Since I first tried his wines a couple of years ago, Julien Sunier (above) had been on my hit-list of must-see Bojo producers. And then, a while later, I tried the wines from his brother, Antoine Sunier (below). These were different, but also compelling. So it was great to be able to visit them both at Julien’s place, which is quite beautiful, tucked up in the hills. We had an engaging, frank discussion and tasting.
Julien set up his domaine in 2008, and he now has 7.5 hectares of organically farmed vines in Regnié, Fleurie and Morgon. He emphasised how hard it is to work organically in Beaujolais, and just how back breaking the work can be.
Antoine came later, and has 4.5 hectares, with 3.5 in Regnié and 1 in Morgon. He also farms organically.
‘We have opportunities to rent because people are getting old,’ says Julien, who talks much more than his younger brother. ‘Young people are beginning to arrive in Beaujolais. It’s pretty trendy and we have a good group of natural winemakers, but when you see the size of the vineyard, we need the young generation to come here.’
He says that organics is rare in Beaujolais because the vineyards are difficult to manage. The issue is manual weed control with the densely planted bush vines. ‘We are very proud to farm organically,’ he says. ‘It is almost double the cost in the vineyard but our price isn’t twice as much.’
Both the brothers work semi-carbonically (starting off fermentation carbonically but later pumping over and plunging as you would do in Burgundy), believing that full carbonic can risk losing the terroir. They only use sulfur dioxide at bottling.
At the age of 20, Julien worked as a trainee with Jasper Morris at FMV, a wine agency business in the UK. So when Julien began making wine and had some to sell in 2009, Jasper was the first to buy. It’s a nice relationship.
Julien’s wines are really elegant and expressive. They have purity and express their terroirs really well.
Antoine arrived here in 2013, rented a house, and found a place with a vineyard and a cellar. He’s making lovely wines: they are different to those of his brother’s – perhaps more dark fruit and structure, but they are really compelling too.
The Sunier brothers with their brave organic approach, coming here without money behind them, but forging their own identity, is surely the future for the region. They are tremendous fun, too.
Domaine de la Combe aux Loup is a 14 hectare domaine based in Chiroubles, the most homogeneous of all the crus: it’s practically all granite. We met with owners David and Nathalie Méziat, and tasted through their range of wines, which includes Regnié and Morgon.
They work sustainably, certified by Terra Vitis, and have 6 hectares in Chiroubles, spread across 17 parcels. David showed us examples of traditional bush vines (hard to work without herbicides), and the more modern trellised Gamay vines (which are much easier for working the soil). In the last 15-20 years he has completely changed his viticulture, but he needs to use a bit of herbicide still on the hillsides, although he tries to work the soils as much as possible.
The vinification here is quite modern, with starter yeasts and temperature control, and a degree of destemming (depending on the grape). No wood is used, and David does some micro oxygenation in tank. ‘Wood takes Beaujolais away from Beaujolais,’ says David. The result is very pure wines, with admirable consistency. You can buy anything here, really. I didn’t think the 2015s were quite as good as this vintage is hyped, but the 2014s were really solid. From other vintages, the 2013 and 2010 Morgons were both lovely, and the 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2009 Chiroubles were delicious.
‘For a cru it is important to make wines that you can keep,’ says David. ‘It is the opposite of what the big producers are doing, which is to make wines that are always fruit forward, and always the same fruit.’