I had the immense good fortune to be referred to Olivier at the very outset of his career by an American friend who was importing wines from one of the cooperatives in the region. Our first encounter, late in a winter afternoon in the mid-1980s, was electric with anticipation, enthusiasm, even revolution. There was not much to admire in the Languedoc at that point but here was a creative genius whose moral mandate was to prove the worth of his land. His triumph is to be found in the bottles of wine he has produced and continues to produce that are, quite simply, among the most important and compelling wines of our portfolio. The night before I put the finishing touches on this profile, I spent an hour or so poking through our private cellar to admire our “Mas Jullien Collection”, wines, both white and red, from the last 25 years of our collaboration, all of which are still impeccable and soul-satisfying. We are deeply indebted to Olivier Jullien for his craft and for his friendship.
Mas Jullien is composed of 15 hectares of vineyards scattered around the village of Jonquières, north of Montpellier, 40 km inland from the Mediterranean Sea. The vines grow on the rocky terraces of the plateau of Larzac at the foot of Mont Baudille, culminating at an altitude of 900 metres, at the limit of their cultivation of the vine in the area. Each of his parcels has its own character, arising from differences in altitude, exposition, wind, cool air currents, and proximity to the river. Soil types vary and include rocky limestone, schist, clay and alluvial deposits. These variables give each parcel its own distinctive personality. He has recently acquired property in the village of Saint Privat, a neglected, somewhat isolated area, that Olivier is convinced will produce rustic wines of interest.
Olivier places his trust in the diversity of terroir, and he carefully observes and respects the environment. He has pulled out vineyards to re-plant trees in an effort to restore the balance of the local ecosystem. Olivier is a perfectionist in everything he does, particularly in his vineyards. From the cultivation of the soil, severe pruning, sélection massale, organic treatments following the phases of the moon, use of natural compost; an intimate relationship with his vineyards is evident. Olivier’s philosophy regarding the role of the different grape varieties is less concerned with the individual expression of each grape than with its contribution to the balance of the final wine after fermentation. He uses Carignan for its freshness and body, Cinsault for finesse and delicacy, Syrah for its aroma and color, Grenache for its breed, complexity, and spice, and Mourvèdre for its race and structure. For his whites, he uses Grenache Blanc for richness, Chenin Blanc and Carignan Blanc for acidity, Viognier for its primary aromas, Clairette and Roussanne for their oxidative notes, characteristic of southern wines. The Mas Jullien is farmed organically in all ways except for “official certification”.
Olivier follows a few simple yet uncompromising rules when vinifying his wines:
“take the time necessary to allow nature to complete its work; accompany the life of the wine without directing it, accepting the risks and differences; maintain impeccable hygiene and meticulously carry out each task in the cellar; leave the option open to react and follow instinct and curiosity; choose techniques and material that do not distort the wine; and have faith in the competence of the people who help produce the wines.”
Mas Jullien produces red wines using traditional methods. The harvest is partially destemmed before crushing. Each lot of grapes is vinified separately in stainless tanks and then is racked into barrel (demi-muid size and large ovals, the newest of which are made by Stockinger, the Austrian barrel-maker of quality). Olivier does not follow convention, he prefers to play by his own rules. He has reduced the number of cuvées he produces, believing that by blending all of the different components, he can create more complex wines. Note, however, that the blends mentioned in the individual descriptions of the wines that follow are general guidelines not strict rules.
