Julie Balagny said she simply wasn’t cut out to be a doctor or an engineer, like others in her Parisian family. Instead, having spent ten years at Terre des Chardons in the southern Rhône, she is renting 3.2 contiguous hectares on the remote, upper slopes of Fleurie, in Beaujolais. “I love gamay” she says.
Her work companions are Manon the donkey and Boréale the hardy Pie Noir Breton cow, which breed had almost reached extinction by the end of the 20th century, though numbers are now back up to more than a thousand. These guys pull the plough and help keep the weeds down. Her other weed control agents are a goat, and a sheep from the Scottish island of Soay. “They don’t eat the same things” she explained.
Balagny clearly likes to live on the edge. She arrived here in 2009, needing to work on the sometimes steep, south, south-west facing slopes where the density of one parcel of 90-year old vines is around 14,000 vines per hectare, and where the ground is so rocky that in places vines seem planted directly into the rock. There’s pink granite, and a patch at the top with quartz and with basalt. Then with just a couple of months to go before harvest, she still had no place to make her wine.
Her wines are certified organic “but I’m not a terroirist or extremist” she said, “if I need to add sulphites, then I do.”
Fermentation is by the typical Beaujolais carbonic maceration. The fruit is chilled for a day to 6-8°C which slows the start of fermentation. The bunches go to vat with a covering of protective carbon dioxide for fermentation with natural yeast to start soon after. The cuvaison lasts about three weeks. “I like carbonic maceration” said Julie “because you don’t have to touch the wine during fermentation.” The blanket of carbon dioxide protects the whole process, though there is less colour extraction than with semi-carbonic maceration.
Balagny changes her labels each year. In her inaugural year, there were stones; in 2010 women, and in 2011, she said Brazilian carioca dance will feature.
Wine tasting, in situ, December 2011
Julie Balagny, Cayenne 2010, Fleurie ~€18
On basalt, very hard ground with lots of rock, from 30 year old vines. Bottled at the end of April.
Pale cherry colour, has a spiciness and chalky dryness to texture which is coming from the fruit, it isn’t tannin heft. Dark cherry, part dried dark cherry with hints of very dark chocolate, and a violet perfume that arises from the back of the palate.
Julie Balagny, En Remont 2010, Fleurie ~€24
On granite, from 40-60 year old vines. In old barrique for six months “if you want to keep the fruity side of the grape, six months is enough.”
Medium pale cherry colour, gentle fragrance of red cherries and cranberries, hints of dark berries. Lovely sappy freshness, and fresh-sweet fruit. Elegant and focused fruit. Very nice.
Julie Balagny, Simone 2010, Fleurie ~€30
On quartz, from 80-90 year old vines. Will be on the market in April 2012.
Medium pale colour again, fragrant strawberry and redcurrant fruit. Sweet crunchy fruit, elegant and long in the mouth, medium bodied with a rich fragrance at the core, a gentle concentration that creeps up on you. Long finish. Very good.
My research trip to Beaujolais in December 2011 was sponsored by Inter Beaujolais.