My travels this summer were rich with first time experiences. My premier visit to Bordeaux, time trial for the Tour de France, El Bulli (more on that later), many vignerons, great wine, plush landscapes, and fabulous meals – the classic road trip. As a follow up to a recent NYT article on small family Bordeaux winemakers, the meeting of one Monsieur Jean-François Fillastre is one of my fondest summer memories.
After arriving from a beautiful drive to St. Julien, passing famous chateaux and estates, laced with breathtaking vines under vast blue skies and golden sunshine, is a sleepy town where Mr. Fillastre resides. His house is difficult to find. The house number is curiously skipped as if part of some plan to keep him from interruption from outsiders.
Looking like lost tourists, an older woman emerges and asks if she can help. After announcing our intentions, she disappears, acting as a screener of sorts. Another interested party opens her shutters and points to the rear of the alley, where perhaps the domicile is located.
Having sufficiently made it through two checkpoints, Mr. Fillastre reveals himself. He is a tall man with impressive forearms, a sun-soaked visage and wry, discerning smile. He is dressed in khakis, an Izod polo, and work shoes, sooted from fresh soil.
He leads us to a garage, thus truly defining the term “garagiste”, and the moldy frost and cobwebs on the walls reveal a room full of barrels and old bottles, a treasure trove of labor in the vineyards.
Mr. Fillastre seems a bit distracted and is not overly chatty. His tone is measured and seemingly cryptic at first, as if he had yet to trust our motives. But reading between the lines, there stood a man with great passion and sense of duty to the vines. It seemed the only important virtue to him at all.
Domaine Jaugeret is a story about a family of winemaking tradition, an historic continuation of viticulture and expression of terroir, a practical, agricultural labor of bringing the best out of the earth naturally.
Indeed, it is evident that Mr. Fillastre is concerned with making wine for himself and his own pleasure.
We taste wines from a few recent vintages using a pipette that he made for himself when he was a young man learning the glassblowing trade.
How about technology?
It is not bad, to a point.
I don’t demand of the wine, it demands of me.
Just before lunch, he asks us to choose two among three select bottles. Standing side by side on a wine crate – ’82,’90, and 2001 vintages. I sheepishly point to the ’82 first, and then the ’90, naturally.
As we sat at a nearby restaurant with classic Bordelaise fare, duck, gratin, veal kidneys, and cheese, Mr. Fillastre opened up, offering opinions under direct questioning, revealing more and more of the man behind the wine.
When you are not drinking your wines, what do you drink?
I like to drink my wines.
How about rosé?
That is not wine for me.
What about Champagne?
I love Champagne with oysters, a tiny bashful grin.
It doesn’t matter.
After tasting the ’82 and the ’90, we discussed its power and finesse. Mr. Fillastre remarked at their purity, but did not let on if one was better than the other, only that the ’82 is more ready to drink.
I am a bit maniac.
True to form, Mr. Fillastre looked a bit mad at his admission.
But you have to, to be a winemaker.
Do you know that you are gaining popularity in the United States?
Do you drink other Bordeaux?
Do you collaborate with other winemakers?
No man is an island, but Mr. Fillastre works the land without concern for anything or anyone but the vines and his duty. The result is wine with such purity and soul, only a “maniac” could have achieved such great results.
Mr. Fillastre has no heirs, just a brother who he claims he wouldn’t let near a vine, and so Domaine du Jaugaret is certainly in danger of being snapped up by a large corporation, which would indeed be very sad. Just as the mom and pop joints in New York City have turned into a Starbuck’s, bank or Duane Reade, Bordeaux will also be a lesser place if many of the small farmers fade into history.
After lunch, Mr. Fillastre had one more surprise for us, an unlabeled bottle of some age. A 1943 offering, peak and pure St. Julien, a testament to his father’s skill in an unheralded vintage, his birth year.
We left Mr. Fillastre as we envision him, sipping on his wine, enjoying the fruits of his father’s labor, having sent us away in astonishing gratitude.
The guardian neighbor emerges from her porch to bid her farewell.
Do you understand how great a man he is?
Now I do.