It’s not often a wine steals the show, especially when it started life as an accident . . .
If Chateau La Fleur Morange isn’t on your radar yet it ought to be. Jancis Robinson’s article in the Financial Times, ‘One Mighty Smallholder,’ followed up with ‘La Fleur Morange, the Carpenter’s Wine‘ on her website, hit the press at the weekend, putting La Fleur Morange firmly in the spotlights. Bravo, Jancis! Celebrity is a new thing for La Fleur Morange, this is a tiny chateau and a newcomer to boot. However it deserves to be centre stage and rightfully take its place on the red carpet.
La Fleur Morange’s rise to fame is a Cinderella story. It starts with Jean Francois Julien, the wine’s creator, in the village of Saint Pey d’Armens in Saint Emilion. Jean Francois’ fell into wine making by accident trying to save his land from development. His answer to the problem was to turn it into a vineyard. His prospects did not look good; for starters he wasn’t a wine maker. He was a cabinet maker who learnt how to make wine by reading from a book. It wasn’t any old book, it was a book by
Emile Peynaud, the revolutionary French oenologist and researcher, and it inspired Jean Francois. The odds were stacked against him but in typical fashion he hunkered down and persevered . . . and something magical happened:
His vines turned out to be a rareity (they are 100+ years old).
His soil turned out to be gold dust (it is unique in Saint Emilion and happens to be the same iron rich clay that produces Chateau Petrus in Pomerol – one of the best wines in the world).
He built his own little winery from scratch (his pioneering new techniques and innovations that he applied to his chai have been subsequently adopted by elite chateaux throughout Bordeaux).
He discovered that he had a new gift – he turned out to be a tremendously talented wine maker.
It’s one thing to make a great wine but it’s another to gain recognition for it. As a newcomer, a trailblazer and a garagiste (a ‘garage wine maker’ – a nick name for small scale entrepreneurial wine makers in Bordeaux) Jean Francois was considered to be small fry by his peers. He had an uphill battle on his hands to get
his wine the acceptance it deserved. Once again, something magical happened to enhance La Fleur Morange’s debut on the world stage. The rave reviews and awards started pouring in, and so did the sales:
Those who tasted his wines believed in them and sent samples left and right to the world’s best critics. Robert Parker, the American wine critic and world authority on wine, scored his 2000 vintage 93 out of 100. Jean Francois sold his entire crop in 20 minutes. More high scores were to follow for the next vintages – the 2010 got 96+. This made waves in the wine world; La Fleur Morange was beating the big boys with scores on a par to the First Growths and Grand Cru Classes.
Jancis Robinson was introduced to La Fleur Morange in an extensive blind tasting of right bank 2005s in 2008 and thought that this mystery wine was either First Growth Ausone or Pavie, two of the four estates now in the rarefied rank two notches above Grand Cru.
In 2012 La Fleur Morange won its Oscar – it was awarded the rank of Grand Cru Classe. An amazing achievement, and practically unprecedented.
La Fleur Morange, once the critics choice, has now stepped out into the limelight. It’s a wine that, although dazzling, holds no bars. Sumptuous, opulent and multi dimensional, it’s approachable on every level – as its its maker. Jean Francois is unchanged by success, he remains a dedicated and hard working friend. Production is still tiny, the vineyard still small. Jean Francois has added to his repertoire with a Second Wine, Mathilde. Named after his little daughter, Mathilde is no understudy but a pure Merlot. It’s priced around £19 a bottle. La Fleur Morange averages from £30 – £40 depending on the vintage.
It’s a remarkable story, and one I’ve told many times before. I’ve backed Jean Francois from the beginning and I’ll give La Fleur Morange as many encores as I can. Jean Francois and his wine deserve a standing ovation for pure guts and brilliance.
If you’d like to try Jean Francois’ wines I have put together a specially priced case (with a discount of nearly £40) of Mathilde featuring the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages – some of my favourite years. The 2009 (92 points) and 2010 (93 points) vintages come from stellar years for Bordeaux and are deeply flavoured velvety wines. The 2008 (92 points) and the 2007 (87 points) have both been dubbed ‘hedonistic’ by Parker.