The French job – I moved in at Pascal Jolivet’s

Ádám Wágner has been our colleague for years in the Lánchíd utca shop. Last year, for a couple of months, he lived and worked at Pascal Jolivet, one of the most famous winemakers of the Loire Valley from whom we’ve been getting wines for almost a decade. Ádám spotted the ad on Facebook, whereby they sought workers for the harvest. Following several rounds of interviews, he was chosen for the job from among applicants from all around the world. Now, we’re introducing the region, the winery and their wines through his account.

Local features and the international team

In 2016, I spent almost three months of the harvest season in one of the Loire Valley’s most exciting appellations, at the Pascal Jolivet winery that is located in a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), next to the town of Sancerre. The estate was founded in 1987 and besides being the youngest winery of the Loire Valley, today it is also the most well-known. At the winery, alongside the distinctive white variety of the region, Sauvignon Blanc, they also make a smaller quantity of rosé and red wines from Pinot Noir.

I arrived at the beginning of September and during the first few days I got to know: William from New Zealand and José from Chile, who were later my work and flatmates; Valentina Buoso, the estate’s Italian winemaker; and its French employees. Valentina was the one who introduced the winery and with whom we visited the most important vineyards where we encountered the incredible diversity of the soil – a variety of clay, slate, loess and flint in the vineyards, which adds different characteristics to the wines.

We travelled around on our free weekends, discovering the region together with my colleagues. We fell in love with the ambience of the Sunday markets, with the huge selection of cheese and the divine croissants of the local baker, but possibly our greatest experience was no matter in which direction we headed, sooner or later we bumped into an amazing chateau.

  

And so harvest started…

The harvest started early on the morning of October 3, which is when the first trailer heaped with grapes arrived. After they were placed onto the conveyor belt, we carefully selected the clusters by hand and filled them into the press. The three 50hl-capacity modern pneumatic presses worked constantly. We pumped the pressed must, with minimal sulphur applied, into temperature controlled steel tanks. During the next two weeks, work started early every day: they harvested the valuable base material for the single-vineyard wines carefully by hand, but the harvesting machines were also operating constantly. The grapes were transported into the winery in special trailers: where it was the turn of our five-strong team: quick selection, filling up the presses and pressing. We pressed, fermented the grapes separately by each plot, so that the different characters of the vineyards could appear in the wines. In every case, fermentation started spontaneously from the wild yeast, without any additional cultured yeast. We were also kept busy while the presses worked: we treated the pumps, prepared the tanks or cleaned the conveyor belts. The presses also provided us with constant work – as soon as they finished operating, we had to empty them and clean them. We usually started the last two- to three-hour long pressing session after midnight, so we were well into the night by the time we exhaustedly dropped into bed.

During these days, the work was consstant, but after the harvest, whenever I had a few free hours for relaxing, I went cross-country running.

 

Reason for celebration – and for even more work

The harvest in a wine region, despite all the work, is also a celebration. During the meals spent together, in the company of delicious wines, we got to know the winery’s founder and owner, Pascal Jolivet. When he learned that I came from Hungary, at once he started talking about the beautiful Hungarian women and proudly told me that he also has Hungarian roots – one of his great-grandmothers came from Hungary. 

Although Pascal was happy to offer amazing wines for us during the harvest lunches, we had to turn him down at times. This was since after we filled the tanks, the things for us to do mounted up. We constantly checked the temperature, sugar and alcohol content of the fermenting must.

When the fermentation finished, racking started. We racked the wine to another tank from the rough lees. After cleaning the tanks, the wine made it to its final place which was followed by very gentle settling. Before closing the tanks, we added a tiny amount of sulphur to the wine to protect it from oxidation. We worked under Valentina’s professional guidance and we received the daily tasks from her every morning. 

 

What makes Pascal Jolivet’s wines unique

Compared to the region’s more traditional wineries, world-traveller Pascal puts the emphasis on modern technology, which can be felt in the style and flavours of the wines as well. Seeking new ways, experimenting is ongoing at the winery. At the same time, Pascal and Valentina endeavour to show the harmony between the variety and the terroir through the wines. Besides in steel tanks and wooden barrels, wines also ferment and age in concrete eggs and clay amphorae. The porous structure of clay and concrete makes the slow micro-oxidation similar to that of barrel ageing possible, which results in more substantial wines, silkier textures, without the barrel spices. Incredibly, we could feel the difference within two months when we tasted the same single-vineyard wine from the tank and from the concrete egg.

After a few days of maceration, we aged the red wine of the winery in French oak barrels, while the rosé was made by the so-called Saignée method: from the blue grapes’ pure must we took the pale must, which we fermented in steel tanks in order to keep the crispy acids and the red fruit.

We often tasted the wines from the estate’s previous vintages, and we always came up with the following attributes: taut, elegant wines with green herbs, in the Old World interpretation of the variety. They are not as loud as their New World counterparts, but they are incredibly complex and mineral, which appears both on the nose and the palate.

The almost three months I spent at the cellar was an amazing experience. I returned home with tons of work experience, knowledge and a new perspective.

 

 

The Sancerre and the Pouilly Fumé wine regions

Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé are possibly the two most important PDOs of the Central Loire Valley and the points of reference for Sauvignon Blanc. The variety gives complex wines that are unique in style in the two areas situated on the two banks of the Loire, facing each other. Owing to the soil, the subtly mineral character appears in the wines of both places of growth, just like the great acidity and rich aromas do, which are thanks to the morning dew and the considerable fluctuation of temperatures.
In the 2,820-hectare region of Sancerre, we can find Sauvignon Blanc on 2,200 hectares. From the Pinot Noir grown on the remainder, Sancerre Rouge or the more and more popular Sancerre Rosé, is made. Pascal Jolivet works 42 hectares here, around the villages of Bué, Verdigny and St. Gemme. The grapes come from three plots: from the chalky-calcareous soil.