On our travels through many French wine areas we are beginning to hear similar depressing stories – young people are not wanting to pursue a career in wine-making.
One of our favourite vignobles near Béziers, Domaine Izard, is going to have to close within the next two years because M. Izard’s family doesn’t want to take over, and neither does anyone else. His Chardonnay was extraordinary and excellent value for money, and this year he is selling off his stock but will bottle no more. This year we also heard that Red Bouches, a really interesting organic 100% cabernet franc in the Orléans/Cléry appellation has stopped production, and not because their wine had made no impression (or because the name was so dire…..). Far from it, they could sell it several times over, but the number of producers bringing them grapes has tumbled from 300 in 1931 to 10 this year; what’s more, of those 10 there are 3 aged over 70.
However in Drôme Provençal in the Rhone Valley just outside the beautiful medieval village of Mollans sur Ouvèze, Jean-Michel Tyrand is continuing the tradition set up by his forefather Charles Tyrand in 1791, producing wine from his vines within sight of Mont Ventoux.
In fact, Jean-Michel has taken the wine into AOC and IGP production and is always experimenting with flavours and methods, as well as buying more small plots when they become available and concentrating his family’s production on wine. Actually, the main reason he has achieved all this is because he works incredibly hard, pushing himself to work enormously long hours in all temperatures on his land, and when the vines don’t need him he drives all over France to wine fairs to promote his various wines.
He is a member of the Vignerons Indépendants, a group of French wine producers who do what it says on the tin …… they are independent, free of external exploitation although of course also vulnerable to vagaries of climate and market. Jean-Michel embraces the independence with particular vim and vigour; this year he has produced 60,000 bottles, some red, some white, some rosé, all produced without pesticides.
I have not yet tasted a Tyrand wine that I didn’t like, but let’s take one of his red wines as an example.
His Élégance Rouge, a Côtes du Rhône, is an assemblage of 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Cinsault, all vines at least 40 years old. The fermentation and ageing take place with no oak involved at all. The Élégance has a deep purplish red colour, and is rounded and sophisticated, with extended length and is fresh tasting with an aroma of dark fruits overlaid with the slightest background of oriental spices.
This wine is impossible to find in the UK, but in the US a canny Californian wine importer has been selling Jean-Michel’s wine for a few years, and this particular one retails at around $20 a bottle. It is considerably less than this if you can catch Jean-Michel at one of the wine fairs each year! And you do have to catch him early – at the enormous Lille wine fair on the 3rd weekend in November, for example, you have to find him as soon as you get there and put your order in or you will not take any of this delicious wine home.
I was intrigued as to why Jean-Michel, against the trend, has decided to take on this career path, and has surged forward with such success, so I asked him some questions.
At what age did you start to work with your family’s vines ?
I was 15 when I started.
Did you always know you were going to follow this career path, or did you go through stages of wanting to be, I don’t know, an actor or doctor ?
When I did my BTS vito oeno [BTS = 2 years of university level study, in this case in the science and practice of wine making], I had to complete a range of courses and work experiences with different wine-makers, and it was then that I knew for certain that I wanted to create my own wines.
How many bottles of wine will you produce this year ? And is this number changing each year ?
This year (2016) we’re going to produce 10,000 hectolitres [approximately 220,000 gallons], from which we will produce 60,000 bottles and sell the rest to other wine makers. The quantity is increasing; this year we will produce 10 different wines.
Is there one particular wine of which you are particularly proud, or that you prefer to the others ?
ALL of them ! Because I make them myself from start to finish, they are all my creations.
You said that next year you’re going to start using some Gewurtztraminer that you planted ; does that mean you’re going to come up with some more wines?
No, we’re going to introduce this variety into our Les Abeilles white wine [note: this wine has been 100% Viognier until now].
So give yourselves a treat, if you enjoy interesting French wine made with fervour and passion – I’m a sucker for a story, as you probably know by now, but in this case to the story you can add some seriously nice wine.
[Jean Michel’s website is here: https://www.vignoble-tyrand.com/ ]