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Jean-Baptiste Souillard, Viognier 2018
This is young Jean-Baptiste's 3rd vintage as a micro-negociant and he sources this Viognier from a high altitude, granitic plot in the Radeche. He makes minimal intervention wines, always using natural yeast and never fining or filtering. This wine has been aged for a year in old French oak which allows the varietal character to fully express itself. Ripe peaches and cream, apricot kernel and a stony reverb add to its textbook credentials. Yum-scrum.
The grapes for Vins de France are partially crushed. All the grapes for the villages are lightly crushed. Crushing and the use of small manual vertical presses allows for some bitterness and tannin. This is what Jean-Baptiste wants. There is no sulfur at this stage and a lot of exposure to air: We are in a region that is not supposed to make great age-worthy whites, not like Burgundy or Alsace. We have less acidity, less support. But we have varieties that are a little tannic, a little bitter. So instead of acidifying, that's the support I want to look to. Then, I really want to explode the whites with air, so I can rapidly precipitate what is unstable and keep only what is stable. So no sulfur in the beginning either. I want to oxidize the wines early. Then a classic elevage. These are old principles. The wines are aged in used barrels only, except for one new barrel on the Crozes-Hermitage Blanc Le Tout. They are fined and filtered only according to taste.
Souillard knew from a young age exactly what he wanted to do. He closely watched his father's steps as the director of the region's largest cooperative, Cave de Saint-Desirat. After six diplomas in wine studies he went to work for Chateau Latour in Bordeaux and then to Comte Armand in Pommard, alongside Benjamin Leroux. Producing wine from individual terroirs in Burgundy had a profound impact. After returning home he was disillusioned with the trend of blending vineyards. He also knew that appellations like Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph were capable of greatness, but would continue to underwhelm with this practice essentially 'watering down' great terroir. His choice was simple: Create a micro-production negoce operation where he would 'follow the Cistercian method. One parcel = one wine. Souillard's vision was to only work with old vines on the very top of slopes, the 'tetes de coteaux'.Within Crozes-Hermitage he also insisted on the northern granite soils, as opposed to the galets roules more commonly found in the south where wines lack concentration and rigour. On one hand the winemaking follows traditional methods like large portions of whole clusters for fermentation and aging only in neutral wood. But, the style is one absolutely focused on crafting vins de garde.These are wines built on monumental stature with a rare elegance that's certainly the product of his experiences at Latour and Comte Armand.