|Mas Jullien Rosé This is a siagnée rosé made from juice that is bled off the skins of red grapes from Jullien’s vineyards on the Terraces du Larzac. In descending order of percentage, it is Cinsault, Carignan, and Mourvèdre, though the blend can change from vintage to vintage. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel with native yeast, aging in Stockinger foudre of mixed ages. Truly a wine of terroir, this is the one of the most structured rosés we see each season, a somewhat wild wine of deep, earthy complexity that does beautifully at the table with virtually any grilled fare. Organic and Biodynamic.|
|Vin de Pays de l’Herault Blanc The entrancing white wine of Mas Jullien attests to the complex and exceptional qualities that can be expressed by the local grapes of Clairette and Carignan Blanc which form the base of this wine. Chenin Blanc and Roussanne and Grenache Blanc are present as well. This wine is released almost two years after harvest and will age gracefully while developing a large palette of nuance and silky texture that is rarely seen in even the most exalted of appellations known for their white wines. Witness, for example, our recent experience (2010) with the Mas Jullien white from the 1986 vintage. Organic and Biodynamic.|
|Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge Les Etats d’Ame The cuvée “Les Etats d’Ame” is Grenache based (40%) blended with Syrah, Cinsault and a touch of Carignan (that is the frequent, but not constant, assemblage). This wine is crafted to capture the terroir of this section of the Languedoc while providing a wine more “gentle” and enticing in its youth than the more powerful companion. Organic and Biodynamic.|
|Mas Jullien Cuvée Carlan Legend has it that Olivier Jullien’s friend, Carlan, was walking in the forest, looking for a scenic spot to practice his guitar, when he came across a vineyard in disrepair. He reported his findings to Olivier, who purchased and restored the vineyard. (This was in the early-mid 2000s; our first vintage of the wine was 2009.) Unlike the rest of Olivier’s holdings, which are planted on predominantly limestone soil, “Carlan” features schist, sandstone, and iron, and is planted at 240 meters above sea level. The majority of the vines are 75 years old, with some “younger” vines at around 45 years of age. The blend is 60% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, and 10% the other varieties that make up Olivier Jullien’s red cuvées. The combination of terroir and cépage give this wine a more fruit-forward profile than Mas Jullien’s signature red, as well as his “L’États d’Âme bottling, which both come from poor limestone soils and feature less Grenache (if any). Though “Carlan” is made using the same traditional, unhurried methods, it shows a softness of structure that make a nice contrast to the limestone spines of the other two wines. Organic and Biodynamic.|
|Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge Mas Jullien A tour de force of elegance and power that is unrivalled for its dignity and stature amongst the wines of the Languedoc. A solid dose of Mourvedre married to Syrah and Carignan (old vines) produce a wine that is restrained in its youth, always exceedingly well-balanced and built for the long-haul. Organic and Biodynamic.|
|Mas Jullien “Lous Rougeos”: Lous Rougeos (Occitan for “Les Rougeots”) is Olivier’s highest-altitude vineyard, a west-facing plot situated above the village of Saint Privat at 400 to 450 meters altitude. Composed of Carignan and Syrah, it is fermented and aged identically to Carlan above. However, given its different altitude, exposition, and cepage, the final wine is an altogether different beast. A beautiful, ringing acidity in this 2014 carries the drinker’s mind far away from the stereotypical heat of the Languedoc, and the wine’s overall impression of mineral-drenched freshness would be impressive even in the context of the Northern Rhone—or of Burgundy, for that matter. Olivier has always loved and respected Carignan for its particular affinity to the soils and climate of this part of the Languedoc, and for its ability to express profound minerality. This is a don’t-miss wine for those curious to see just how much finesse and verve a genius grower can coax out of a great terroir in the Languedoc. Organic and Biodynamic.|
|2013 Mas Jullien “Autour de Jonquieres”: Aged an additional year in barrel compared to the “Carlan” and the “Lous Rougeos”—in this case, a combination of demi-muids and large foudres—“Autour de Jonquieres” is closest in spirit to Olivier’s classic and beloved Mas Jullien “estate” rouge. Built on the back of old-vines Mourvedre (40%) planted in poor limestone soils, this cuvee contains roughly equal proportions Carignan and Syrah as well, also from very old, minuscule-yielding vines. This 2013 displays that uncanny combination of elegance and power that characterizes so many of France’s truly great wines. It is both rugged and refined, both tenacious and supple, with a harmony of elements that suggests great cellaring potential. In fact, although this wine is by no means tough or difficult at the moment, it will undoubtedly reveal increasingly complex pleasures over the next two decades at least—as bottle after bottle of Mas Jullien pulled from our collection over the years has so emphatically proven. For its complexity, profound terroir expression, visceral pleasure, and long age-ability, we wager that there are few greater values for serious red wine to be found in all of France than Mas Jullien. Organic and Biodynamic.|
No. 4 was the 2015 Cuvée Carlan from Mas Jullien, a bright, balanced and structured blend of 60 percent grenache, 30 percent cinsault and a mixture of other varieties in the remainder.
The story throughout the south of France for the 2018 growing season was similar: an inordinate amount of rainfall from February through June engendered a rash of mildew that had growers scrambling, treating between five and ten times as much as usual in many instances. The weather pulled an immediate about-face in July, turning remarkably hot and remarkably dry—conditions which persisted until harvest. This whiplash effect stressed both vines and vignerons, to be sure, but happily the quality of the rosés from Provence is generally outstanding in 2018. The higher amount of rainfall led to rosés not burdened by unwelcome heaviness due to hyper-low yields, but the dryness of the latter part of the growing season prevented a sense of dilution in the final wines. In general, the 2018 rosés from the south of France display impeccable balance, superb drinkability, and a streak of classicism that sets them above the 2017s.
For those who think these wines are a tad expensive, consider this: that harvest levels are sometimes as low as 20 hectolitres per hectare at these two Mas. Reflect on that when you are considering village level white Burgundy at $600+ per case (rendement frequently 50 to 60 hl/ha). Organic?