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stirring the lees with james molesworth

Domaine des Bosquets Sets a New Course

Julien Bréchet has turned this Gigondas estate into a contender
Photo by: James Molesworth
Julien Bréchet has radically changed the wine style at Bosquets.

Posted: Jun 28, 2017 4:30pm ET

After arriving in the Rhône via the usual plane, train and automobile, I pulled into Gigondas in time for a quick lunch, then met up with Julien Bréchet of Domaine des Bosquets.

Representing the third generation at Bosquets, Bréchet has taken over the estate his grandfather planted. He started in 2009 (his brother Laurent runs Château de Vaudieu in Chateauneuf-du-Pape) and, along with consulting winemaker Philippe Cambie, he's quickly turned Bosquets into one of the stars of the Gigondas appellation.

The speed at which Bréchet has had success is eye-opening considering he arrived with no wine background. He started off by working at Vaudieu with his brother before Bosquets even had a dedicated cellar. And he admits he's learned a lot about the paradox of wine. "Looking back, I see there was too much winemaker in the wine. Not enough sense of place," he says. "I had to learn the vineyards, and it takes a few years to do that. And the vineyards are a paradox," he says.

To demonstrate, he drives us up in a buggy to the La Colline vineyard, the estate's highest-elevation parcel at 1,150 feet above sea level, tucked up against the rocky outcroppings of limestone known as Les Dentelles. Situated on limestone and clay, the vines were planted shortly after WWII by his grandfather, on wide row spacing and a wire trellis meant to be farmed mechanically. And then … it never was.

"Why, I don't know," says Bréchet. "But it turns out some of it has helped. The trellis has helped the vines stand up against the mistral (the strong wind that blows through). And we get a bigger canopy than in gobelet (head-pruned vines), so the grapes are ripe, but also maintain a freshness thanks to the acidity." (See the video below for a look at La Colline.)

It's that freshness that Bréchet has steered toward. From the first vintage on, Bréchet has tinkered, extracting less, harvesting earlier and breaking the élevage of the wine down into smaller and smaller lots.

"When I started we had 25 barrels and the rest in concrete," he says. "Now we have 75 barrels and 24 demi-muids (500-liter and 600-liter vessels), and yet yields for the domaine are the same. What we saw was that the influence of new oak was too much in the early vintages, and it took time to create a barrel program where we had oak of one to five years or more in the cellar."

As for the vineyards, Bréchet also figured out the paradox of La Colline, which has more natural power and thus can be harvested earlier, to balance that power with its freshness.

Bréchet also bottles his Lieu-Dit parcel separately. Situated lower than La Colline and with pure sandy soils, the Grenache here is always on the lighter, minerally side. Now Bréchet harvests it later, rather than earlier. The opposite of La Colline, and the opposite what he did in his first few vintages.

In 2009 and 2010, Bréchet bled the vats to increase concentration even more, and had mostly new or just-used oak. From 2011 through 2014, trickier years, the wines show a slight shift in style. But it really kicks in with the 2015s.

"Here we see the effects of all the changes, but in a big year," says Bréchet. "Now I think the wines are expressive, not impressive."

Follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at twitter.com/jmolesworth1, and Instagram, at instagram.com/jmolesworth1.

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