Tasted with Julien Sunier in Avenas, 19 February 2018.
Domaine Julien Sunier
Ferme des Noisetiers
Tel: +33 4 74 69 91 74
Julien Sunier has a wonderfully complex and interlocking history with so many Burgundian names:
Julien’s family come from Dijon. He did his winemaking studies in Beaune before working with Christophe Roumier – his mum used to cut Christophe’s hair! Julien got to know Jasper Morris who helped him do some work with the International Wine Challenge (IWC) in London and he also worked for Nicolas Potel in Nuits for a time. Then, via Pascal Marchand, Julien landed a job with Mommessin from 2003 for about 5 years – “I arrived in a camping car with no money. I didn’t know much about Beaujolais before that. I bought this farm and although it’s quite isolated it’s pretty-much central to all the crus. The farm wasn’t about wine at that time. But in 2008 I started on my own with 2.2 ha in fermage – I had many contacts through the work with Mommessin – then came a little Régnié, and for the last two years I’ve been working organically and make wine only with some sulfur at bottling.”
Indeed the farm is isolated – you have to follow the road up the hill out of Villié-Morgon (passing Bellevue), cresting the hill, and turning off before arriving in the village of Avenas. It’s about 750m above sea-level here – but Julien thinks that it’s great for keeping the freshness in his wines during fermentations and elevage.
“I had nothing when I started. My equipment and stocks are now in Villié-Morgon, but the fermentations and elevage is here. I had to do everything, learning the trades of mason, carpenter and vigneron as I went on – the house needed a lot of work! It was really the experience with Nicolas Potel of arriving in Nuits St.Georges not long before a vintage, with everything to set-up, and successfully producing 600,000 bottles – that gave me such confidence in what is possible to achieve.
“The domaine is 7.3 hectares today, 3.7 hectares of that in Régnié. Until 2017 all was in fermage but I now have my own vines. I once had 2 hectares of Fleurie too, but it was a steep plot and all the work had to be done manually with a pioche. But this two hectares took 60% of my time and was twice hailed, so I chose to stop. I also have a little sideline as a négoce for buying organic grapes grown – to help in ‘low volume’ vintages.
“I wasn’t organic focused when I arrived, but tasting alone and with other contacts I found the purity of gamay and the elegance and finesse that I wanted from the people who worked organically and were described as ‘natural’ – For me natural wine must, by obligation, be worked Bio! It was risky to start like that and all the vinifications are done here at 750 metres of altitude but I think this freshness of location brings also a good freshness and no volatiles to the wine. I work with gravity, carbonic for 12 days then a vertical press, a long press to have the minimum of bourbe, 80% old-barrel elevage (barrels from Roumier) – I’d like to work with foudres but the place isn’t big enough – it was made for cows!
“The lees of the wine, is the mother of the wine. I rack in May and it’s still cool up here at that time. Finally the wines are assembled for a month before bottling – the wine in elevage never gets as high as 16°C. It’s all about precision in what you do. Since 2011, there has been no chaptalisation and there is no filtering – there are also some zero sulfur tests in France. ”
80% of Julien’s production is exported – the UK is the largest market with the US close behind. “Many found my wines because they were sold in Beaune – Bar du Square for instance. Vintages like 2015 or 2017 work better with a different style of vinification. I find from 5 years they have less fruit – they are okay but I prefer to drink them young, in their first 5 years…”
I found an instant attraction to these 2016s. A super new address.
2016 Wild Soul
Beaujolais villages from Lantigné, ‘first bought when I’d been hailed.’ The first year not bio but all subsequent purchases are bio. 28 hl/ha from old vines on blue stone. ‘I chose the name as I live in a wild place!’ Elevage in egg-shaped concrete tanks.
Modest colour. Wide, pretty red fruit – more to the strawberry direction than cherry, with an inviting purity. Mobile not overtly round, fine textured – fresh with a nice depth. Easy, delicious wine – in fact very delicious – and the finish is very sneaky it just persists and persists!
‘A difficult year. Not just hail there was mildew too. So I didn’t make too long a cuvaison and happy as there is no taste from the dried grapes. From the top of the appellation. At 450 m’
A little extra depth of colour – a little less open aroma, but good depth and again in the strawberry fruit direction. A little more volume – depth of flavour but very little fat – ooh this is super. There’s a faint accent of salinity, a wave of flavour that radiates from the core. I love this.
This Morgon gets a slightly longer elevage. Use a grill in cuvaision – currently only for this wine. This needs a carafe as there’s some gas. At 350m these are the lowest vines and with deeper soil from 6 different parcels including Py, Charmes, Corcelettes and others – see them all on his website.
A bright extra floral perfume rather than just fruit like the last two. Yes some gas, but open, perfumed fruit on the palate too – freshness and a lovely width of pure flavours. Extra depth of mid and finishing flavour. A modest tannin in the middle, long finishing too. I would wait for this one. Simply excellent.