Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you if you’re young at heart.
Frank Sinatra, “Young at Heart” (1963)
Like many who follow the wine industry in France, I was shocked by an incident that happened in April 2013 in the Roussillon region of southern France. Katie Jones, an Englishwoman who had started making wine at her eponymous Domaine Jones in the Corbières four years earlier, had left to attend the Prowein wine show in Germany. A still-unidentified malefactor opened the valves on two tanks containing her entire 2012 production of white wine made from old-vine Grenache gris grapes. The equivalent of 4,000 bottles, worth €75,000, went down the drain.
Losing around a third of your annual revenue (her total annual production is around 12,000 bottles) would be a terrible blow to anyone. But Jones still seems to have a lot of the wide-eyed sentiment that first brought her to one of France’s least-inhabited, wildest areas. Her life, indeed, reads a little like a fairy tale.
She grew up in England, she told me when I visited her in June, reading Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, books by the French author Marcel Pagnol about machinations of Provençal peasant life at the turn of the twentieth century. Concurrently, she discovered the Corbières while on vacation with her parents. Later on she worked in London for a French wine importer. And this job eventually led her to the Corbières wine cooperative in Tuchan, where she worked in a marketing position.
She left the wine cooperative in 2009 to start the 12-ha Domaine Jones. Her wine-estate partner, and partner in life, is a Frenchman named Jean-Marc, who was the former president of the coop. He still farms 20 hectares of vines that provide grapes to the cooperative. Neither Jean-Marc, nor Jones, cares to directly accuse anyone about the act of vandalism that cost her so dearly, but they did mention that the perpetrators(s) must have known them as two gardens and a set of high stonewalls had to be navigated in order to reach the tanks that were emptied. Since the majority of people living in the small village of Tuchan work or know someone who works in the wine cooperative, you needn’t have read any Marcel Pagnol novels to realize that even idyllic French villages have a seedy underbelly and that someone at that coop had it in for either or both members of this couple.
But I’m not Inspector Clouseau, and this is a wine blog, not a crime-solving website, so I’ll just finish with my tasting impressions of the 2013 white Grenache gris that had just been bottled before I tasted it in June. It’s an outstanding dry white wine, with an intense nose of ripe peaches and melon. Expressive and thick-textured, those same fruit flavors are balanced with a refreshing electric acidity. The wine is further enhanced by a good mineral backbone and spicy herbal notes. An exceptionally long finish is a nice bonus. Wine lovers around the world would agree that pouring something like this down the drain is a particularly sordid act.
But one year on, Jones is not crying over her spilt wine. Perhaps she’s less wide-eyed these days (her wine cellar has a prominently displayed sign stating that the premises are under video surveillance), and, in a spunky nod to Edith Piaf, her website homepage proudly displays “Je ne regrette rien.” It helps that, led by the internet wine retailer Naked Wines, many of her customers paid for wine last year that is just now being fulfilled with the 2013 vintage.
Perhaps years from now, little girls will be reading about an Englishwoman who decided, against considerable odds, to make wine in the Corbières.