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Featured Estate - Château de Durette

Posted on November 2, 2017

Allison Slute

As wine professionals, we are often drawn to the stories of the winery that have seamlessly produced wine on their land, in their village, in their appellation, vintages after vintage, for multiple generations. As decades and centuries pass, the next family member - whether it be son or daughter, sister or brother, aunt or uncle - is driven by passion and tradition to step up to the plate and take over the reigns of the family business. We bear witness to this commitment, longevity and fortitude whenever we enjoy a bottle of wine from these such estates. The story is not always perfect; nor should it be. In any business where there are people at the core of its identity, emotions and human nature can create conflict and challenges – and, it is our resolve as humans that allow us to persevere and rise above.


So what do we make of the estate that cannot lay claim to centuries of tradition or multiple generations of winemaking heritage? What inspires an individual to take the leap into a business that is often dominated by centuries-old institutions?


In 1964, Jean Joly, a businessman from Belgium, came to Beaujolais with his new bride Françoise for their honeymoon. While staying in Saint-Amour, the Jolys traveled throughout the ten crus of northern Beaujolais, talking to winemakers and discovering the region’s wines. While many wine enthusiasts are drawn by the allure of Burgundy or the grandeur of Bordeaux, Joly was immediately taken with Beaujolais’ rolling landscape, gnarly gobolet-trained gamay vines, and quaint, picture-postcard villages. They returned to their home in Liège with a quarter barrel of wine, newly formed friendships, and the dream that they might one day return to Beaujolais to make wine themselves.


House of the Belgians - aka Château de Durette

As Joly, an entrepreneur whose main business was in construction, neared retirement, he sought to start on a new journey back in Beaujolais. In 2006, he purchased an estate along the banks of the Ardières river, a few miles from the village of Régnié-Durette. With the entrepreneurial spirit that drove his success in Belgium, Joly convinced several of his friends to become investors in a project that would become the current-day Château de Durette. Rather serendipitously, it was later discovered that the estate’s nickname was the “House of Belgians” as it was a shelter for Belgian troops during World War Two.


Soil Map - © InterBeaujolaisTo many wine drinkers, the name Beaujolais is not synonymous with greatness when it comes to wine. Much of what is labelled “Beaujolais” on store shelves is coming from the southern part of the region, the relatively flat, lower-lying, plains where southern Burgundy meets the Rhône. These vineyards are the source of the Nouveau that floods store shelves every November, as well as generic Beaujolais and Beaujolais Villages. In the north, however, lie the granitic hillsides of the ten Beaujolais crus. These ten appellations represent the top vineyard sites of Beaujolais and can produce wines with power, finesse and longevity that rival top red wines from across France. It is these vineyards that were the source of inspiration for Joly and encapsulated his vision for Château de Durette: to make terroir-driven, expressive wines from Beaujolais’s signature grape, gamay. From 2006 to 2010, Joly began to seek out and purchase top vineyard parcels throughout the crus in northern Beaujolais.

With team of equally passionate Belgian investors and the support of local winemaking expertise, the estate produced its first vintage in 2007 using grapes from their 20 hectares of vineyards from across Régnié, Chénas, Côte de Brouilly and Juliénas. Over the next several years, Joly’s infectious passion for Beaujolais encouraged other investors to come on board, and subsequently they purchased additional parcels in Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent.


Regrettably in 2014, Joly unexpectedly passed away, never truly getting the chance to see his vision come to fruition. How does an estate move forward when the guiding force behind its purpose and passion is suddenly no longer there? Marc Theissen, a long-time friend of Joly’s who came on board as marketing manager at the estate in 2009 and now oversees operations and winemaking, says “if there was one thing that can be said of Mr Joly, it was his ability to bring people together towards a common goal. In all of his businesses, his leadership and passion inspired those around him to come together to achieve great things, even in the face of adversity.” Château de Durette was no exception. Although his physical presence is no longer there, his family, friends and partners in the estate, continue to put their hearts into the project in Joly’s honor, watching with each passing vintage as the estate evolves and matures. 


As with any new endeavor, there are always learning curves to overcome. Prior to starting at Château de Durette, Theissen had no prior winemaking experience. He studied hotel management at university in Belgium, and spent many years working in the hospitality sector where he became very interested in wine. “I was always keen on Beaujolais wines,” Theissen explained, and it was this bourgeoning interest that was ignited into a passion when he was offered the opportunity to come to Beaujolais and work at Château de Durette. Over the last 8 years, Theissen has learned about winemaking the best way one can: by being hands-on in the vineyards and the cellar, alongside the estate’s oenologist, as well as speaking with other vignerons throughout Beaujolais. What ignites Theissen’s passion for Beaujolais wines is the diversity of wine styles and expressions that can come from just a single grape. Whether it be a fresh, juicy rosé, or a red that is medium-bodied and vibrant, or one with structure and power capable of long-term aging – all of these styles are possible on the myriad of soils that exist in vineyards of Château de Durette in northern Beaujolais.

Winemaker Marc Theissen

While the subsoil in the majority of the crus is long known to be granite-based, recent soil analyses have shown a much more complex and varied soil structure. From the beginning, Château de Durette has sought to highlight its vineyard’s terroirs through the medium that is the gamay grape. Over the last eight years through countless hours of tastings, the estate has noted soil signatures in key parcels of their vineyard crus, and recently they made the decision to make single-vineyard bottlings of each of their crus, to showcase the distinctiveness of a particular site. 


Taking a simplistic winemaking approach, all their single-vineyard cuvées are vinified the same: 25% whole cluster with the remainder destemmed, long fermentations with natural yeasts in a combination of stainless steel and cement, with most élévage done in stainless steel. This approach to winemaking allows the identity of the soils, whether they be granite, volcanic, marl or any combination thereof, come through. Theissen describes the "Les Brurreaux" vineyard in Chénas as having slightly smoky-earth undertone, the Côte de Brouilly "Les Fournelles" with its blue volcanic soils as having elevated acidity, their Juliénas from the "Colline des Mouilles" is spicier with notes of white pepper, the Fleurie from "Côte en Volluet" is noticeably perfumed, and their home vineyard of "Les Bruyères" in Régnié has dominant notes of kirsch and wildflowers.

2017 marks the estate’s tenth vintage – a milestone that might seem inconsequential to a multi-generation, centuries-old estate, but for Château de Durette, it is certainly cause for celebration. The winery has come a long way, from its humble beginnings as a retirement venture for a passionate Belgian wine enthusiast, to an estate that has embraced the terroirs of Beaujolais, letting the vineyards express themselves through their wines. Looking ahead, the future looks promising for Château de Durette, with a strong team of passionate people leading the way. With any luck, down the line wine lovers will get to discover the unique story of the multi-generation, Belgian-owned, centuries-old estate known as Château de Durette.