09 September 2016

n.d.p. in beaujolais: jérome balmet, vaux-en-beaujolais

The tiny cellar space that Balmet shared with his father until this year.

Conventional wisdom of Beaujolais geography places the highest, most dramatic slopes in the granite soil crus clustered in the north of the region, with the landscape becoming gentler as one travels south towards the limestone hillsides of the Pierres Dorées. This is true in a general sense, but it overlooks certain notable high-altitude sites. The picturesque village of Oingt in the south is one. Then, southwest of the Brouilly appellation, there is Vaux-en-Beaujolais, a towering granite hill, the home of promising natural winemaker Jerôme Balmet.

From 2012 - 2015, Balmet shared a tiny cellar space with his dad, making a tiny, untaxable amount of wine from just 1.2ha of vines. Until now there has officially been just one red cuvée, bottled as Vin de France, and a small amount of rosé, plus a few magnums of stellar old-vine press-juice that were never commercially available.

In 2016, Balmet is joining the big(ger) leagues. As of January he took on the lease of 2.5ha of gently sloped vines near Saint-Etienne-des-Oullières, formerly tended by fellow natural winemaker Raphael Champier. He'll also begin vinifying at the facilities of the Château de Lacarelle, which owns the vines. This puts him in good company, alongside like-minded confrères like Romain des Grottes and Stephen Durieu de Lacarelle, who together comprise a fascinating nest of promising young natural winemakers at the château.

Balmet in his newly acquired vines in Saint-Etienne-des-Oullières.
At 37, Balmet is preparing to harvest just his fourth vintage. Before becoming a vigneron he led a somewhat peripatetic lifestyle that included a stint in China studying kung-fu. Upon returning to Beaujolais he put in work experience with Domaine Marcel Lapierre in Morgon, and with Jean-Claude Lapalu in Saint-Etienne-La-Varenne. "He really gave me confidence in the cuvage and vinification," says Balmet of Lapalu. "It’s very interesting, what he does."

Vaux vines.

"La Côte de Vaux," as he titles his wine from the Vaux vineyards, will remain its own separate bottling in 2016. Good thing, too, for this terroir really shined in 2015, retaining bright acidity and a pleasing amertume, rare qualities amid the widespread high-glycerol of the vintage. Throughout my tastings in the region, it's increasingly clear the 2015 vintage drastically favoured high altitude sites - Marchampt, Emeringes, Vaux, the higher sites of Fleurie around La Madone - where fruit ripened slower and kept better acidity.

The wine saw a rather short 6-8 days' semi-carbonic maceration, without pigeage or delestage. He began harvesting on September 1st, late for the sector that vintage, which would seem to imply that the altitude affects his vines' ripeness quite dramatically. Elevage was done in steel, and in 2015 the entire production was bottled without filtration.

"Despite the cuvage, I manage still to make natural wine that is quite drinkable, quite correct," he says modestly.

In Berlin together the other day we retasted his first wine from 2012, which in a fit of youthful rebellion he bottled in Bordeaux bottles. A certain old-leathery funk had appeared on the nose, but the wine remained a relative success for the vintage, with spicy, dried black fruit unmarred by the limp, slack quality of most 2012 Beaujolais. To my mind, Balmet's achievement, across his three vintages, has been a willingness to push for greater purity each year, without sacrificing pleasure or cleanliness. He doesn't mistake himself for a visionary of a New Natural Wine Order, nor does he repudiate the work of his forebears in the region. His wines are more mature than their labels suggest.

This year, despite the extra work from a rainy vintage, Balmet doesn't complain. Brouilly and the surrounding hills south of the crus have so far been spared the hailstorms that brought devastation to Chiroubles, Morgon, and Fleurie.

A beardless Balmet with Etienne Dodet of Berlin natural wine bar Jaja, in July 2016.

Balmet doesn't use herbicides in his vines, but hasn't yet begun to plow, either, instead relying on mowing to keep grass cover in check. Although Vaux is not yet home to any other organic or natural winemakers, Balmet remains hopeful about the future. "Since I've been making a little wine in Vaux, I perceive that the other winemakers put a little less herbicides, they let a little more grass grow," he says. "They start to perceive it’s not a bad idea."

And what about his dad, Bernard Balmet? He's semi-retired now, but still makes some wine, as he did when formerly employed as the postman of Vaux-en-Beaujolais.

"I have him taste other natural wines, from friends, and he loves it. He doesn’t find it shocking," says Balmet fils. "The old ones all say, 'Oh, well it’s the wine we made way back when..."

Jerôme Balmet
Le Bourg
Tel: 09 54 50 86 49

Related Links:

A brief mention of Jerôme Balmet in this 2015 article in Rue89 Lyon

A fairly tiring, wordplay-intensive piece on Balmet's wine at Dans La Bouche, Un Palais

Beaujolais, Winter - Spring 2016:

L'Auberge du Moulin, Saint-Didier-sur-Chalaronne
Jean-François Promonet, Leynes
Hervé Ravera, Marchampt
Justin Dutraive, Fleurie
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

1 comment:

  1. Hi, just started following the blog due to interest in Beaujolais, wanted to say congrats for the shout-out in F&W