An interview with Jean-Baptiste Granier on 21/06/2012 at St Privat.
• Can you tell us why this place is so good for growing vines ?
J-B Granier : As you can see, it’s a beautiful spot. The beauty of a place and the fact that you feel good about it, are both indicators of the quality of the « terroir » and the vines growing there. At St Privat we are quite high up in the Languedoc and the soil is rich, comprising shale, sandstone and clay-limestone.
All these elements contribute to the magic of the terroir and the wines it produces..
• What are the characteristics of the terroir found in your wine ?
Saint Privat is at the heart of the Terrasses du Larzac terroir. It benefits from the generosity of the Languedoc coupled with the coolness of the Larzac. Moreover, its altitude (up to 350m) together with its shale-type soil makes it an exceptional terroir. Saint Privat is situated over several valleys so the vines have access to different exposures.
• It’s been four years now since you embarked on this adventure. What led you up to it ?
I think the main thing is the human aspect. Above all, is meeting Olivier Jullien, which was a rich and unique experience. Olivier has to be one of the best researchers of « terroir » in the Languedoc. He was instrumental in my falling for the terroir at Saint-Privat. The other deciding factor was the tests we did in 2007 on the grapes from the forgotten vines. At the time, I was an intern at Olivier’s winery as part of my studies to become an agricultural engineer. We were surprised at the quality of the grapes from the « vignes oubliées » and wanted to see if this quality translated itself into wine.
• What made you choose such an evocative name as « vignes oubliées » for your wine ?
We chose it for the simple reason that the vineyards were highly likely to disappear. They were little by little being left by the wayside, as they no longer corresponded to the culture of cooperative production. We decided to adapt ourselves to the yields and work required by the vines and ensured that everyone was satisfied: the growers, the consumers and ourselves. Hence as long as the name exists on our bottles, the vines will not be forgotten.
• Can you tell us a little more about the particular context of these vineyards before you arrived ?
Before our arrival, the grapes were taken to the local cooperative. The mountain culture particular to Saint-Privat and the time and equipment necessary to cultivate the vines meant that they were not being used to their full potential. This mass-production system was therefore not adapted to the « vignes oubliées » and so the growers could not make a living out of them.
• You were helped by Olivier Jullien at the start of this initiative. What role did he play in setting up the project ?
For me, Olivier was the one who initiated the whole project. He ensured all the conditions for getting it off the ground. He was my mentor if you like. He is a man of vast experience and has a legitimate knowledge of this terroir. Our meeting was decisive and became a source of motivation. Winemaking is not a solitary occupation, you can’t do it alone, other people’s input is vital.
• As the son of a wine-maker and agricultural engineer, do you feel this adventure is like a vocation ?
Yes I think so. My grandfather and father transmitted this winemaking culture to me from a young age. They shared their knowledge with me, and the want to follow in their footsteps slowly developed. So the idea of making wine in the Languedoc was quickly apparent to me. Working in wine is difficult and risky, as each year you put everything at stake, but in spite of that it is first and foremost a pleasure.
• Together with Olivier Jullien, you in effect « saved » these vines, which were on the verge of being abandoned. What sort of contact did you have with the owners and what is your relationship with them now ?
I would say that our relationship has not really changed. It has always been based on an exchange. We intended to work together right from the start. The strength of the « vignes oubliées » lies in the fact that everyone contributes and with enthusiasm.
The winegrowers needed to emerge from anonymity and we have succeeded in turning this project into a fairer, cleaner and more human way of wine growing.
• What was it that made you think this project was worth undertaking ?
I think the deciding factor was when we tasted the 2007 vintage. It was a positive experience, a real pleasure and so the enthusiasm was naturally there. There was also the sense of human adventure, which was begging to be taken up. Once these two conditions were met, we didn’t hesitate and the project was able to start.
• What changes did you make when you first arrived ?
The main change was towards organic agriculture. The vines had not been subjected to intense and heavy-handed chemical treatment. The main problem came from the use of herbicides on certain soils. Together, we managed to solve the problem. The reason why we changed to organic cultivation is because we believe in durable agriculture. It’s important to please the consumer, but it should not prevent the soil being treated with respect, nor endanger the health of those who work it. Each stage should be satisfactory, from working the vines to tasting the wine.
• You are now solely in charge and captain of this adventure, since Olivier Jullien has handed the project over to you. How do you see the near future ?
The adventure continues as never before. There will be no big changes. The only new thing is the creation of a cellar closer to the vines in St Jean-de-la-Blaquière. Until now, the wine had been stored at Mas Jullien.
• If you had to sum up the wine of the « vignes oubliées » in a few words, what would they be ?
« Les vignes oubliées » is a well-balanced wine for meeting over and sharing. It is soft and gentle, like the Saint-Privat terroir. The generosity of this wine and the quality of its tannins, make you want to come back to it, which is the most important, as wine is made for drinking ….. and redrinking.