By the time I finally found Julien Sunier‘s home and winery in the tiny village of Avenas, I was sure I was still lost. Many kilometers of winding roads heading up-up-up into the hills, a narrow dirt road, barking dogs, and I arrived at what seemed to be the veritable middle of nowhere. Only a couple of concrete tanks under the tin roof of an open shed gave any indication that there was winemaking going on. Welcome to Domain Julien Sunier, Artisan Vigneron – quite possibly the most exciting new estate in Beaujolais in many decades. Young, agressive, dynamic, committed, hysterically funny, and as passionate as they come – we immediately hit it off, and there was no doubt Julien and his wines were a perfect fit for the Caveau family.
Julien is originally from Dijon, but not from a winemaking family. His mother made her living cutting hair, and one of her regular clients was Burgundy superstar Christophe Roumier of Chambolle-Musigny. After high school Julien took a job in the cellar with Roumier to explore “the wine thing”, caught the bug, and embarked on a career that took him around the world for the next few years. Picking up experience with wineries in New Zealand, California, and in Beaune, Julien was then hired by Mommesin to oversee all of their production in Beaujolais, where he got to work with grapes from all 10 of the top Crus in the region.
In 2008 he left to start his own domaine, with the purchase of just over 7 acres of densely-planted steep parcels in the prestigious Crus of Fleurie, Morgon and Regnié. Julien farms organically, and all of the vineyard work is done by hand (as the sites are too steep to work with tractors.) He shuns the “natural wine” tag, but works without chemicals and with only trace amounts of sulfur – in fact only a minute addition of SO2 is made just prior to bottling.
I first heard of his wines in an article in the New York Times earlier in 2012. I then saw a bottle of his Fleurie on the shelf at Caves Madeleine, one of my favorite restaurants in Beaune. Caves Madeleine then-proprietor Laurent “Lolo” Brélin has an amazing palate and a unique talent for spotting the best new small producers – so when I saw and subsequently tasted the wine there I knew I was on the right track. Et Voilà! Julien is producing the most exquisite, hand-crafted Cru Beaujolais you are ever likely to encounter. Silky textured, deeply flavored, nuanced, long – everything a great wine from the Gamay Noir grape can be.