Interview with Jean-Paul Jamet, Domaine Jamet


To celebrate the publication of my new book, Wines of the Rhôneon 25th January, I’ll be published a series of interviews with some of the most influential winemakers in the Rhône Valley, starting with this interview with Jean-Paul Jamet.

Interview with Jean-Paul Jamet 2nd March 2020 at Domaine Jamet
Edited for clarity and brevity

What are the different styles of Côte-Rôtie?

The soils have a strong bearing on the style of the wine. If a particular vigneron has this or that style, it’s often based on the terroir they have, the geographical location of their parcels. Those who have vineyards in the south of the appellation at Tupin, generally speaking the wines will be more elegant and charming, have more finesse. On the other hand, on the schist side – and there are various types of schist, some with a more floral, fruity, spicy expression, others having a more graphite side – they give wines that take longer to come around, that need a more careful élevage. After that, the approach of the winemaker can compensate, rebalance or bring out these characteristics.

And is that in the vineyard or in the cellar?

I’m thinking more about the cellar, with the vinification. It was fashionable to destem in the 1990s. Today we’re not so excessive in terms of destemming.

Was it traditional to use whole bunches?

In the cellars of old vignerons, I’ve seen old corking machines, old pumps, old tools but I’ve never seen on old destemmer. In Hermitage it would seem there were rudimentary old destemming machines. I wouldn’t say they’ve never existed here but I’ve never seen one in Côte-Rôtie.

Where did the practice of destemming come from in Côte-Rôtie?

It was really commercial considerations that encouraged winemakers to remove stems, because they brought a lot of imperfections with them. They do bring certain qualities too – but qualities that take time to become apparent. So destemming in the 1990s made wines that were more forthcoming, more accessible, more juicy, more flattering when young.

And it was scores – critics giving high scores to accessible wines that were then polished by new oak. It makes for impressive wines. But you lose the soul of the terroir.

I never changed my way of working. I’ve stayed within the small percentage of winemakers that stayed traditional. At the start of the 1990s, I was atypical for the appellation in fact. Everyone else was destemming and I was one of the rare winemakers not to. The only vintage I totally destemmed, paradoxically, was 2003. Since the start of the 90s I’ve had no destemmer, so it’s been 100% whole bunch.

Destemming was useful – and in certain cases it was needed. But today, lots of vignerons are starting to work with stems again.

Why did everyone suddenly think that more extracted wine was a good thing?

Because of scores from critics. I’m sorry to put it so bluntly, but it was chasing scores. When you destem and extract more, you get wines that are darker in colour, that are more tannic so they’re more impressive. Except they are less pleasurable; with more extraction you lose aromatics. It’s for each vigneron to ask themselves whether they want to follow fashion, or whether they want to make the kind of wines they want to make.

And what about new oak barriques?

It was all in the same period – destemming, extraction, new oak and – bang – you have a 99 out of 100 points – fantastic! Do you want to drink a bottle? No. But commercially, if you have a good score, you sell well in certain markets. It’s sad, but that’s how it is. It’s an approach, I’m not condemning it.

What are the most important points to take into account when making wine with whole bunches?

One thing is sure: when you’re working with whole bunches, you have to pick the grapes at a good level of ripeness, so you have to wait for longer before picking, which is a risk. With the destemmer you can harvest a week earlier and you’ll make a very good wine. It can snow, it can hail, whatever – the grapes are picked. Sometimes you can’t wait, and in that instance the destemmer has its place, it’s a good tool, but not one to use every year. In powerful, rich vintages such as 2019, when using whole bunches, you can drop 0.6% or 0.7% in potential alcohol.

Is that from dilution?

There are two effects; a bit of dilution from the water in the stems, and the stems absorb alcohol. You also lose a little colour; you lose a little acidity. But I find that brings another dimension to the wine. Often, I say when you use destemmed grapes you make a lovely Syrah, but when you use whole bunches you make a Côte-Rôtie. Because there are different balances linked to this vegetal component, which after some time, is no longer tastes vegetal.

Do stems help bring the terroir to the fore?

I’m convinced of it. In our tanks the vinification is often very similar, but there are big differences in the finished wines. For me, it’s more marked with those with stems. It’s my belief, but in wine there are no absolutes – it’s just my belief.