Friday, March 31, 2023

The artist who grew to become a Bordeaux vigneron

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“Don’t filter your wine. Filter your clients.” That is clearly probably the most useful bit of recommendation ever acquired by artist Fabrice Domercq. He quoted it to me each occasions we met not too long ago, as soon as at a tasting of his no-additive wines organised by UK importer Dynamic Vines and at a subsequent assembly I organized as a result of I used to be so intrigued by his story and its relevance to Bordeaux’s present disaster, during which all however the prime layer of châteaux are working at a loss as a result of demand for fundamental Bordeaux has fallen a lot.

Domercq was born in Paris in 1965. As a younger grownup making his means within the worlds of artwork and design, he was drawn to Italy, the place he spent 15 childhood “discovering love, meals and wine”. His work has been exhibited, inter alia, on the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and Fondation Cartier in Paris, and he continues to create at residence in Brussels, the place he now lives together with his Belgian spouse and household. He works “not in a studio however all the time on the kitchen desk. An onion pores and skin might be as wealthy as marble — it’s only a matter of scale.”

What turned him right into a vintner was his mom’s buy of a home on the banks of the Dordogne on the northern fringe of Bordeaux’s Entre-Deux-Mers wine area in 2006. “It was a really lovely previous wine home, very remoted,” he says. It additionally got here with 4 hectares of vineyards whose produce had till then been despatched straight to the native co-op. “So then I believed, ‘Why not attempt to create wine?’” His first response was to name among the best buddies he made in Milan within the Eighties, the designer Jasper Morrison. “We’re each a bit loopy and like to do issues collectively.”

They began with a plot of simply 0.6ha of grapes. “We knew nothing about wine besides consuming it,” he says. “That was an excellent factor as a result of if I’d recognized what was concerned in producing wine, I’d by no means have began. But it surely all got here very naturally.”

He was helped initially by a good friend, Béarn vintner Paul Bordes, who would come to Bordeaux to seek the advice of informally with wine producers. On the finish of a protracted day visiting châteaux, Bordes would drop in on Domercq to style the younger juices. “As I knew nothing, I used to be an excellent pupil,” Domercq says.

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A reputation was chosen for the enterprise — Ormiale — apparently an amalgam of the names of Domercq’s sons Igor, Alexandre and Achille in addition to Morrison’s son Milo.

Morrison moved to Japan early on within the enterprise and so grew to become much less concerned. However Domercq caught with it and located himself commuting greater than 900km from Brussels to supervise the mission. (He nonetheless does an astonishing quantity himself, even wrapping every bottle in tissue paper. “It’s a means for me to create one thing from A to Z,” he says.)

His buyer filtration got here into impact as early as 2009, by which he had made solely a handful of vintages. Bordeaux négociant Jeffrey Davies, who specialises in selling “storage wines”, small-production discoveries (together with to American wine guru Robert Parker), grew to become conscious of Domercq’s work. They met in a carpark in St-Émilion, the place Davies stuffed Domercq’s wine samples into the panniers of his Harley-Davidson. Having tasted them and agreed a worth, Davies supplied to take the wines on board and promote them to the rising tide of Chinese language fine-wine patrons.

Domercq declined on that event however slowly constructed up a world community of importers, in Belgium but additionally, in response to the record on Ormiale’s web site, the UK, US, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Greece, Eire, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden.

How he manages to service all these markets with an annual manufacturing of solely about 6,000 bottles, I can not think about. What is evident is that he sells lower than 10 per cent of his manufacturing in France itself, which can be why so few French folks appear to have heard of Ormiale. “I by no means felt concerned within the Bordeaux wine scene,” he tells me with some pleasure. And certainly, after I requested round fellow wine producers in Bordeaux, none of them had heard of both him or the wine.

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His skilled life modified fully in 2013, when a horrible rising season drove him to a nervous breakdown. He determined he needed to divest himself of the tasks concerned in managing a winery from so far-off. “I don’t see the vigneron as a mythic determine. I don’t wish to be chained to the winery, not having holidays. So I put collectively an method for myself,” he says.

“All of the grapes from the household winery would go to the co-op and I made a decision I might simply be certain to get improbable biodynamically grown grapes, wherever they arrive from.” Domercq values his newfound freedom. “In 2020, as an illustration, I made a decision to not make any wine as a result of I might see some juices had been going to make 17 per cent alcohol wines, even when we picked early. I’ve no mortgage on my again so I might afford to do with out that stress.”

In response to this uncomfortably ripe classic, Domercq says he went in quest of a means of imbuing his wines with freshness. By an enormous stroke of luck, he got here throughout an previous man with an deserted Sixteenth-century limestone quarry for hire proper within the coronary heart of St-Émilion. It has a cool courtyard during which to finish the painstaking labour that constitutes Ormiale’s distinctive proposition — destemming each grape by hand, as advisable by the well-known Pétrus winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet. Hours of guide work preserve berries entire however remove the cruel stems and the “brush” of grape flesh hooked up to them.

The quarry additionally has 200 sq m of caves that keep fixed excessive humidity and a temperature as little as 10C. “The barrels are all the time damp,” he tells me excitedly, “and the yeast work so slowly and fermentations take so many weeks that the extraction is so mild. Beforehand I might by no means have imagined the influence on the juices of this setting.” He has made his 2021s and 2022s right here, helped at harvest time by a troop of buddies from all around the world, whom he accommodates within the household home in Entre-Deux-Mers.

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As a result of his harvest group needs to be summoned from so many alternative places no less than three weeks prematurely, it may be tough to decide on precisely when to choose. “But it surely’s a part of the best way we do issues. And no less than it retains us away from the native St-Émilion sport of seeing who might be the final to choose and find yourself with a wine at 18 per cent alcohol.”

From 2019, he has purchased all his grapes from a biodynamic grower in Castillon, “the closest bit to St-Émilion”. The tragedy for Bordeaux is how simple it’s for somebody like Domercq to purchase high quality grapes as a result of they promote for thus little cash. “Think about all these grape growers . . . They’re not winemakers and the co-op pays them nothing,” he says. “The co-ops have three vintages in inventory ready for a purchaser! A 900-litre tonneau of Bordeaux Supérieur sells for €700, perhaps as little as €500. However I pays the growers on December 1 or January 1 and so they’re delighted. The Bordeaux disaster is excellent for me. But it surely’s a horrible state of affairs.”

Domercq’s recommendation for any formidable younger winemaker wherever on this planet is that they need to come to Bordeaux and reap the benefits of the present parlous state of affairs. “Land’s solely €15,000 a hectare right here, and homes are low cost, too. All of the pure wine folks wish to arrange in Jura or Loire however they need to come to Bordeaux.”

Ormiale wines, together with a quite scrumptious waste-not-want-not £68 one produced from all of the lees and sediment from his 2021 classic, promote for as much as £125 a bottle.

Tasting notes on Purple Pages of Comply with Jancis on Twitter @JancisRobinson

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