Editor's Note: A portion of this interview with Jean-Marc Espinasse of Domaine Rouge-Bleu appeared in K&L's Junes newsletter. Jean-Marc appears above with his wife, the American writer Kristin Espinasse.
Describe your winemaking philosophy.
I am not a winemaker as an initial education but what I have always been told is that the most important [thing] is to harvest a grape when it is ready. Winemaking should happen naturally (without de-stemming), in a living vat (porous concrete for example). No punching and a minimum pump-over (in order to keep the hat wet) to avoid too much extraction and focus on finesse. Aging could happen in neutral barrel when the vintage style [shows it would] bring something to the wine.
What wines or winemakers helped influence your philosophy?
Domaine du Banneret (My Uncle Jean-Claude Vidal in Châteauneuf-du-Pape), Ridge Vineyards (Paul Draper), Château Pradeaux (Cyrillede Portalis in Bandol), Domaine Rabasse Charavin (Corinne Couturier in Cairanne), Jay Sommers (J. Christopher in Willamette Valley).
How involved in grape-growing are you? Is there a particular vineyard site that wows you year after year?
I farm my grapes (with biodynamic principles) and I am totally amazed by Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is 15 miles away. Closer to where we are, I am in love with Cairanne.
How do you think your palate has evolved over the years? How do you think that’s influenced your wines?
From “bold” to finesse and elegance. In France, we have a saying: “The more you move forward on the wine path, the more you go to Burgundy (plus on avance dans le chemin du vin, plus on va vers la Bourgogne).
What kinds of food do you like to pair your wines with?
Sancerre or NZ Sauvignon with oysters, Zinfandel with wild boar, Meursault with Comte cheese, ice wine with desserts, old Châteauneuf—old Burgundy or old Barolo with pigeon, Provence rosé pour Spaghetti del mare.
What changes are planned for coming vintages? Any new (top secret) varietals, blends or propriety wines on the horizon?
I am planting a myriad of Rhône white grapes to co-ferment with our reds. Besides that, I am trying to keep our dear Old Vines alive, since they produce the core and the spirit of our wines.
Is there a style of wine that you think appeals to critics that might not represent your favorite style?
I am not a big fan of big chewy, oaky wines, but I can understand that some people like it. You can’t please everybody with one style and that is actually a good thing since it would not permit creativity. What I remark, though, is that a lot of people who used to be big fans of these thick wines evolve eventually to finesse and elegance.
What do you drink when you are not drinking your own wine?
All I can find that fits my palate. My very last two hits were a red Zinfandel from Joseph Swan 2000 in CA and a stunning red 2005 Craggy Range “Le Sol” Syrah Hawkes Bay from New Zealand. Besides this, I am getting more into drinking small Champagne producers (André Clouet, Voirin Jumel for example).
Do you collect wine? If so, what’s in your cellar?
Yes, we collect all vintages from Léoville-Barton—one of the good value Cru Classé each year. We also have a few cases of the ’05 Bordeaux from the top Cru, but I think they will go towards college fees. I cannot bring myself to drink wines of this value.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing the wine industry today?
There are quite a few! At the moment the strength of the Euro for us is a problem for our export market, we do listen to our importers and try to make things easier for them to sell our wines at a consistent price. Unfortunately, production costs are still increasing here in France, and with the weaker economy worldwide it is tough for everybody at the moment…