My father asked me to share a few thoughts to bring 2016 to a close. Here are some of my highlights.
The bionic man
When I decided to get involved in 2015, even from a distance, I found my father had an unfortunate tendency to spill wine on the tablecloth when pouring. I initially accepted it as an inevitable result of aging in proximity to a well stocked cellar. But it wasn’t only after a few glasses and the vision was deteriorating fast. We managed to get a hospital appointment where they admitted they’d forgotten to remove some stitches from a previous operation in one eye. They also decided it necessary to rapidly graft a new cornea on the other which was affected with “Fuchs” disease (the “fu” pronounced like “futile” please). This yielded rapid results and combined with a new military boot-camp regime of regular morning swims, smoothies for breakfast and no wine lunches, 2016 heralded the arrival of Graham version 2.0, the bionic man.
Of major concern to me was the financial viability of Chateau Saint Jacques. My father has invested heavily with a simple philosophy. “To do what is needed to make the best wine in the Minervois”, and this meant years of reworking the soils, ripping vines to replace them with low yielding higher quality clones and investing in the production and facilities. Every year I would ask him how it was going and the answer was inevitably positive and optimistic, though admitting that it was “taking a bit longer than expected”.
Unfortunately very few wines just sell themselves. We decided to refocus and rebrand the portfolio of wines so it’s more coherent and simplifies the production, so in turn we can focus on getting quality rather than dealing with complexity. It was also easier for me as an outsider to notice some of the things that just didn’t make sense. For example the rose was decent, but just a bit too “complicated” and heavy. After discussing with some of our partners, the consensus was that people are more interested in drinking something light and refreshing, and we have very good fruit to do this with. That was the quickest visible change to our wines and yielded some great coverage and awards early on.
Though there is always a lot to do, we are in a much healthier position for 2016, despite the big drop in yield this year. We want to keep the focus on quality, be maybe a little more “fruit-first” and oak less, and experiment a little more with vinification to see where to get the extra quality improvements from (e.g. we won’t release the Chateau white this year as we are still experimenting there).
It has been fantastic to work with Martine, Marc and Yannick on site, with the help of Richard our oenologue. They are committed, hard working, talented, humble and fun to work with, and crucially for me, open to new ideas and ways of doing things. We’ve also been helped and supported by many others who share the passion and work with us to make and sell our wine.
We may slightly expand the team, and are starting to look for a replacement for Marc who will be retiring in 2018.
Lastly, few people recommend working with family. It can be immensely frustrating at times, but I would still recommend it. You spend 18 years living with your parents, then quickly go to seeing them for a few days a year, and then one day probably wish you’d spent more time with them. It’s been rewarding for me on many levels, with highs and lows, and we’ve learned and laughed a lot on the way. I hope that when you next open a bottle of Chateau Saint Jacques, you might just taste the result of our collaboration!
On behalf of all the team at St. Jacques, we wish you a very merry festive season.