Monday 28 February 2011

St. Jeannet

25 km from Nice, opposite the micro-vineyard of Bellet is a forgotten appellation called St. Jeannet. This is one of those tiny historic terroirs like Colares in Portugal in danger of being annihilated by developement and the encroachment of modern life.

We haven't tasted the wines of St. Jeannet but the story has been enough to make us not only wish we had but to recruit us to the cause of preserving this idiosyncratic vineyard. Unlike the vast majority of our good causes, St. Jeannet's singularity lies not in the varieties of grapes grown there (Rolle/Vermentino, Muscat, Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot and Syrah) but in the fascinating method of vinification traditional to the area.

This includes, for the red wines at least putting the wine in clear glass 'Bonbonnieres'

and leaving it to the mercy of infra-red rays, temperature fluctuations and no doubt an amount of oxydisation. We have seen some of these methods in the Jura (oxydisation) and Friuli (elevage in amphorae) but St. Jeannet seems to embrace all these together.

We have it on the authority of Olivier Cautres of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice, a connoisseur of rank if ever there was one, that the white is something very special indeed.

In 1950, vines accounted for one third of the land of the commune of St. Jeannet making it famous for table grapes as well as wine. White wine from Rolle was kept in granaries and subjected to heat and cold making a madeirised, fruity dessert wine which was known and available in Paris.

Horticulture and developement almost killed the vineyards but about twelve producers remained and fought back. Prominent among them was the Rasse family who have persevered and whose wines are always snapped up before they can find their war very far.

Just in case, dear Slotovino reader, you think we have gone soft in the head from recounting this sentimental story, there is a silver lining in the shape of yes, you guessed it, a very rare grape variety indeed: St. Jeannet, no less which is believed to have originated here in our St. Jeannet and is now to be found only in Argentina where it accounts for one wine, Finca El Reposo St. Jeannet.

We glean from Google that this is "a long lost variety planted in Argentina in 1912", and that this is "the only planting of Saint Jeannet left on the planet on a plot located in Cruz de Piedra, Mendoza." Another brave soul maintains "This variety originally from Asia, was introduced in Southern France by the Greeks. The Benegas family brought it to Mendoza. Its main characteristic is its late ripeness and acidity. In the beginning of the 20th century, this wine was used to enhance the acidity and body of the sparkling wines." We haven't yet found the connection with the commune of St. Jeannet and we haven't heard of any of this variety still growing there but here is an interesting story to be sure and wine is surely better for having a past, don't you think?

Triomphe d'Alsace

The lowly hybrid Triomphe d'Alsace has never made a good wine and rarely even a drinkable one. We should know having tried to do so ourselves on several occasions and having tasted as many commercial examples as possible whether in blends or straight.

Triomphe's only virtue seems to be that the vine itself is immensely obliging. Whatever you do or don't do in terms of pruning, spraying, feeding etc. it will come through almost anything the English and for all we know Welsh, Irish and maybe even Scottish climates can throw at it with fruit ripe enough to make wine of sorts. It's the wine that is the problem - or has been until now.

We started off trying to get as much sugar and concentration as possible but this mongrel crossing (K319/3 Knipperle x Vitis riperia x Vitis rupestris or else Vitis riparia × Vitis rupestris × Goldriesling, no one seems sure) has a thoroughly unpleasant bitter characteristic which precluded it from making cooking wine, Sangria, vinegar or any use whatsoever. We then asked our winemaker, the brilliant Vince Gower of Stanlake Park to try to get more acid and less fruit into the equation and in 2009 he produced something almost drinkable if rather peculiar.

Our 2010 harvest was going to be our last attempt at making wine. In the meanwhile we had discovered that our grapes made a delicious grape juice so if we couldn't make wine this time it would be grape juice in future. We decided to try just one more thing - a blanc de noirs.

Triomphe is a teinturier with red flesh as well as skins so as well as being a ridiculous concept, it was never actually going to make a white wine and so it happened that we ended up with a pink one.

Vince has filtered and stripped out the unpleasant Triomphe flavours leaving a light, slightly watery but hopefully refreshing rose that could have come from one of the lower shelves at the supermarket. A triomphe indeed!