Julien Courtois "Ancestral" 2019
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Julien Courtois is the elder son of Claude Courtois, who was a pioneer of natural winemaking in the Loire. Claude moved his family there in the early 1990s after his organic farm and vineyards in Provence were destroyed by a forest fire. In the barely-populated Sologne area south of Orleans, he took over parcels that had been fallow for nearly a decade and were being reclaimed by nature. Julien and his wife Heidi Kuka (the labels draw from her Maori heritage) now work some of Claude's best old vines, though his brother Etienne may dispute that, as he is also making terrific wine down the road. No chemicals have ever been allowed on the property since the 1990s and Julien and Heidi work the vineyards with a horse, more gentle than a tractor on the soil.
"Ancestral" is made of Côt (Malbec), Gamay Chaudenay, and Gascon, a very obscure grape that Claude had grafted in order to increase the diversity in his vines. This did not go over well with the authorities, and Claude had to fight them in court to keep his Gascon. This illustrates a little of the stubborn, uncompromising personality of the Courtois family. Feral and yet vivid, the Ancestral is funkier on the nose than the palate, which is quite graceful and juicy. Black plum and crunchy blueberries are matched with a little sour cherry and lively tart acids. It's not mindless glou-glou, though it's tempting to knock it back, especially with a slight chill. There is a sense of minerals and spice that underpins the vibrant fruit and keeps it from being too rich or heavy. Instead it's lithe, supple, and invigorating. Jonathan Kemp