The Labet family of Rotalier in the area south of Lons-le-Saunier, known as the Sud Revermont have been making thoughtful wines for generations but it was Alain Labet that put the winery on the map of collectors, critics and restaurateurs. In 1992 he released the first of his ‘Fleur’ wines, produced “ouillé” (or topped up) in the manner of Burgundy to great acclaim and has done so every year since.
Alain Labet was influenced early on by Pierre Overnoy and, like his friend Jean Macle (Chateau-Chalon) he converted to organics before it was as popular as it is today. He eventually retreated slightly by adding a single dose of herbicide – in son Julien’s words because “he didn’t want to spend all his time on a tractor”.
By only slight contrast, Julien Labet, Alain’s oldest son has always wanted to make wines as purely and as unadulterated as possible, beginning with organic farming and then by minimal intervention in the cellar. Importantly, Julien quips that he makes up for minimal intervention by maximum observation!
In 2003 Alain carved out 3 hectares of the family’s 13 hectare estate for Julien to run as he wished. Julien converted the land to organics and was granted organic status by Ecocert in 2010. His wines are adorned with beautiful labels and crafted painstakingly by him in the opposite corner of the same family cellar to his father.
A couple of years ago everything changed as Alain Labet and his wife Josie retired, handing over their estate equally to their three children. Julien, his sister Charline (a trained oenologist, as is Julien) and brother Romain (whose focus is the vineyards). Domaine Labet is born again.
The three hectares farmed by Julien have been re-incorporated into the new Domaine Labet, and they will work on an organic certification programme for the whole Domaine. The main work to be done is to replace the use of herbicide with a manual weeding. The Labet’s have a large proportion of old vines (mainly 50-80 years old), and for their oldest vines that are planted at high densities they intend to use a horse to work them.
In cellar they follow Julien’s example – for the whites, pneumatic pressing with stems for 2 hours and then juice settles for 12 hours. Fermentation at 18C in 4-10 year old fûts using natural yeast for 10 months. Full malo-lactic. Élevage in a mixture of 4 to 10 year old barrels for 18months without racking but with some lees stirring. One bottling in May without fining or filtration.
And for the reds, generally 100% destemming by hand! The grapes are not crushed and undergo cold pre-fermentation for 5 / 6 days then semi-carbonic maceration. Alcoholic fermentation in 15 year old tronconic wooden vat using natural, indigenous yeasts. Aged for 9 months in 225L barrels, all between 8 to 10 years old. No racking and no filtration.
Julien loves the reductive approach that is used so skilfully by his neighbour Jean-François “Fan-Fan” Ganevat; indeed his wines have much in common with those of Ganevat, particularly in clarity and definition but also in texture.