It takes an iron will to forge a great wine producing chateau from scratch, let alone ascend to the heights of a Grand Cru Classé within 13 years. However that’s exactly what Jean-François and Véronique Julien did. It makes a great story and it’s one I have told many times. I will recount it briefly once more for those of you who haven’t yet heard the tale before I tell you why ‘iron’ comes into play – in more ways than one – at Chateau La Fleur Morange.
In 1999 Jean-François, a skilled cabinet maker, and his wife, Véronique, born into the wine making family at Chateau du Basque, bought 14 acres of vines from Chateau Gerbaud in Saint Pey d’Armens. Their intention from the very first was to create a wine that was at the top its game. Jean-François had taught himself the craft by reading the legendary French oenologist Emile Peynaud and realised that one of their tiny plots of vines – some of which are 100 years old – was capable of something great. He was proved right. Chateau La Fleur Morange was dramatically welcomed into the ranks of the Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classé in 2012. You can read about it all here.
The reasoning behind the Julien’s hunch that their vineyard could render a great wine lay in the fact that the soil held something unique. The vineyard lies on the foot of the hill of Saint Etienne de Lisse where the soil once lay under an ancient ocean. Fossilised oyster shells are embedded in the limestone here and the soil at La Fleur Morange is a combination of this chalky limestone and sandy clay over an iron oxide subsoil known as ‘crasse de fer’. This is unique to La Fleur Morange – the Julien’s vineyard sits on the only complex mixture known to exist in Saint Emilion. Jean-François is convinced that this unique soil contributes to the finesse of the tannins. What’s more the iron gives a slight taste of salt which makes your mouth water and with this in mind the Julien’s worked hard to exploit and develop the aromatic complexity and minerality of their wine. The end result is a sensual, voluptuous wine that expresses flavours of truffles and chocolate as it ages.
La Fleur Morange has become the flagship of the little village of Saint Pey d’Armens and the pride of its inhabitants, including the Mayor. Saint Pey d’Armens has its own Grand Cru Classé at last. Jean-François has not stopped there. He has more irons in the fire. Not many people know that he is a keen rugby player and with La Fleur Morange’s new found fame he has quietly sponsored his local club: Libourne Athletic Union (UAL).
It seems that iron flows in the blood of the Juliens – his family have been rugby players for 3 generations. His grandfather, Lucien, forged the love of rugby within the family. A great, strong man, Lucien was a force of nature. Rugby in the 1940s was rough – skulls were often fractured through the leather caps they wore – and you needed to be as tough as nails. Lucien could break a wine barrel with his bare fists. An iron fist maybe, but in a velvet glove – he not only played for Libourne but worked very hard to support his wife and 8 children. Jean-François’ father, Serge, spent most of his life in the service of rugby, creating the Club de Izon. His uncles played in the French Rugby League and in International Rugby and his cousin is a French champion.
Jean-François is a man of many talents – he is most definitely a perfectionist when it comes to creating his wines, perhaps gained from the skilled precision needed when he was a cabinet maker. He is also modest, putting the beauty of his wines down to the vines, the vineyard, the terroir, his teachers and advisors. He sums up his love of rugby by saying “Rugby is the sport of gentlemen; it brings valour, courage, strength, teamwork, respect, combat, pride, and above all humbleness.” I think that is rather a good measure of him too. If you believe that wines have a little of their maker in them then I hope I have tempted you into trying La Fleur Morange – a wine born of iron in more ways than one.