Julien's Juice

Sunday’s story on Julien Schaal and his eponymous wines was given a short back and sides to fit the space available. Here is the full story and a photo of the man himself.

js Julien's Juice

Le Figaro responded with irony to the call of French president Nicolas Sarkozy to have UNESCO declare French food part of the world’s heritage. “Opening the door of a restaurant, making a soufflé rise, shelling an oyster, will become part of cultural activity like going to sleep at the opera, yawning at the theatre or slumping over James Joyce’s Ulysses.” Although sleeping with an Irish writer will raise a few Gallic eyebrows when France’s own Marcel Proust has been performing the same service for generations.

As Sarko says “we have the best gastronomy in the world — at least from our point of view.” A point confirmed by the kombis full of French tourists making a bee-line for Franschhoekfranschhoekcellarwines Julien's Juice
by franschhoekwines
and the culinary delights of le Quartier Français. The French have already accepted that they make the best wine in the world. Which makes the achievement of Julien Schaal, selling the Chardonnay and Syrah he makes in the Newton-Johnson winery in the Hemel en Aarde valley to the restaurants and wine bars of Paris, all the more notable.

When the vineyards and winemakers of SA hibernate, Schaal returns to his native Alsace, making wine for his wife’s family at Domaine Blum and his own eponymous brand, even if “some people think naming your wine after yourself is arrogant.” But then a common European perception is “a young guy cannot make good wine.” Something twenty-something Schaal disproves every time a bottle of his flinty Riesling is opened on an Emirates flight.

After graduating from catering school in Strasbourg, “passionated by wine” he switched from appreciation to production at wine school in Beaune. Then after a spell at Vieux Télégraph on the Rhône, he traveled to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon and then even further south, to Walker Bay and Bouchard Finlayson, following Bacchus.

This summer Julien can be found apologizing for the volume of the Doors Gordon Newton-Johnson blasts out of the hi-fi as he punches down chunky NJ reds from the high density plantings of Shiraz, Mourvèdre and Pinot Noir below the winery. “I play French music when I make my wine” admits Julien.

French:SA production runs at 4:1 at the moment, but a 50:50 split is the long term aim. All good news for lovers of elegant wines that have a minerality that is positively… French. Grapes for the 2006 vintage hail from a vineyard at Kaaimansgat, high in the mountains above Villiersdorp. A site made famous by Peter Finlayson with his Kaaimansgat Chardonnay for Bouchard Finlayson. At under R100 a bottle, it is competitively priced.

Even cheaper is the 2006 Shiraz, a cool-climate stunner from Elgin with intense structure and bright red fruit flavours, 10 000 Km away from those over-ripe, baked numbers from Paarl. So much for Elgin being too cold for Shiraz and another wine urban legend exploded.

Both wines are natural ferments – wild yeasts growing in the vineyards do the business, rather than commercial critters from Anchor – a technique Julien laughingly calls “base-jumping winemaking” as the downside is a barrel full of vinegar. While the slopes of the Hemel en Aarde valley may be a little too civilized for base-jumping, they are certainly proving their terroir for producing elegant wines with great balance and an invigorating freshness.