Cha-Cha-Cha-Changes at Domaine de la Vieille Julienne

This longtime Châteauneuf-du-Pape star is growing and evolving

July 5, 2017

After a period of being seemingly locked in at Domaine de la Vielle Julienne, Jean-Paul Daumen, one of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s elder statesmen, quietly changed. A lot.

Like his fellow vintners at Domaine Giraud, Daumen works a bit out of the spotlight, but the wines are clearly among the appellation’s elite. These are also some of the most ageworthy wines in the AOC, always showing considerably younger than many of their peers when I taste retrospectives of older vintages.

But change is afoot. Daumen is extremely happy to have just secured an additional 10 acres of vines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, located directly across the road from his cellar and on the same terroir he currently works. Now Daumen has a nearly contiguous set of 54 acres of vines, a rarity in the area, where numerous spread-out parcels are the norm.

“It was a rare opportunity,” says Daumen, a soft-spoken and introspective vigneron. “First thing I will do is convert to organics, which will takes three years of farming. Then, from there, another year or two of vinifications to see how the vines work with the blends. So, up to five years of farming Châteauneuf parcels that will not go into my wines. It is going to be a little difficult, economically, but the potential for the future was too much to pass up.”

The future now includes Daumen’s son Antoine, just 24 and coming out of business school. The plan is for Antoine to eventually take the reins at the domaine.

“I can teach him winemaking,” says Daumen. “Most of the work is done in the vineyard anyway. What you really need today is management skills. A domaine to survive and grow needs to manage people, logistics at harvest and so on. These are things I did not have to deal with when I first started [in 1992]. I’m not saying winemaking isn’t important, of course it is. But you don’t need to go to school for it. If you need an analysis, you can use a lab. If you need technical assistance, you can use an enologist. And all these things can be managed. So what you really need is management skills.”

As Daumen releases late, we did not taste through the 2016s, which are still aging. We tasted through the 2015s, which are bottled, but won’t be released in the U.S. until early 2018.

“2015 and 2016 are very welcome,” says Daumen with a light sigh. “2012 was good, but lower yields. 2013 more difficult and with very low yields. In 2014 we selected out 50 percent. Over those three years, we lost the equivalent of one vintage in volume. So 2015 and 2016 are very very welcome here.”

“2015 was not a complicated vintage to manage. Some areas had longer maturation, and I actually like that, because the wine is deeper. 2015 was not hot, not cold. It’s difficult to say ‘normal’ today, as the climate is changing, but it was not abnormal for sure. We often get extreme conditions at some point, but we didn’t get that in 2015. Just some very small rains in the middle of harvest, which helped the later-ripening areas, such as Les Hauts-Lieux.”

“In the end, 2015 is refreshing, like 2001 was. And those wines are still young today,” continues Daumen. “I would take 2001 over 2000 and 1998 because the freshness and balance matches the maturity. And it’s funny, because I wasn’t happy with 2001 right away. It was completely overshadowed by 1998 and 2000. That’s partly the context of the vintage at the time. But also how my approach has changed as I have divided my parcels and changed the cuvées since 2010.”

That change is the shift from cuvées based on vine age, to cuvées based on terroir.

“I realized I didn’t need to make the decision on vine age because the entire domaine is old vines. My father planted up to 1962, and there are no other plantings in the domaine’s parcels after that,” explains Daumen. “I began to realize that the north-facing parcels I have are quite different from the typical Châteauneuf. It’s more of a microclimate. And sandy soils and limestone soils make two very different wines. And so I needed to focus on the wines in that way.”

The Domaine de la Vielle Julienne Côtes du Rhône Lieu-Dit Clavin 2015 is a 60/10/5/5 blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre and Syrah, with the remainder Counoise and whites. It shows bright, piercing bitter cherry and damson plum fruit, flecked with white pepper and driven by a racy, iron spine. It’s a wine of purity and tension.

The 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Trois Sources (the sandy soil parcels) totals around 830 cases. The 60/10/10/10/5 blends of Grenache, Syrah, Counoise, Cinsault, Mourvèdre plus others shows intense Linzer and blackberry torte flavors, with very fine, racy acidity stretching it out. It’s backed by light anise, lavender and fruitcake accents through the finish while a bolt of graphite strides in as well. It’s tannic, but driven, and the acidity is really riveting.

The 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Hauts-Lieux (limestone soils) is a 60/20/10/10 blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Counoise and Cinsault. There are about 400 cases of the wine, which has an intense raspberry pâte de fruit core bristling with energy as it moves along, showing flashes of incense, black tea and anise. The structure is refined and persistent, with a light chalky thread echoing throughout. It’s a stunning display of fruit and minerality working together.

There is still a little 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réservé produced, just 150 or so cases from a single parcel in Les Trois Sources, whose vines were planted in 1905. Not made every year (2012, 2010, 2009, 2006, 2005 were the last bottlings), it’s a blend of 90 percent Grenache with Syrah and Cinsault.

“The problem with Grenache is to avoid over-maturity. It needs support from other grapes. To keep the fresh balance, especially with global warming, is more difficult now with Grenache. So Syrah and Cinsault are the salt and pepper for the Grenache,” says Daumen.

The wine is loaded with dark Linzer and plum pâte de fruit notes, laced with Lapsang Souchong tea and warm fruitcake, all carried by finely-beaded acidity. The finish lets light lavender, bay and garrigue notes flash through for added range and length. It’s very tight, but will show its beauty down the road. Twenty years down the road.