t understand everything..."
I was glad I asked, because in demonstrating their former labels, Joubert produced a bottle of his 2005 Beaujolais Nouveau. It was the year Carine's twins were born, but they said what the hell and opened it anyway, reasoning that they wouldn't be opening old primeur wine for the birthdays of the twins.
|Disregarding the wavy parchment border, this is a better label than what they use now, hokey illustration and all.|
Carine and I found it fascinating. The structure, like most 2005's, was intact, with firm tannins, lock-step movement, wiry acid... Yet its fruit had been mostly replaced with the contents of an old spice-box. "There's no fault," said Marcel, who found it plainly ridiculous to be discussing the merits of old primeur. "But it smells like a mop."
"The old drank that and we all said it was the medicine wine," he continued. "We called it that because at the hospital they gave one glass per day to the sick. My dad called it that, but he died anyway."
I enjoyed the medicine wine just fine, to be honest. In the Jouberts' cellar around a plate of salted pork and some local goat cheese, crystalline with age, it was just what the doctor ordered. I wondered what he, Marcel Joubert, planned to do, now that he was retiring.
"I might become a mechanic," he mused, eying Carine. "I'll go mushroom-hunting, or catch snails..."
"He'll be off for a month and then he'll be right back," she laughed.
Marcel Joubert & Carine Joubert
In Paris, the widest selection of - and best prices on - Marcel Joubert's wines can be found at Au Quai, 75010.
A brief blurb on Marcel Joubert at ViniBeGood.
A very similar blurb on Marcel Joubert at VOS Selections.
Beaujolais, Autumn 2015:
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