Keeping It Fresh In Cahors
by Kevin Peterson
After five years in Bordeaux, learning how to deal with loads of tannin, Fabien Jouves took over the family estate in 2009. He was in his mid twenties. From the start he was determined to make his own wine instead of selling off fruit to negoces, as his parents had. His wines are singular and definitely terroir driven. Even his magenta rosé is funky and earthy.
You may have noticed his colorful bottles demanding your attention from the shelves. Shouting for recognition. “Le Vin Qui Rap,” with a cartoon grape cluster smugly bragging over some hip (if not corny) graffiti. “Tu Vin Plus au Soirées,” whose label sports rows of emoji-like images that appear to be facing off in an acid-trip throwback to Asteroids. And “A Table !!!,” a rosé that could never fully prepare you for its hot pink contents, no matter how many exclamation points were added to the label. These wines are loud. Whether or not they fit in, they certainly stand out.
Even the bottle shape of Fabien Jouves’ wines is unexpected, different. Typically malbec from Cahors is stored in a Bordeaux bottle with straight sides and tall shoulders. Instead, Fabien uses the squat, sloping-shouldered Burgundy bottle to house his juice. A subtle distinction that probably goes unnoticed by most, this decision serves a specific, intentional purpose. The Bordeaux bottle has associations with majestic châteaux, wealth & prestige. The Burgundy bottle communicates something of the earth, terroir.
Considering Fabien’s thoughtful approach, why the distracting labels? Firstly, Fabien bottles two distinct styles of wine: “vins de soif” and “vins de terroir.” The loud labels fall in the former category. They’re meant to be drunk young. They pop. These wines come from permeable clay and limestone soils that contribute immediacy and freshness. They're bottled under the Vin de France AOC, as they don't follow all the rules set in place in Cahors (for example, "Tu Vin Plus aux Soirées" blends the outlaw cabernet franc with malbec).
Then there are wines like the “La Roque,” bottled under Fabien’s Mas del Périé label. It’s an inky malbec with deep, dark fruit and great acidic structure. The grapes for this wine come from patches of sidérolithique soil, a blend of sand, chalk, clay, & minerals. Wines from this soil type develop deep and complex tones.
In both cases, Fabien believes that terroir is of the utmost importance. His vines are planted into the Haut Plateau, southwest of the medieval town of Cahors, and he treats each parcel differently – in the vineyard and in the cellar – encouraging each particular soil type and microclimate to influence the grapes produced therein. Grapes are picked by hand and transported in baskets instead of large trucks, protecting the integrity of the fruit. The juice is fermented in concrete, or occasionally in oak barrels or even amphorae. Fabien practices biodynamics and he doesn’t fine or filter his wines. He calls himself an “artisan vigneron.”
Certainly Fabien’s labels announce the singularity of his wines. They also serve to communicate his enthusiasm. He’s young. He’s in quest of both authenticity and something new. Perhaps he’s trying to shake things up a bit. And perhaps he’s having fun doing so.