Visiting Yvon Métras, Beaujolais star

Yvon Métras

Getting a visit with Yvon Métras was quite a big deal. He doesn’t normally see UK press, and regularly turns down requests for visits. One of the gang of five pioneering natural winegrowers in the region (along with Thevenet, Lapierre, Foillard and Breton), he counts Jules Chauvet and Jacques Neauport as his inspirations. Métras is now widely seen as one of the very top producers in the region, if not the top, and his wines fetch quite a premium over those of others. But they are in relative short supply: he farms just under 6 hectares of vines.

The Métras farmhouse

After a GPS failure, he came to meet us at the top of the road that led down to a large farmhouse, which he moved to in 2011, on the borders of Fleurie (which is over a hill), in an area that counts as Beaujolais Villages. Métras points out that 10-15 years ago all the hilly land around here was covered by vineyards. But the chemical farming wasn’t working, and to work the soils manually like he does was too difficult for most, so some farmers have given up their plots.

The old farm has 35 hectares of land. When he bought it, it wasn’t a wine domaine, but had been abandoned after the war, and was in disarray. Before, he’d been in Moulin-à-Vent, then Fleurie, and he says he isn’t moving again! Back in 1850 the domain had been some 400 hectares, with 30-50 ha planted to vines. Métras is trying to get back the polyculture on his farm and as a start now keeps sheep, which roam the vineyards in the winter.

Overall, Yvon says he has 5.5 hectares of vines and his son, who started in 2014, has 3 hectares. These are farmed meticulously by hand, organically. It was back in 1988 that he made his first wine without sulfites. At the time it was experimental, and he didn’t sell the bottles made this way – he drank them. The first commercial sans soufre Métras wine was in the 1994 vintage.

We began tasting, with some 2017 samples.

Yvon Métras Beaujolais 2017
This is from a vineyard at 500 m in Fleurie, but the parcel was taken out of the cru by the authorities because it was too high up. (Why? Because they are idiots.) It’s very fresh and juicy with lovely focus. Fine-grained and supple. So elegant and ethereal with nice insensity, crisp red cherries and some fine herbs. This still has some CO2 from fermentation, which he likes to keep to protect the wine. 92-94/100

Métras says that 90% of his cuvées are bottled without any added sulfites. He often adds a bit to his Moulin-à-Vent in some vintages. The next wine we tried was from his son:

Jules Métras Chiroubles 2017
From a plot at 500 m. Deep coloured. Focused and pure with lovely structure and deep raspberry and cherry fruits. This has nice weight and concentration and is noticeably fruit forward, while retaining elegance. There’s a hint of green on the finish. 92-94/100

And back to Yvon’s wines:

Yvon Métras Fleurie 2017 (sample that represents the approximate assemblage)
Fresh, direct, pure and vivid with a savoury, grippy, spicy edge. Stony, with real focus and mineral drive. Lovely raspberry fruit here: this is fresh with nice detail and good acidity. 93-94/100

Yvon then went on to say that of recent harvests, 2011 and 2014 were the only good ones in terms of volume. In 2017 the best plots of Fleurie were hailed, so his 2017 doesn’t come from his top sites. But, still, he’s happy with how it has turned out.

Métras works with semi-carbonic maceration, at very low temperatures. His inspirations were Chauvet, Neauport and Lapierre. He learned from them that it’s best if ferments are as long as possible. It’s really risky and difficult working at low temperature, and most people who make natural wine don’t have the courage. To work at temperatures as low as 5 C you need perfect grapes: there is no alternative. Métras says that he doesn’t like to taste his wines in winter, because what is happening in the cuvée can scare him – things like big reduction, for example. So he only starts tasting again in spring time after harvest. The biggest problem of winemaking? It is that people go too fast. Having said this, Gamay needs to be fruity, so you don’t want to go too far in the other direction.

So we get to taste some bottled wine.

Yvon Métras Beaujolais 2016
This is from the Fleurie parcel at altitude. Lovely aromatics with a hint of decay, some beetroot, and some raspberry fruit, with a touch of spicy reduction. The palate is sappy and detailed with a leafy edge, alongside appealing raspberry and cherry fruit. Again, a hint of beetroot. 92/100

Métras says that Jules Chauvet struggled to make successful wines without added sulfites. This is because he had much less control over temperature, and he wasn’t working with the best terroirs. Now it’s much easier to work without sulfites because it’s possible to control things. Even though, he says, Marcel Lapierre’s terroir wasn’t the best, he could make very good wines without SO2 from it.

Yvon Métras Fleurie 2016
No SO2 added to this. Very perfumed, open and aromatic red fruits nose, showing sweet cherries with hints of herbs and spice. Supple and elegant with lovely purity under the cherry fruit. Very fine and elegant with delicacy and purity. 94/100

Another mentor to Yvon is Pierre Overnoy in the Jura. This year Overnoy is 80 years old, and he’s taught Métras about the importance of taking time. He ranks him as the most important person alive in natural wine.

Yvon Métras Moulin-à-Vent 2012
A very hard vintage with lots of mildew, but this has turned out OK. Still deeply coloured. Fresh and supple with lovely cherry and raspberry fruit. This has just a hint of undergrowth and supple, elegant cherry fruit with some redcurrant freshness. 94/100

Some tasting snacks

Yvon Métras Fleurie ‘Les Printemps’ 2009
This is his young vine cuvée. From a very warm year. This is the only hot vintage that he likes because it has freshness, but in general he hates hot alcoholic wines. This has a fine, aromatic, expressive nose with some sweetness and subtle herby notes. The palate is fresh and focused with sweet raspberries and cherries. Very expressive, bright and fine. Supple raspberries and cherries. So vital, still! 94/100

UK agent: Les Caves de Pyrene

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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