Entirely reasonably you might be wondering why my head has suddenly appeared on a wine label and how I could consider naming a fabulous wine from Bordeaux something as off-the-wall as “Jammy Git”. Allow me to explain…
I’ve had cause to be a bit reflective of late. Call it age (my 50th birthday suddenly doesn’t feel too far away) but I’ve pondered about the circuitous route that led us into life in Cornwall and ownership of a rather nice little wine shop. When I break it all down it’s true to say that we’ve worked hard, we’ve created a few opportunities and we’ve been willing to take a chance here and there… to make a few brave choices… to take the plunge if you will.
But we’ve also been very lucky. Lucky with some of the opportunities that arose at just the right moment and lucky with the people we’ve met along the way. And the development of our “Jammy Git” wine range is a case in point.
The name “Jammy Git” is a playful nod to the serendipity that led us into ownership of BinTwo nearly five years ago and the general, all-round jamminess that we have broadly enjoyed since. Customers often comment about how lucky I am to do what I do. And, whilst it’s often hard work, I can’t disagree.
I suppose I’m also allowing myself to have some fun with the branding (call it my fifth “business birthday” present to myself). We could have produced something serious and austere… but that’s not really us. I’m also following a hunch that customers might enjoy something more playful than another label featuring a generic picture of a chateau or a horse pulling a plough. Time will tell…
Some people make a career out of searching the globe for small pockets of extraordinary wines. With characteristic good luck our first contender for a BinTwo branded wine presented itself to us on our first visit to a Bordeaux vineyard. It’s made by Mark Hellyar – a winemaker who’s become a good friend over the years – he’s our kind of people. He’s a Cornishman making some extraordinary wines in Bordeaux with a contemporary touch – he’s not been afraid to shake up tradition. As I said, he’s our kind of people.
In 2014 (our first year at the helm of BinTwo) we visited Mark’s vineyard, Chateau Civrac in Côtes de Bourg. It was the first vineyard I visited as someone “in the trade” and I was mesmerised. Mark had been playing with the idea of making a range of high-end, limited edition varietal wines and he had the very best of his 2012 Merlot gently maturing in just one large barrel. He drew me a sample from the barrel. We tasted it right there in his small winery – largely unchanged since the 18th century. It still had some aging to do but it was clear he was onto a winner. “I’ll have some of that when it’s ready” said I. And so my first purchase direct from the winemaker was made. In the end it was so good I took it all.
Aged for 14 months in a two-year-old French oak barrel this cracking wine has developed great character. Plummy, slightly smoky with a rich, soft texture and lingering finish. It’s a very easy-drinking wine that would go down well on it’s own or with a few nibbles. Equally it has enough about it to pair well with food. I like mine with barbequed meats, but to be honest, I love it so much I’d be happy to match it to a bag of Monster Munch – it’s a wine I’ll turn to whatever the occasion.
It’s my hope that this Merlot won’t be the last Jammy Git wine (customer feedback and sales will determine that!) What Jammy Git wines will have in common is a certain authenticity. By which I mean they will be wines that I feel we have a genuine connection with. We’ll have met the winemaker, visited the vineyard, understood their ethos. Maybe even have had a small part in the development of the wine.
I may not always be able to tell you that only one barrel of the wine was made and we have it (although that is the case with our Jammy Git Merlot) but I will be able to look you in the eye and tell you that I haven’t bought a blank bottled, mass produced wine and slapped our label on it in order to maximise profits.
Nope, they’ll be good, honest wines. Wines that I love that I think you’ll love too. Wines priced fairly with no massive “own label” margins applied. Wines that have been made by winemakers I believe in with an ethos I can get behind. I wouldn’t put my name, or indeed my face, on anything else.
When I returned from my visit to Mark’s vineyard in 2014 I wrote a blog, re-posted here, that might go some way to explaining more about why there could only ever really be one choice for our first BinTwo wine.
Why a Bordeaux Special you ask (& a two page bumper edition no less!)
For no better reason than the fact that Mary, the boys & I have just returned from a trip exploring this legendary winemaking region & I’ve fallen in love with the place. Who could blame me – just look at these luscious Merlot grapes at Château Civrac just begging to be picked & transformed into a Grand Vin. They’re so beautiful it’s positively indecent!
Bordeaux is, of course, the largest wine region in France both in terms of production (9000 producers making about 800 million bottles per year) & vineyard acreage (the region has a whopping 300 thousand acres of vineyards!) I was aware of these huge numbers but to be honest they meant little to me until I saw the seemingly endless landscape of pristine vines.
How lucky that the most prolific agricultural crop in Bordeaux also happens to produce such a mesmerizingly seductive landscape. You will have gathered by now that I have developed somewhat of a crush for the area.
Highpoints of this new romance would have to include the time we spent in St Emilion. Aside from producing some of the best wine in the region this perfectly-preserved medieval hilltop town is simply beautiful. So taken in was I that I made easy prey for fellow wine merchant Hugo Stefanski who shamelessly upsold me on a selection of wines including a probably over-priced Pomerol made by a tiny producer who’s managed to hold on to just 1 acre of land next door to Pétrus – the big boys in the region (they recently offered him 2 million euros for it apparently). You think I’d be immune to this kind of blatant sales patter but I was powerless to resist!
Eating fresh oysters from the Bassin d’Arcachon with a glass of white Bordeaux Graves at a beach shack on Cap Ferret will live long in the memory. But my fondest memories are of the time we spent at Château Civrac with Cornishman turned Bordeaux winemaker Mark Hellyar.
Many of you will know the story of how he rescued a neglected Château & vineyard near Bourg sur Gironde & you may have tasted his wines at BinTwo. Certainly it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Mark’s work but visiting his vineyard (& we were honoured to discover that we were his very first visitors) really brought his inspiring story to life.
Winemaking, as I witnessed, is blooming hard graft & Mark is right in the thick of it. The winery dates back to the late 18th century & remains largely unchanged. The early 20th century saw the addition of concrete storage tanks as used by Pétrus (fantastic for maintaining stable storage conditions) & Mark has grafted on the bare minimum of 21st century technology to improve electronic temperature & quality control. But otherwise his processes remain remarkably traditional – if a small-scale, minimal intervention, high quality artisan wine is your thing then stop looking.
Walking through the unassuming door to the winery at Château Civrac feels like taking a little step back in history & we feel very privileged to have been allowed to take it. Thanks Mark – keep up the good work!