Jurancon, South-West France
We won’t deny it, wine folk from the South West of France, like Mosaique founder Thomas, will always champion the region and consider its producers as the best. In the case of Clos Joliette, however, it’s hard to disagree - especially when it’s been lauded as “better than Yquem”, by La Revue des Vins de France.
Regarded as one of the premier producers in Jurançon, Clos Joliette was founded in 1929, when the Migne family cleared forest in a natural southeast-facing amphitheater to plant a hectare of vines. Going against the grain at the time, the Mignes planted Petit Manseng, rather than the more popular Gros Manseng, and slowly built a modest local following selling their wines for little more than two francs in the old money.
Like all good things, it’s hard to keep a lid on it, and before long this niche producer became known as the best in the region and is still revered by some of the world’s best winemakers (in fact, legend has it the late Didier Dagueneau trespassed into the vineyard in the middle of the night to take cuttings to propagate for his own Jurançon estate, Les Jardins de Babylone). Still, with limited income due to the inexpensive bottle price, investment in the property and the vines was minimal. When Maurice Migne, Clos Juliette proprietor throughout the 1960s and 1970s passed away, his widow Jeanne continued production of the wines - although it must be noted that no records exist of how the Mignes farmed the land or made their wine. She was known to be the archetypal picture of a French paysan, always attired in her traditional black apron, under which she tied her leather satchel stuffed with wads of money.
In 1989, Jeanne Migne passed away, and with nobody in the family interested in continuing the estate, the vineyard was auctioned off around 1990 or 1991. The Mignes’ son, who was in the car business, sold off the cellar of old vintages, which is why old bottles are incredibly rare (and those you can find now fetch hundreds of euros whenever they come up at auction).
There were a few interested parties, including fellow Jurançon winemaker Charles Hours and actor Gérard Depardieu, who had visited the domaine several times and was suitably charmed. Most predicted that Hours would buy the estate; however, the successful bidder was Parisian caviste Michel Renaud. Rather than continuing the legacy, Renaud treated Clos Joliette as a part-time hobby, using pickers from his Armagnac vineyard to conduct the harvest; leaving barrels for five years without racking and topping them up only if necessary; then selling only a fraction of the production to a few friends and cellaring the remainder.
Renaud died in 2015, leaving a wife, a daughter and her half-brother. As with all things administrative in France, inheritance laws are complicated so once again the fate of the domaine was in jeopardy. It became widely known that Clos Joliette was for sale, though despite its niche fame, there was no queue of prospective buyers - a situation that remains today.
But what of the grapes? Vines don’t just stop growing! Once again, the spirit of the South West has prevailed. Our dear friend Jean-Marc Grussaute from Camin Larredya, also Jurançon, was offered the chance to farm and vinify Clos Joliette 2016 and 2017 vintages, side by side with his wines. Jean-Marc and his winemaker friends from the collective “A Bisto de Nas” (including Christine Dupuy who we represent) were able to buy all the barrels from 2010, 2012, 2013 in addition to the 2016 and 2017, all farmed and vinified themselves.
The result has been an incredible selection of complex and aromatic off-dry wines, reflecting the reputation Antoine Gerbelle bestowed on the domaine as “the Romanee Conti of the South-West France”.
What makes these wines so sought after is the combination of three unique aspects. First, its location. With only 1.85 hectares Clos Joliette sits at 300m altitude, on the slopes of the hill of Beauvallon (Commune of Jurancon). The vines were planted in 1929 by Madame Migné and exposed to the East and South-East in a natural amphitheater, allowing the grapes to capture the gentle morning sun, rather than afternoon heat.
Second, an atypical terroir made of clay-silica, pudding stones, Ponto-Pliocene pebbles and crossed through by a vein of iron.
Third, the wine itself - a single varietal 100% Petit Manseng, treated with minimal intervention throughout vinification, no fining or filtration, and long aging in oak barrels for 4 to 6 years.
We might add a fourth aspect, being the mystic. There’s little to be said about this wine across the vastness of the internet. They are prized wines, with only 1000 bottles produced each year, sitting firmly in the ‘if you know, you know’ category. Clos Joliette is considered one of those wines one must try in a lifetime, and we are honoured to bring them to Australia.