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A man of convictions. A man of generosity, heart, and devoted friendships. A man of his world. I’ve known Jean David (or Janno) for over ten years now. Not long, you might say. But when you’ve been in the country but fifteen years, each year counts. I met Jean David through a mutual friend, a fantastic potter that he grew up with and who lived right across the street from him. Giles (or Gilou) mentioned that his friend made good wine, organic, and that there was a particularly nice little white. Well, it didn’t take much more nudging for us.
Always seeking new people to visit on our food, wine and artisan tours in the region, Erick (my former husband) and I went up the hill to visit, taste and discover.
And so the friendship began, and our collaboration developed. We would go to Séguret, a little hillside village nestled in the Dentelles de Montmirail, north of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, to hike, picnic, wine-taste and visit the potter (and his parents, whom I would have happily adopted, but that’s another story). Jean David and Martine – his wife, partner and soulmate of many years – would receive us, tell stories, share their wines, and we would drive away with a carload full of cases for future dinners, cooking classes and cozy events.
Jean David inherited his vineyards from his father. Yes, yet another wine family. However, he didn’t simply take over and continue as his father had done before him. He is of the soixante-huitard generation, a.k.a. sixty-eighters, and he had grown up with a new world opening before him. New neighbors coming from the cities and settling in the countryside were growing vegetables organically. They shared these at-times-strange-looking-but-superbly-flavored vegetables with Jean David. They spoke to him of organic agriculture, of returning to traditional methods, of rejecting the industrialized, highly chemical trends that had taken over much of the agricultural and viticultural world in France at that time (the early 1970s).
And so Jean David suggested to his father that perhaps they might shift their methodology. And his suggestions were not well received. With this rejection he took time to consider, breathe, travel and grow. He set off to tour Europe on his own for a year. He learned, he coped, he shared, he explored. And he came back home, fluent in English and in life.
He managed to persuade his father to cede him five hectares (12 acres) to experiment on, and with Martine at his side he began. She tended flowers, dried them and sold them in bunches. He started working organically in the vineyards. As the tale goes, they had barely deux sous (two cents) to rub together, but they managed. And he impressed his father. Gradually, more hectares of vineyards passed into his care and he established his reputation, his style, his way of working. Martine took over the marketing and commercial side of the business, and he focused on the wine.
Today his wine is sold around the world, from Japan to Germany to the Western Coast of the United States. He and Martine have given lectures on organic viticulture in Tokyo and participated in wine fairs far and wide.
He still makes that little white (a blend of bourbelenc and roussanne) that Gilou the potter loved so. He also makes a Côtes du Rhône Rosé and five grenache-dominant reds including a very special blend without sulfites called le bonnet or le beau nez meant to be drunk today, now, as the spirit moves you, in honor of his dearly loved friend the potter, who departed this world a couple of years ago.
As I visit during this harvest season I revel in his joy, his knowledge, his being. He is surrounded by a devoted team of young and old harvesters and his two permanent employees in the cellar. The grapes are coming in, being pressed, pumped from tank to tank. Yet another year of magic in the vines and in the cellar.
Madeleine Vedel, based in Avignon, is the owner of Provence Cooks LLC, leading intimate and personally designed tours to wineries, food artisans and villages in Provence for over eleven years. She recently started up a small agency promoting Southern French organic wines to US importers and distributors. You can learn more about her activities on her web site or at her blog where she explores her bicultural existence and passion for Provence.
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