Winemaker Spotlight: Julien Guillot
Julien Guillot is an icon in the natural wine scene in France and has been pivotal in casting a new and original light on Burgundy’s southern region of Mâcon. Whilst he used to grace the stage as a comedian, he has become somewhat of a personification of the natural wine movement - a free thinker, rebel, artist, philosopher - and has helped to give clarity and precision to an often misunderstood idea.
Undoubtedly, Julien’s heritage through Clos des Vignes du Maynes has given him deep roots - literally and metaphorically - in the Mâconnais, and has equipped him with a strong sense of the land on which he was born and which has been lovingly tended by his father and grandfather. As he says himself, “I grew up with a philosophy based on the concept of respect for life.”
When you visit Julien’s estate, there is an undeniable sense of community and shared history; there are empty bottles of wine and obscure local tipples strewn across the place - sort of trinkets and mementos from Julien’s travels and all of the many wanderers that have passed through his doors. Indeed, the large ramshackled dining room is the same room that has been used for the past 60 years to feed the hordes of hungry vendangeurs that join them every year for harvest. Outside of his highly coveted estate wines and negociant projects, Julien is constantly playing and collaborating through the medium of wine. This year alone he will be releasing two collaborative wines - one with French disco band Marie Madeleine and the other with two of his interns, Pearl & Button. It is funny, when people talk of natural wine, there is so often a communal-spirit that goes with it and to spend time with Julien at his winery is to sense this viscerally and to understand the beauty in his curiosity and ability to shake himself free of rules and expectations.
Julien’s ability to be self-reflective and to question the status quo of farming and winemaking would definitely appear to be hereditary. Throughout his childhood, he would join his father at his talks on agrobiology at the Beaujeu school in Burgundy. He was immersed in a world where some of the best thinkers discussed issues of agroecology, soil macrobiology and composting. These experiences and learnings taught Julien the importance of man working with the land - that nature is not the enemy of the farmer. It was not their role to subjugate and manipulate the land and all that grows there, but to move in harmony with it. This came into great odds with his oenology studies in the early 90s which was teaching a formulaic way of farming and winemaking. There was no intuition, only set recipes and dates of when to add chemicals. True to form, Julien never accepted this way of teaching and earned himself the name of Bioman.
We should be grateful for this fighting spirit because Julien has carried with him the lessons he learnt from his father and grandfather into his work today. After years of trials and witnessing the incredible difference in the vitality of the land, he converted his whole estate to biodynamics. The sense of community that is so present at the winery also extends to the land that he Julien farms. He talks of how his soil is truly living and so full of creatures and macronutrients. He argues that this renewed health of his soil imparts a true minerality and freshness to his wines that cannot be faked or created through anything other than the vitality of the land.
Speaking with Julien, you can start to understand the idea of natural winemaking to him; every year and every wine is different. This is not to be feared, but to be celebrated for its uniqueness. If you properly listen, take time and sense the rhythms of your land and then your fermentations and wines, they will find their balance without you interfering. These ideas can feel greatly at odds with the commercial sense of wine where profits and guaranteed results are paramount.
Perhaps you are not sold on the idea of natural wine just yet or perhaps you’re a wholehearted convert. Either or, what we can promise you is that the wines of Julien Guillot are unique and an excellent expression of terroir and of him as a winemaker. There is a wonderful word in French that describes these wines so well - digest. Not only do these wines get killer scores from the critics, they are made with the intention to be shared with friends, lovers and family and are made to be nourishing for the body and soul. Natural wine or not - you can’t ask for much more than that.