The Godfather of Natural Wine
Words by Eoghan Neburagho
Collaboration and surprise, that’s what this world is made of and if Beaujolais-based Jules Chauvet the natural wine don, met New York City-based fictional mafioso Don Vito Corleone, that would be the exact quote I’d pull out of their legendary conversation.
Who Was Jules Chauvet?
So, Jules Chauvet, who is this guy in the same sentence as the one and only Don Vito Corleone from The Godfather?
Jules throughout his life was a maker of wine, a seller of wine, and according to many accounts from his generation one of the most profound tasters of wine France had to offer. But most importantly, Jules was the first vigneron to argue for naturalness in wine from a position of scientific expertise and immense practical experience. As a major advocate of scientific research and technical science behind grape growing/winemaking — oenology was his field of expertise.
Born in the year 1907, Jules took over the family business quite early in his life (late 1920s) as his father passed away rather young.
Chauvet was a fourth generation winemaker from a winemaking family in the eastern French town of La Chapelle-de-Guinchay in Beaujolais, a renowned winemaking region for producing some of the best Beaujolais wines in the world made from the Gamay grape variety.
Jules Chauvet dedicated his life to making some of the worlds finest wines ever made, even former French president General De Gaulle considered Jules’ wines to be the perfect example of a light, fragrant Beaujolais.
Above all of his quirky interests and savvy wine making skills, what Jules championed himself on most of all was his love for nature’s beauty and complexity. He studied nature in order to know how to work with her rather than against her, and this is where his principles for practice’ in the vineyard were established — chemical fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides were to be forbidden.
Jules Chauvet’s empathetic choice to study nature thoroughly, resulted in his calm conclusion to argue for nothing short of naturalness in wine.
That’s right, natural wine isn’t a hipster trend that was started on the west coast of America in California like most current trends. The natural wine you and I drink today is a result of the foundations this legendary, humble winemaker from Beaujolais set out for us nearly one hundred years ago!
His Work Throughout the Years
Jules’ curiosity with science led him down many different roads of discovery throughout his life. From a young age he began a correspondence with Nobel Peace Prize winning physiologist Otto Warburg who shortly after went on to be very close friends together. This friendship seems to have inspired Jules from a scientific perspective and may have even spurred him on to practice his initial malolactic fermentation and carbonic maceration experiments.
The process of malolactic fermentation(MIF) and carbonic maceration are two huge components in today’s winemaking world. A wine that has gone through MIF is notably smoother with a creamy or oily textured mid-palette, most red wines as well as white wines like Chardonnay and Viognier undergo this process especially if they’re made naturally.
Carbonic maceration on the other hand is a different fermentation process that winemakers can opt for if they want to produce a lighter red or amber wine. It’s done by whole clusters or bunches of grapes (stems and pips included) fermenting amongst each other in an enclosed, carbon dioxide-rich, warm environment. Only 3% of alcohol is produced through this method, so after five to fifteen days the grapes then go in for a second yeast-focused fermentation to make the good stuff.
There’s just no denying that Jules Chauvet’s experiments and principles have had a colossal impact on the essence of natural winemaking.
Jules Chauvet’s Legacy
You might be wondering how one could achieve such a prestigious title — ‘One of France’s most profound tasters of wine’, it’s impressive right?
Well, as you may have gathered by now, Jules was an aficionado of wine dedicating every last detail of his life to the matter of wine. And to achieve such a title, it didn’t just come knocking on his cellar door, or even by drinking copious amounts of the world’s finest wine. He purposely spent time every year in the perfume capital of France in Grasse. Jules went and worked with some of the top parfumeurs of the time in France just to improve his nose for tasting and analysing wine.
What Chauvet learned over the years in Grasse was that it is simply not good enough for any taster of wine to resolve to the broad descriptive words such as ‘fruity’ or ‘floral’, the taster needs to know exactly which fruit or flower they have detected!
Towards the end of Jules’ career, in 1981 he came across a young winemaker in his home region of Beaujolais named Marcel Lapierre, who at that time was ten years into the business of making wine after taking over the operation from his father back in 1973. Chauvet decided to mentor Marcel alongside Marcel’s vigneron friend — Jacques Neauport, through the many ways of producing world class wines, and it was these three Beaujolais locals who went on to pre-figure many of today’s ideas about natural wine.
Marcel and Jacques were two of the gang of four, later five who worked completely naturally in Beaujolais — their work caused wine drinkers across the world to sit up and take notice. Fast-forward 40 years and it takes us to the year 2021, where the natural wine movement is no longer a rogue group of five young Beaujolais winemakers going against the grain. The natural wine movement has grown into a uniquely integral part of the wine industry with it’s much younger fan base, traditional 100-point scoring system haters, who simply just want to enjoy the finer things in life such as greatly made wine with no shite added to it.
And for that, I say thank you Jules Chauvet,
The true Godfather of natural wine.