Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2009-12-01
Behind every fine wine there is an exceptional man or woman. One such wine-grower is Jean-Marc Roulot, a full-time vintner and part-time actor of stage and screen who produces some of the purest and most expressive Meursaults around.
Jean-Marc Roulot is one of the most sensitive men I know. As a young lad, instead of simply following in his father’s footsteps and preparing to become a vintner in Burgundy, he yearned for different means of expression and signed up for acting classes at the Conservatoire de Paris.
But in 1988 his father, Guy Roulot, passed away, and Jean-Marc, who was 24, was suddenly very conscious of his wine-growing roots. Unable to accept the possibility that the vineyard planted by his father in 1959 could be sold to strangers, he put his acting career on hold... but not entirely; he still slips away from his vines from time to time for a change of scenery.*
Today, Roulot is one of Meursault’s emblematic vintners, on a par with Dominique Lafon and Jean-François Coche Dury. He was the first local wine-grower to break with tradition and his wine has an immediately recognizable style. ‘In the past,’ he says, ‘grapes were harvested rather late in the season and Meursault wines were very yellow and powerful - heavy, oily and ripe, with a good dose of alcohol. Remember, of course, meals used to last for hours and the food was quite rich compared with today. Wine had to assert its character! I wanted to change all that; to develop vintages with more clarity and transparency.’
If Roulot’s Meursaults are fresh and mineral, with a purity of palate, it is because his grapes are picked earlier than in the past (Pierre Trimbach, in Alsace, is another early harvester). A new-fashioned way of doing things that hasn’t always met with approval in his corner of Burgundy...
Roulot is also something of a maverick when discussing the notion of terroir.** ‘Terroir is such a cliché. Everyone claims they make vins de terroir. But what does that mean? I don’t find that the specific terroir alone says all that much about a wine. I’m far more interested in the notion of style,’ he explains.
That said (and yes, he is a complex fellow), Roulot readily acknowledges that each vineyard has its own personality. He was the first local wine-maker to separately process grapes from the different plots of his Meursault Villages land, from Les Luchets (his favourite) to Les Tessons, Les Tillets, Les Meix-Chavaux (which neighbours the Auxey-Duresse label) and Les Chevalières.
These days, there is a tendency to criticize Burgundies - which some consider ‘too complex’ - and push for a more straightforward, global market-oriented wine made from Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes. A staunch opponent of this trend, Roulot says, ‘As wine-growers in Burgundy, this is what we should be doing! Working with each vineyard’s distinct identity, whether the vintage is a villages, premier or grand cru!’***
In Meursault (where no grand cru wines are produced), Roulot has achieved the challenging task of raising certain of his crus villages to the level of premiers crus. One such vintage is his fabulous Les Luchet, from a vineyard which overlooks the village on the north side and which - during its first years in the bottle, in any case - easily holds its own against other Meursault premiers crus such as Les Charmes, Les Genevrières and Les Perrières.
Roulot has absolutely no interest in so-called star status; he is a wine-grower, not an ‘artiste’ or ‘writer.’ In truth, he rather fancies the term ‘grape farmer.’ But after the harvest, when we watch him sniff each and every barrel in order to determine which vintage should mature in which cask, we can’t help but think that such meticulous ‘grape farmers’ are few and far between!
*Roulot has also just finished shooting a film with Jonathan Nossiter, the author of ‘Mondovino.’
**Terroir, a French term sometimes translated as ‘native soil’, also encompasses a region’s general geographic situation and its human skills and traditions.
*** Burgundy wines are classified, in order of quality, as regional appellation, village appellation, premier cru or grand cru, depending on where and how they are vinified.
Decisive, crystalline and always distinguished by very pure flavours, Jean-Marc Roulot’s Meursaults are for connoisseurs. ‘A fine wine doesn’t reveal itself immediately,’ he explains, ‘you have to coax it a bit!’
As we tasted his 2007 wines one by one, we became increasingly aware of the painstaking, exacting work involved in cultivating and vinifying his Meursaults.
Each vineyard does indeed have a distinctive personality - his Meursault Village Les Tillets, quite sharp and typical of the Roulot style, is a good example. Les Bouchères is different; a round, suave Premier Cru that more closely resembles the idea one generally has about Meursaults. Les Tessons, a vineyard located on a hill just next to the village, gives a magnificent wine with floral, honeyed aromas and an intense calcaire quality - sublime when enjoyed with a chanterelle fricassee, lobster with saffron, sole au beurre, poached truffled chicken (volaille demi-deuil), veal casserole with mushrooms…
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