Even in the Jura, a region blessed with wonderful local varieties, great terroirs and talented vignerons, Alice Bouvot of Domaine de l’Octavin stands out as a true original.
Alice is trained as a classical musician and indeed one might say as a classical winemaker, having studied viticulture in Bordeaux and oenology in Dijon. Having worked for large estates both in the Napa Valley and closer to home, she missed the joy of improvisation and the beauty of chance and has since forged her own path. Inspired by the work of pioneers such as Emmanuel Houillon and Pierre Overnoy, Alice was one of the first of a new wave of producers offering a pure expression of the Jura’s hills and nowadays acts as a mentor to the next generation of vignerons.
She farms around five hectares of vines in some of the Jura’s very best lieu-dits such as En Curon, La Mailloche, Les Nouvelles and Les Corvées. Vineyard work is carried out with a real sensitivity to the needs of the plant and a great respect for biodiversity. In addition to this, Alice harvests grapes from the vineyards of trusted friends, embarking on a veritable Tour de France for her négociant project.
A native of the region that has been instrumental in putting the Jura on the map, Alice offers a unique perspective. We sat down with her to understand a little of the magic behind her one-of-a-kind wines.
A selection of Alice’s wines are available on Tutto a Casa
Hello Alice. Could you start by telling us a little about yourself? How did you end up making wine in Arbois?
I am from Besançon, a town by the Swiss border about an hour from Arbois. After studying, I spent around three years making wine overseas and when I returned to France I chose to settle in the Jura. I wanted to be close to my family and I was drawn to the exciting grape varieties and terroirs we have here.
How did Domaine de l’Octavin come about?
After I returned home, I spent the first two years managing an eighteen hectare domaine in the Côtes du Jura. This is where I met the father of my children, Charles Dagand and together we decided to start out on our own. That was in 2005 and it was born out of passion and the hope of being able to make the kind of wines we loved without having to compromise.
How has the Jura changed over the years?
In those days there wasn’t much organic wine, very few people were making wines without sulphites and the market was difficult. Now there is an infatuation with the Jura that wasn’t there before and a great energy amongst the organic producers.
At the beginning there was only a few of us but today, thanks to things like Le Nez Dans le Vert, a tasting of which Charles is an organiser, we are always in contact with other vignerons. Even if we have a small question, we will not hesitate to call each other.
Could you describe your approach in the vineyards?
I practice both organic and biodynamic agriculture. In the vineyard there is always a lot of work to be done. I try to prune respectfully, removing excess buds and shoots, always trying to reflect the balance of the vine. I look for soil that is alive and before making an intervention I first consider my ultimate goal, which is to provide a living soil. This leads to well balanced fruit and healthy indigenous yeasts, which are the key to a successful fermentation.
You have vines in some of the most important vineyards in the region and unusually, for cuvées such as Potion Magique and Elle Aime, you make field blends of both red and white grapes. Where did this idea come from?
I do this because I want to harvest parcel by parcel, to make a blend based on the terroirs. I harvest everything on the same day, even though, for example, the Savagnin ripens later than the Poulsard in La Mailloche. I like the idea of bringing the acidity of Savagnin to the Poulsard to achieve a natural balance. It offers a kind of snapshot of a particular parcel on a given day.
The vignerons used to do this fifty years ago, to make sure that they had some grapes each year, because sometimes there would be no Poulsard, or Savagnin and by blending like this you have a better chance of having something to harvest.
Does you feel that your training as a classical musician and love of music has an impact on the way you approach winemaking?
My intervention in the cellar is minimal, my goal is to merely accompany the grapes and to allow them to express themselves. Regarding the influence of music, I suppose there is a sensitivity to my work in that I try to follow my emotions and make my wines with feeling, rather than techniques.
At what point did you stop adding sulphites to the wines? Why did you decide to do this and what impact has it had on the style of your wines?
We started making wines without sulphites around 2008 and from 2010 we have never added any to our wines. I find more energy, emotion and sensuality in these living wines. I think adding sulphites takes away the life of the wine. I feel since 2010 there has been a common thread throughout the wines that I have maintained and my hope is that in the future the wines will continue to stay true to themselves and faithful to who I am.
Your négociant project is unique in that rather than just buying grapes, you insist on picking all of them yourself. This means that harvest takes you from the Roussillon to Alsace and seemingly everywhere in between. How did this come about and how do you manage the work during harvest?
I started this project in 2014 because I was interested in making wines from different grapes. Each year I start preparing and organising for the harvest in July. In August I begin the mise en place in the cellar and start preparing the vineyards. Then the harvest is usually spread out over two months.
Vin Jaune is the Jura’s emblematic wine and yours, Cherubin, is one of the best. Who else do you look up to in the region when it comes to this style of wine?
Pierre Overnoy and Emmanuel Houillon, without a doubt. I also appreciate the single vineyard Vin Jaunes from Stéphane Tissot, which offer expressions of different terroirs that are very interesting. They were a first in the Jura.
You have only released Cherubin a handful of times. What are the challenges when making Vin Jaune without sulphites and when can we hope to see another vintage released?
With such a long élevage there is a big risk of a high level of volatile acidity developing if the voile does not form. At the moment in the cellar I have some 2017, which is from négociant grapes and from our own vineyards I have both 2018 and 2020 resting in barrels, but with Vin Jaune you just never really know.