Currently, at the ripe old age of 34, Clotaire Michal has spent the last thirteen years working in the world of wine. After completing his studies in the Languedoc with Pic St. Loup master Christophe Peyrus of Clos Marie, Clotaire honed his craft for five years at the foot of Cornas perfectionist Thierry Allemand. This five-year master class with Thierry Allemand was “extremely demanding” in Clotaire’s own words, but he felt like he “saw it all.”
From 2008 to 2012, Clotaire moonlighted making his own wine in St. Joseph in his “free time” after his day’s work for Thierry Allemand was done. He had a small plot in St. Joseph on the right bank of the Rhone near Condrieu. His search for better and more vineyards in the Northern Rhone left him underwhelmed, underfunded or both. So he stepped back and away from his project in the Northern Rhone and set off in search of the right place where he could make the authentic style of wine that he had spent more than a decade working on. Without any bias or predisposition as to what grape he wanted work with, he let the place be his guide.
He found that place in 2013 just East of the small village of Saint Etienne la Varenne at the Southern tip of Brouilly. A site with just over three hectares of vines with perfect Southern orientations and beautiful old vines. The vineyards are comprised of pink granite and sand with a smattering of quartz. Classic soil make up for this end of the region. It also has a chalet that contains an interesting bit of French history or legend. I’m not sure which, but it does provide insight into the label design for Clotaire’s regular cuvee. Over lunch (which was a great day of talking, cooking and enjoying his wines) Clotaire explains that around 1840, Napoleon’s remains were returned to France on the ship “La Belle Poule.” The wood from La Belle Poule is believed to have been used to construct the chalet on the property known as Le Pouzet. Here’s a photo of the chalet in the early days. Thus Clotaire pays homage to that story with the frigate La Belle Poule and Napoleon gracing his label. While it’s a nice touch, I let Clotaire know that I worry the label may suggest to some that the wine in the bottle is less than serious. I can assure you, that’s not the case.
Everything Clotaire does is serious and with a purpose. He works completely organically and thoughtfully. No chemicals, hand harvests, delicate handling of the fruit, whole cluster fermentation using only natural yeasts, an appropriate amount of sulfur (around 30mg/l) only during fermentation, no chaptalisation, no heating of the must to extract color or unnatural aromas, gentle pressing using a vertical antique press, old oak and tank elevage, no filtering, no fining. You can see the Allemand influence and training in his work, but he’s not working to any formula or “what works somewhere else, will work here” philosophy. He definitely has strong views about what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. Always with the goal of turning out great tasting wine.
All of this results in wines that are elegant, pure, authentic examples of Gamay from Beaujolais. The way it should be made. I also was blown away tasting Clotaire’s 2014 Beaujolais Nouveau. A wine that’s made to be consumed shortly after it’s bottled, was drinking great when we had it along with the two wines we currently have the good fortune to offer you. It was still fresh, delicious and gulpable. He was sold out of both his 2014 and 2015 Beajolais Nouveau, almost all of his production going to Japan. I promise you, if we get a chance at some of his 2016, it will change your perception of what you believe Beaujolais Nouveau to be.
We look forward to watching Clotaire’s ascendency as one of Beaujolais’ most coveted producers.
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