I had a delightful tasting and lunch in France last week with Lise and Bertrand Jousset, a young couple who have been farming about 26 acres in the Montlouis-sur-Loire appellation since 2004. Mountlouis has been overshadowed for most of its history by its larger and more famous neighbor, Vouvray, but Lise and Bertrand are among those demonstrating why tiny Montlouis is making its mark producing some of the most exciting chenin blancs in this part of the Loire Valley.
For one thing, they are farming and making their wines organically, though Lise says you will never see the word “organic” on their labels. While an increasing number of winemakers here and elsewhere use organic certification as a badge of honor and as a marketing tool, the Joussets beg to differ. “We don’t want to use ‘organic’ to sell our wines,” Lise says. “We want people to buy our wines because they like them, not because they’re organic.” She adds, “There are a lot of industrial wines that are organic. We don’t want to be mixed with these people.”
The Joussets’ wines, made from chenin blanc grapes from 40- to 130-year-old vines, speak for themselves, as I quickly found out in the small cellar below their house, tasting five or six 2009 barrel samples from various vineyard parcels, some of them still fermenting. The fruit, though still a bit bitter in some cases, is ripe, concentrated and altogether delicious and another sign of the quality of the ’09 vintage that I found in a week of tastings in the Loire Valley.
The vineyard lies on soil with a good deal of flint, or silex as its known, which gives the wines a precise, focused quality. I liked all three wines from the 2008 vintage, the dry Premier Rendez-Vouz, with lush pear, honey and minerals, still a bit bitter at the end reflecting its youth; the Trait d’union, a semi-dry chenin with a good deal of tropical fruit and a touch of banana supported by firm acidity; and the racy, more austere and profound Singulier, made from some of the oldest vines on the property, which has a superb finish.
Chenin blanc, as I was reminded time and again in my tastings last week, not only benefits from but really requires aging to enjoy fully, and the point was emphasized when Bertrand served the 2005 vintage of Singulier at lunch in the couple’s kitchen. The food highlight was a simple soup that Lise had made with pureed carrots, potatoes and leeks and flavored with what Lise called some some “bones,” or veal scraps. The wine, with a few years of bottle age, had lost its edges and made for a sublime pairing.
The Joussets’ production has been and will remain small. They’ve been making 20,000 to 25,000 bottles a year and will go up to about 40,000 this year. But that will be it for now. As Bertrand explained, “We want to keep it a human winery. I like to work the vines myself. I don’t want to be a businessman.”