When Richard first visited Domaine Pabiot in the small village of Les Loges in the Pouilly Fume appellation, it was being run by Didier. Richard was impressed by his wines but, as he went to leave, Didier asked him to taste one final cuvee. He had given his son, Jonathan, 2 hectares of land to experiment with and this was his first vintage.
“I know what you are going to say”, Didier piped up… “His wines are better than mine aren’t they? You wouldn’t be the first person to tell me that.”
Richard meekly nodded his head in agreement. Jonathan’s wines certainly showed lots of promise. Soon after, Didier handed over control of the Domaine to his son and, in a role reversal, now works under his guidance – a rare occurrence in the traditional world of French winemaking.
Over the past 8 years, Jonathan has been one of our key producers. Last week we travelled to the Loire Valley to meet with him and see how this year’s vintage was progressing.
One of our youngest producers, Jonathan’s wines are organically certified and he employs many biodynamic principles in an effort to ensure that his wine gives a true representation of the magical terroirs of Pouilly Fume. Consistently voted among the best winemakers in France, he is being touted as the successor to French winemaking superstar Didier Dagueneau – high praise indeed!
The following are extracts from the conversation we had when we met him and his wife Nina last week. We hope they gives you an insight into the thought process behind his wines which we believe are truly exceptional.
“Life is made far more interesting by characters like him.”
Nina: “Pouilly is an interesting place to live. Before, I lived in Ibiza, Brighton and Berlin. I was brought up in Hamburg. So, in comparison, Pouilly definitely has a much slower pace of life…”
“Apart from at 12.10…”
“At 12.10, Pouilly becomes a giant roadblock. It is crazy how a town so small can become so congested. But it only lasts for half an hour, then it returns to normality.”
Jonathan: “It is true – it’s crazy! It is because everyone works in the vines and they all take lunch from noon until 1.30. So at 10 past 12, the entire village goes to the boulangerie to buy bread for lunch. It gives the village a real feel of vibrancy. It is a proper working village. I love it.”
Nina: “Yeah! Pouilly is definitely the sort of village you could write a book about. In the village we have a guy called the Sheriff.”
Jonathan: “Haha! The Sheriff! He really is quite a character.”
Nina: “Yes, a character is one description. He basically does odd jobs for all the bars, shops and restaurants and is paid in alcohol by the bars. But he does all this wearing a sheriff’s badge on his breast and a cowboy hat. Our 4 year old son always shouts at him; ‘Bonjour monsieur Sheriff!’”
Jonathan: “It is true. Our son thinks he is hilarious. The Sheriff! Life is made far more interesting by characters like him.”
“It must either be to produce your absolute best, with no compromise, or nothing at all.”
Jonathan: “I used to cycle moto-cross to a really high level, training all the time during the week then travelling each weekend to competitions. I loved pushing myself to the limit and testing my abilities to the absolute maximum. I had to stop due to work commitments. People ask why I stopped completely but for me it was the only option. When I realised I couldn’t maintain the level I had reached, I had to stop.”
“For me, the whole point was to push the limits. If I couldn’t perform at my absolute best, couldn’t test my complete maximum then there was no point at all.
“Wine is the same. It must either be ‘produce your absolute best, with no compromise, or nothing at all’.
“It makes me angry when other winemakers don’t ask themselves hard questions.”
Jonathan: “I am certainly of a different winemaking generation to my father and his contemporaries. When I first started to work with biodynamic principles, many people came to look at what I was doing and they left shaking their heads in disbelief.”
Nina: “Yes haha! People thought the methods we used were for people who wore no shoes, ‘wine hippies’ I suppose, and no one else. But now it has completely changed.”
Jonathan: “For sure. The same people who laughed to start with now ask to come back to the vineyard to look at my work. Now they are truly interested in my methods. Even my father is now coming around to seeing the positives in using biodynamic methods.”
“It makes me angry when other winemakers don’t ask themselves hard questions. We are blessed with incredible terroirs but many people here take the easy option.
“In Pouilly we are fortunate, our appellation is well-respected and people will buy our wines.
“It really frustrates me. Guys choose not to work their land, take the easy option, then sell their wine to a co-operative and make plenty money.
“If only they asked themselves more questions, the quality of their wines could really increase. That would be much better for the appellation overall.
“My only aim is to make fresh, drinkable wines.”
“I don’t really do scientific analysis of my wines. People ask, what is the pH etc? I have no clue haha.
“The only testing I do is to send samples away to the lab to test the alcohol levels. But that is only really for legal reasons. Other than that, I don’t really care. My only aim is to make fresh, drinkable wines.
“I filter less and less. Now the label carries an advisory that there may be small deposits. Every time
you filter you lose something from the wine. I want the wine to reach the customer in as natural a state as possible, without losing too much of its natural components.”
Click the links below to learn more about Jonathan's wines:
Pouilly Fume, Domaine Jonathan Pabiot, Loire, France - £16.15
'Aubaine' Pouilly Fume, Domaine Jonathan Pabiot, Loire, France - £30.10