Who: Jean-Paul Thevenet.
Where: Villié-Morgon, Rhône-Alpes.
When: Since 1984.
Jean-Paul Thevenet was the third generation to work his family’s small farm based in Morgon. When he took over at the end of the 1970’s, the region’s wines were in a poor way due to mass production by chemical agriculture, over-cropping, harvesting unripe fruit, and chaptalisation and excessive use of sulfites in compensation for poor quality fruit. Jean-Paul quickly put it all in question. He slowly adopted the traditional practises that had been used by his Grandfather and which were being newly applied by Marcel Lapierre, who himself was encouraged by the teachings of Jules Chauvet, now considered the father of natural wine because he advocated organic viticulture and winemaking without additives (including sulfites).
There were just three vignerons who followed Lapierre, Jean-Paul, Guy Breton and Jean Foillard in the mid 1980’s and all proceeded slowly since the risks were high. Little by little other producers took note of the results, fine wines clearly expressing time and place, and started working in the same way. Of these original four, Jean-Paul has remained relatively unknown due to his resistance to growing his estate. The same size as it was 30 years ago, demand for Thevenet’s Morgon keeps growing and so bottles disappear quickly to keen customers.
Jean-Paul farms four hectares of very old vines on granite soils the Douby lieu dit of Morgon. He farms organically and biodynamically. He harvests late when the grapes are perfectly ripe, and ferments simply using a traditional whole bunch carbonic maceration in concrete tank, with natural yeasts and no additives other than occasional minimal doses of sulfur or none at all as required by the wine. The wine is aged in old oak barrels and bottled without filtration or fining.
10 years ago he ceded his vines in Regnié to his son Charly, whose own wines are as sumptous as his father’s.
Jean-Paul avoids the tasting circuit these days since he has nothing to sell, so he’s one of the less visible and therefore less well known vignerons of the region. But he’s very sociable and out-going, and a big rock music fan, so he’s often to be found at tastings as a visitor with friends.
His wines are the embodiment of great classical natural wine. His Morgon Vieilles Vignes has the minimalist beauty of great Cru Bourgogne. It is consistently one of the great wines of France.