Monday, February 28, 2011

A Conversation with Jean-Marie Fourrier - Part 3

This is the final post about my conversation with Jean-Marie Fourrier. It was an honor and a pleasure to interview him, and I hope that you've enjoyed reading about it.

BG: I want to ask you about farming. You have plots in more than 10 different vineyards, some of them not within walking distance of each other. I read about wine makers who say "My primary job is in the vineyard," and things like that. And I've been wondering, you cannot be every where in one day. How do you decide which vineyard you're going to work in on a given day?

JMF: During harvest I look at the forecast and I decide where to pick based on the weather. Chambolle might be three days less ripe than Gevrey, so I'll wait there. Also, it depends on the age of the vines - young vines are very energetic and grow faster. You cannot plan your whole week. I adapt my planning day by day with the weather. I can plan only what I'll do tomorrow. Now I have 4 people assisting me in the vineyards, which helps.

BG: What about during the rest of the year, before harvest, on a sunny day in June, for example?

JMF: I have 10 hectares, 100 thousand vines to look after. What people don't realize is that I will come to each individual vine 15-17 times every year. For pruning, pulling the canes, tying the Guyot on the wires, two or three times for debudding, three times or so during the growing season, checking wooden sticks and wires, and more. And that's not including the tractor or harvest. 15-17 times for every vine - that's a lot of manual labor. I just work with my team to make sure that every vine gets the right attention and work.

BG: Of those kinds of work, which is your favorite?

JMF: I still love all of those jobs. It's a cycle, every year begins with pruning and ends with harvest. I love being in New York like this, but I love going back to farming, being in my vineyards.

BG: Which of the jobs is your least favorite?

JMF: I guess pruning. It's the most difficult job. You are bending very low all day long in cold weather and fog, you go home frozen for lunch, but it's the first job of every vintage and you have to do it.

BG: Do your hands get scratched up?

JMF: Sometimes, but it's not so bad. The cellar work can be dangerous. In 2001 I fell off a vat while I was punching the cap and I broke discs in my back. That's how my grandfather died - they found him in the morning after he had fallen into a vat. He was on his own, punching the cap at 4:00 AM. It's a very dangerous job. One vat produces 10 times it's volume in carbon dioxide.

BG: That's really awful.

JMF: My grandfather isn't the only one. There are more than 10 people who have died that way in the past 10 years.

BG: Let's talk about something happier. Among your vineyards, which is the most beautiful spot?

JMF: For me it is Combes aux Moines, in the northern part of Gevrey, near Clos St. Jacques. There is a 180 degree view. You can see to Dijon and almost to Beaune. It is a rock amphitheater that was planted in 1928. In the summer it keeps the heat and you must work it in the morning because there are snakes sleeping there in the mid day. I've seen foxes there in the morning, and in winter sometimes boar.

BG: Is there a vineyard that you don't currently have, where you'd really love to be working?

JMF: Chambertin is a place I would love to make wine, the terroir is fantastic. The soils are very different from Griotte. Griotte is lower on the slope. The etymology of the word Griotte is crais, meaning chalk. Griotte-Chambertin, Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, Les Cras in Chambolle - it's all from the same word.

BG: Do you read magazines or blogs? What type of wine criticism is meaningful to you?

JMF: I read what the critics write because I'm curious. I'm always honest with them. French critics, you know, do not visit cellars. We're supposed to send them sample bottles and then they have 100 wines on the table. That's not a good way to taste. I never give bottles for that, I prefer to receive people in the cellar. I export 99% of my wine because I'm unknown in France - I don't submit bottles. The way they taste, I won't do it. It's like going to a restaurant and trying 100 beef Bourgignon - the one you like the best is the one with chili peppers in the recipe.

BG: Wait a minute - no one buys your wine in France?

JMF: It's true, no one knows my wines there. I export almost all of it.

BG: Amazing. Do you personally drink wines from other places? What do you like to drink?

JMF: I love Oregon wines, particularly Drouhin, Ponzi, and Adelsheim - all of the pioneers, really. If you age those wines 10-15 years and serve them blind, they'll really surprise you. I also drink Austrian Riesling a lot, and of course Chassagne Montrachet too.

BG (flipping through notebook, looking for questions he meant to ask): What about climate change - do you think it is an issue in Burgundy?

JMF: My grandmother said that nature has a cycle of 60-80 years. We judge the world today in very short terms. Last December in Burgundy it was -10 degrees Celsius. This winter it was -15 degrees. Winters now are closer to the 1970's when I was a kid. Another thing that's changed is the temperature during the growing season - it is 1.3 degrees higher than it was when I was a kid. That's like moving Burgundy 180 kilometers further south to Lyon, north of the Rhône. The consequence is that there is no spring frost, as there used to be. There has been no spring frost in Chablis for the last 15 years. But there are more hailstorms in the summer, the summer weather is more unpredictable. Is it global warming? Cannot tell in this short of a time. You have to ask in 100 years, not three or four years.

BG: Do you hope that your kids take over Domaine Fourrier one day?

JMF: It's a job of passion. You cannot do things well without passion. I want them to travel the world, and if they want to come back and make wine because they love making wine, then great. But what's the point of giving something to children that really is a chore?

Thanks for reading.


Unknown said...

An absoute pleasure to read this series
Cheers, Bill

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Bill,that means a lot coming from you! Thanks so much for reading.

Sean said...


Great job...I had his 2007 Gevrey-Chambertin VV at a restaurant recently & was astonished at how delightful & approachable the wine was. I've got a few of the 2005 in my cellar as well & can't wait to dig into those down the line.

It's always such a meaningful delight to hear from the winemaker in this sort of intimate way. Thanks for the opportunity!


Yule said...

Great job! Keep the interviews coming. It's posts like these that make your wine blog one of the best on the Inter-tubes.

Anonymous said...

This continues to be so astonishingly good, such an obvious progression from already outstanding previous interviews, such as the ones with Neal Rosenthal, that it can be an essential document for the understanding of wine. BG, quit your day job, ring up Betrand Celce, and the two of you go write the best book ever (with his pictures) on the heart and soul (especially the soul) of wine. Bravo again!

My word verification is: nosuchy. Must be thinking of your blog!

Anonymous said...

Just had the 2002 Gevrey-Chambertin Combes aux Moines tonight....the Angels wept!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, nice interview. Will search for the wine but not easy to find here.

Brooklynguy said...

Thanks for all of your kind words.

Justin Everett said...

Great interview. Always wanted to no more about this guy.

The map you link to has the grand cru and commune levels reversed though.

Burgundyfan said...

Thanks, excellent interview.
We have been trying to get some bottles in his cellar but he is always sold out. He likes Dollar not swiss money.

Eric Lo said...

A very enjoyable read!
Now I know why I have headache sometimes!!
Planning to buy some JMF GV VV 08!

Alex Bernardo said...

Tomorrow I've organized a small dinner where I'll pour five of Fourrier's wines. Reading your interview is inspiring and has got me all fired up. Thanks for sharing.