Mas Jullien

Country of Origin: France
Location: Jonquières, Languedoc
People: Olivier Jullien, Owner & Winemaker
Viticulture: Practicing Biodynamic


Mas Jullien is a young estate with a long history deeply rooted in the hillsides of Languedoc. Olivier Jullien grew up in the vineyards that his father and grandfather worked. As a boy in the late 70's, Olivier witnessed the winegrowers' uprisings in the region provoked by economic difficulties that beset (and continue to plague) many small, independent farmers, which resulted in the death of two men. The vineyards of Languedoc were in a critical state. Decades of over-cropping to produce inexpensive wine with little thought given to quality were coming to a painful but necessary end. The young generation of the time wanted nothing more than to leave viticulture behind. Nobody wanted vineyards in Languedoc.

Olivier Jullien was one of the pioneers of the region. He believed that the terroir had the potential to make great wines, and he had the courage to prove it. After taking his degree in viticulture and oenology in 1985, he began farming some of his family's vineyards and looking around the area for the best vineyards to purchase. He was only twenty years old when he converted some of the outbuildings on the family estate into a cellar and began vinifying and bottling his wines under the Mas Jullien label. In a touching turn of events, Olivier's success and passion inspired his father to withdraw from the cooperative and create his own winery, Mas Cal Demoura, in 1993. Or, as Olivier says proudly: "with this courageous and highly symbolic action, he quite simply became himself."

In the mid-1980s, there was not much to admire in the Languedoc at that point but here was a creative genius whose moral mandate was to prove the worth of his land. Olivier Jullien's triumph is to be found in the bottles of wine he has produced and continues to produce that are, quite simply, among the most important and compelling wines of the Rosenthal portfolio.

Mas Jullien is composed of 15 hectares of vineyards scattered around the village of Jonquières, north of Montpellier, 40 km inland from the Mediterranean Sea. The vines grow on the rocky terraces of the plateau of Larzac at the foot of Mont Baudille, culminating at an altitude of 900 meters, at the limit of their cultivation of the vine in the area. Each of his parcels has its own character, arising from differences in altitude, exposition, wind, cool air currents, and proximity to the river. Soil types vary and include rocky limestone, schist, clay and alluvial deposits. These variables give each parcel its own distinctive personality. He has recently acquired property in the village of Saint Privat, a neglected, somewhat isolated area, that Olivier is convinced will produce rustic wines of interest.

Olivier places his trust in the diversity of terroir, and he carefully observes and respects the environment. He has pulled out vineyards to re-plant trees in an effort to restore the balance of the local ecosystem. Olivier is a perfectionist in everything he does, particularly in his vineyards. From the cultivation of the soil, severe pruning, selection massale, organic treatments following the phases of the moon, use of natural compost; an intimate relationship with his vineyards is evident. Olivier's philosophy regarding the role of the different grape varieties is less concerned with the individual expression of each grape than with its contribution to the balance of the final wine after fermentation. He uses Carignan for its freshness and body, Cinsault for finesse and delicacy, Syrah for its aroma and color, Grenache for its breed, complexity, and spice, and Mourvèdre for its race and structure. For his whites, he uses Grenache Blanc for richness, Chenin Blanc and Carignan Blanc for acidity, Viognier for its primary aromas, Clairette and Roussanne for their oxidative notes, characteristic of southern wines. The Mas Jullien is farmed organically in all ways except for “official certification.”

Olivier follows a few simple yet uncompromising rules when vinifying his wines: "take the time necessary to allow nature to complete its work; accompany the life of the wine without directing it, accepting the risks and differences; maintain impeccable hygiene and meticulously carry out each task in the cellar; leave the option open to react and follow instinct and curiosity; choose techniques and material that do not distort the wine; and have faith in the competence of the people who help produce the wines."

Mas Jullien produces red wines using traditional methods. The harvest is partially destemmed before crushing. Each lot of grapes is vinified separately in stainless tanks and then is racked into barrel (demi-muid size and large ovals, the newest of which are made by Stockinger, the Austrian barrel-maker of quality). Olivier does not follow convention, he prefers to play by his own rules. He has reduced the number of cuvées he produces, believing that by blending all of the different components, he can create more complex wines. Note, however, that the blends mentioned in the individual descriptions of the wines that follow are general guidelines not strict rules.

Media Links Jefford on Monday: The Winegrower's Perspective
Sophie's Glass: Lunch with Oliver Jullien