An interview with Julien Pineau, Roche Blanche, Loire


A few years ago, Loire Vigneron Julien Pineau came over to the UK ostensibly to help sell some of his delicious wines - but there was an ulterior motive. It had long been his father Pascal's dream to come and watch Wales play France in the rugby at the Millennium Stadium and on a particularly cold February Saturday we did just that. Though the game wasn't a classic, it was a very fun day punctuated by Pascal's thorough knowledge of the Welsh greats of the past and amazement that some of them were walking past us in Cardiff city centre. This Saturday evening, Wales play France again. this time for the Grand Slam in Paris, a match that will likely be a lot tougher. I thought it was a good opportunity to catch up with him about his vineyard, what's been happening over the last few years and who is going to win on Saturday night...

How did you get started in wine?

I started to get interested in wine when I was a student and living in a shared apartment with friends. We enjoyed spending time at the table and cooking. Our food was mainly based on organic products. Every week, we took the time to go to the market in order to buy products from our farmers, including wine. It is obvious that these wines were made to go with food, but were so drinkable that they were sometimes finished before the food arrived. We started doing fairs and meeting winegrowers. Then during the harvest in Montlouis sur Loire at Lise and Bertrand Jousset, the click appeared. They offered to take me on an internship and do some training.

Where did you train and what is like at winemaking school - are there a lot of natural winemakers?

I took a vocational baccalaureate for adults at the wine school in Amboise for a year. I was on an internship with the Joussets. It was not a specific training in organic farming (it has now existed for 4 years), but more training to become a manager and manager with courses in accounting, management, law and also biology, chemistry, viticulture, agronomy, oenology, etc... My classmate and party friend was Amane Hagiwara, who was doing an internship at Puzelat and who now makes natural wine in Bolivia. There was also Aurélien Lefort who settled in Auvergne, he was on an internship at the Maisons Brulées in Pouillé. The Maisons Brulées have since been taken over by Corinne and Paul Gilet who are my neighbors and very good friends.

Who did you train with after winemaking school?

After having graduated and finished my internship with Lise and Bertrand, I went with 2 friends to Provence to the Domaine Les Terres promises because we had discovered a bottle - Antidote, which we really liked and also because we had learned that the the harvest team was made up mainly of girls. I did three vintages there and also met my wife! I also worked as a crop manager (I was on my own) at the Vaucorneilles estate in Onzain (41). An area which had just stopped organic farming but did not use herbicides. We drank excellent wines from Claude Courtois there. I was finally called by Noëlla Morantin to come and prune for a season. Noella was a tenant at Clos Roche Blanche. I met Laurent Saillard there, learned that Clos Roche Blanche wanted to retire and sell. And I did not rest....

You have been making wine on the Roche Blanche vineyard since 2015, what do you feel like you have learnt in this time?

Wow, what have I learned for 5 years?
I learned how to be a dad, I think that's the biggest thing I learned.
Then I would say that I learned to have confidence in my wines and to loosen up. I learned a lot in mechanics, tractor and tillage. I had never been on a tractor before. I also discovered that the profession of winegrowers was also to know how to be in an office to manage the administration, the orders, the customers and their interview requests. This represents roughly one day per week of work. finally I try to devote this time there. Because the rigor of management also makes it possible to perpetuate the work of the fields and the cellar.

The vineyard is very beautiful with plenty of wild flowers and herbs in the soil, what is your approach to biodiversity?
I have a huge chance to work in this place, an enclosure surrounded by woods. So because of its position, the Clos is an ecosystem that needs to be preserved. The vines have been managed organically for 30 years. In-depth work had been carried out by my predecessor Didier Barrouillet by creating a reservoir of insects in a meadow next to the vines and by leading the insects to the vines via flower corridors. My colleague and partner Laurent planted fruit trees on a plot, two years ago I put my ewes to graze in the meadow. So today I am committed to renewing my vines, I pull up to replant. Because the vines are aging and there are too many missing vines. I try to replant old, forgotten but endemic grape varieties, more rustic grape varieties more resistant to diseases and pathogenic elements. I am only looking for mass selections in order to increase the number of individuals and obtain better collective resistance. By working on all the strata (flowers, vines, trees) and also with the presence of animals, there is a pressure from insects that can harm the vines much less. The ecosystem is in balance.
I am currently looking for training courses on allelopathy in order to better understand the symbiotic relationships between the vine and its environment.
In addition, it is important to consider the aesthetics of a landscape in order to feel good in the workplace, whether for me, my employees, my clients or walkers.

Tell us more about your future plans 

I will work to restructure the vineyard, look for grape varieties and perennial plant material in collaboration with a nurseryman (pepiniere Berillion). Then I would take the time to think about the landscaping around the cellar and my home, to anchor these elements that I thought of on this territory. The cellar was thought out and designed in partnership with Eric Leconte, who had already worked for cellars including that of Christian Chaussard. The idea was to create a building allowing to work by gravity and with as little energy as possible. We also thought about minimizing its impact on the ground and making it as little visible as possible. A film of which I am the subject will be released for free on Youtube on April 1st. Another for French television begins. The subject will revolve around the cellar and a painter friend who will come and put an 8 by 3m fresco in the barrel room. We will try to put in parallel the work of painter and artisan winegrowers.
What do you look for in a wine and how do you make the decision on how to approach each Cuvée every year?
I expect a wine to tell a story, an emotion. I hope it is vibrant and full of energy. So it must be sincere. This is what I aim for when I make a wine. Let him tell the story of the weather during the year, let the pebbles on the ground speak and tell the idea I had when I picked it up. Each year you have to know how to adapt and not try to do the same thing as the year before, even if the wine was good. You have to know how to have fun and experiment because you are only allowed to play once a year. This is why I went, for example, from the 2018 Coup d'jus with tannins to a 2019 Coup d'Jus in carbonic maceration, which is very glou-glou, its opposite in a way. This can be destabilizing for the consumer or the importer, wine merchant, sommelier, but it is important for me to reflect in the wine my emotions and my desires of the moment.

Finally who is going to win in the Wales France game next Saturday?

I would have liked a France-Wales final with a grand slam possible for both teams. Unfortunately an Irish referee decided otherwise by validating a contentious try for Itoje. We will say that the referee is always right..
I hope the Dragon Reds are going to be on fire but in the end, the Blues will make a leek soup.
I hope the Welsh make a french onion soup - you can find Julien's wines here.
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