I met Jean-Philippe Janoueix about 12 years ago when a négociant told me there was something new and interesting I should see. He took me to Château Croix Mouton for a dinner with Jean-Philippe. What he wanted me to see was a vineyard planted in 20,000 vines per hectare, super density for Bordeaux and untried by anyone else. All of the work has to be done by hand as there is no room for machinery between the vines. The vines were a small 1.4 hectare parcel in the vineyard of Château Croix Mouton. Croix Mouton is a Bordeaux Superieur and hardly the kind of place most people would do expensive experimentation. I knew this was a man who was going to do some novel things.
Since that first meeting we have sold a lot of his wines and stayed in touch. Jean-Philippe’s family has been in the wine business in the right bank of Bordeaux for generations. They bought Château La Croix St. Georges in Pomerol in 1932. While the property was good, it wasn’t stellar… until Jean-Philippe took over management in 1999. The terroir is outstanding on the Pomerol plateau next to Le Pin and near a number of the stars of the appellation. It’s only 1.2 hectares on clay and gravel soils planted in about 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc. The vines are now about 40 years old so he had good material to use. Since taking over management, Jean-Phillipe has overhauled the cellar and used 100% new French oak. The ratings have been outstanding for most vintages in this millennium. Even the difficult years have been well received.
Jean-Philippe has made a habit of taking vineyards in less highly regarded areas and showing their potential. The main vineyard of Château Croix Mouton was abandoned when he bought it in 1997. It sits on a plateau above the Dordogne River on clay and limestone soil. The Romans planted vines there and Roman relics have been found in the soil. They are 19 hectares of vines, 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. The average age of the vines is now over 40 years. He uses 50% new oak and the wine is fleshy and ready to enjoy in its youth. For a wine under $20 it’s one of the best values in Bordeaux.
Another Bordeaux Superieur Janoueix acquired is Château Le Conseiller. The vineyard is also 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc with an average age of about 40 years. There, he uses 50% new French oak and 50% American, a new sacrilege in France. He has also introduced cigar-shaped barrels there as in some of the other properties. This increases exposure to the wood and creates a more fleshy and oaky wine. It’s also a wine to drink soon at a value price.
Château La Confession is on the edge of town in St. Émilion bordered by a number of famous neighbors. Acquired in 2001, the vineyard is 7.5 hectares of vines on the typical chalk/limestone soil of the St. Emilion plateau. The vines average over 40 years in age. Janoueix does stirring of the lees and pumping over of the must through the cap during fermentation to add depth and 50% of the cigar-shaped barrels. The aging is in 100% new French oak. Ratings have been consistently high for this top value of the appellation. Jean-Phillipe is still young and it will be worth seeing what he does next.
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Brad Lewis, Contributing Writer