Five-years ago I went on my second visit to the Pope of Pup, Pierre Overnoy, and was getting nostalgic about it all today. So, here you go, a repost.
The day started with a train ride from Paris and then to Pupillin and Chez Overnoy, directly outside to his garden, to where he has his own little nursery with baby ploussard, savignin and chardonnay. While late June, the yard had this tender spring green about it. The hour was 11 o'clock. Out came the glasses. A mystery wine was poured. We stood in the breeze, just where Pierre likes to taste, per instructions of his old mentor M. Jules Chauvet. No one had any intention of spitting.
Jean Paul Rocher & Pierre Overnoy
"Guess how old it is?" he asked.
This was a tough one.
I usually fail miserably at the games, though I love them. Keeps you sharp. Forces you to think. It was savagnin. Got that. It's salty. It's got age. But how much age? It's saline heaven and full of freshness with the sweet sucked out of the caramel. It's long. It whistles. And then more salt. Pass the Maldon. I say 1999. Why? I have no idea why. I have no context for guessing the age of an oxidized wine with its sherried taste. I just don't have enough practice. Pierre gives us a hint and says the wine was ouillé.
Poetically, this means filled to the eye, (which now I realize must mean to the bung hole) and this topping off is done regularly to protect it from the punch of oxygen. Vin Jaune is made in the opposite manner, sur voile, under the veil of a yeast layer called flor. The result is a wine rich with intense band-aid and nut. Never the less, the wine is not totally immune, especially when it stands in barrel for so long, as the one in our glass had. We were all stumped. Pierre, tanned legs and hiking boots, younger looking I'm sure than his age, flashed a smile. Gangsta gold teeth glinting from the rear of his mouth, he said with great pride, "The oldest wine in this is 1991."
Each year they added wine from the last vintage, so it is understandable that I flubbed.
It was eighteen years in the barrel and this was the third 1/2 bottle that M. Overnoy ever opened up. Okay. A thrill. "The last wine we topped off with was either 2007 or 2008."
He and Manu tasted it every 2-3 years. He said you can't open the barrel, but needs a special pipette. So this was wine was the result of blend of minds, Manu Houillon (who many people refer to as childless Pierre's 'adopted' son, and the man who has taken over the technical aspects and decisions of winemaking). There was something in the wine that defied decay and death. I had the feeling when tasting that 18- year -old, which he only opened three bottles of so far, might change the mind of the angel of death. How do you have the patience to wait for eighteen years? What kind of spiritual life must be in place to command that kind of impulse control? Hell, I don't even have that impulse control to wait until my copy is edited before I post. I am ruled by urgency, but Pierre?
Somehow, if you meet Pierre, you understand. Life seems like this amusing journey. He reminds me so much of my grandfather who did not even get old til his 100th birthday. (Please give me an IV of something lethal if I get that old. I just don't want it.) The end of the salty dog came. Our glasses held mere stains.
Pierre put his nose into the vessel and said, "Smelling an empty glass gives you a lot of answers." Like great people I have met, Pierre is given to statements worth repeating. Many of them are about the end of life and many cover the same ground. "You are the same jerk at 20 or 80, but at 80, it's the end of it." "In Biodynamie you need a life for experience, even if you die before you have the answer." "Mr. Chauvet said, when he was in his 80's, 'I'm going to die and I don't know anything about wine."
We left the garden and retreated into the darkness of the office, when vineyard fresh, Manu made his entrance. Manu Houillon started to work with Pierre when he was only 15. The connection? Manu's father bought the Overnoy wines. When the father saw that his son just wasn't interested in school, but could be interested in the vine, he asked if Pierre would take on Manu as an apprentice. Manu showed talent and engagement and (along with his sister and brother) is in charge and Pierre is proud. This is the stuff of fairy tale. Of fiction. Of romance. Pierre kissed him six times, not like a father, but with the unconditional love of a grandfather. I recognized the kisses. My own grandfather used to kiss me like that, before he turned away from me when he turned 100. But Pierre doesn't have the underlying anger Pop did. Manu will retain that love from Pierre forever. And from there to lunch. A new one for me. Lovely.
Felt odd drinking a non-Arbois wine but this was gorgeous.