Pascal Jolivet stands at the top of Le Roc. This Sancerre vineyard is famous for its flinty silex soil. Millions of years ago, all this was the sea.
Pascal Jolivet is one of the most dynamic ambassadors of wine in the world. The Frenchman has impeccable grape DNA. Both his great-grandfather Louis and grandfather Lucien were winemakers. They were succeeding generations of Chefs des Cave at Pouilly-Fume’s Chateau de Tracy. That link came to a close in 1926 when Lucien Jolivet retired.
Their young descendant Pascal began work in 1980 – with his father Jacques – as the local agent for Champagne Pommery. Tension soon surfaced between the two and in 1982, the son told his father of his change of plans
‘I told my father “I can’t work with you, I want to go back to school”. There was friction with my father since I was five, six years old. We were like dog and cat. I started a Master degree in Social Management. But my father wanted to keep me in the family business. So, he proposed he buys a small negociant business that was able to close and to let me manage it the way I wanted to.’
Harmony restored between father and son, Pascal Jolivet also acknowledges the financial support given by his father in his negociant business. But the young man had greater ambitions beyond selling other people’s wines.
Apart from Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, and Touraine made from sauvignon blanc, Pascal Jolivet also produces Sancerre Rouge from pinot noir.
Jolivet’s moment with destiny took place 32 years ago. In 1987, he started his own brand. He did so by blending finished wine made by other producers and putting a label with his name on it.
The labels have remained – like the man – essentially unchanged (unlike so many other wines). Jolivet’s career has been a bit like his wines: fresh, unstoppable, and racy.
In 1990, Pascal Jolivet built his own winery.
‘I was impressed by Prince Polignac of Pommery who informed me that in the 1980s, all the big brands in Champagne started investing in new technology such as temperature control systems and stainless steel tanks. I was thinking that it would be great to do that in Sancerre. My feeling was that while I did not have any vineyard, I could still make wines with a style. I was very impressed with Champagne where every champagne has its own style: Pommery has its own style, Moet & Chandon, and Roederer. Every champagne brand says that we have our style.
In 1987, Pascal Jolivet put his name on a wine label. A hundred thousand bottles were produced that year. Today, annual production is 1.5 m bottles.
The hilly vineyards of Sancerre are some of the most beautiful in France. It is just two hours by train from Paris to Cosne sur Loire.
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Today, we take it for granted but 30 years ago, pioneering Pascal Jolivet was one of the first to introduce temperature control to Sancerre winemaking. Jolivet went beyond the future. He not only introduced temperature controlled vinification in stainless steel tanks, Jolivet also did not clarify the juice, avoided enzymes, and relied only on natural yeast to produce Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume of pristine purity. Since then, he has also added Sauvignon Blanc from Touraine. And Sancerre Rouge with pinot noir.
In 1993, Pascal Jolivet bought his first vineyard.
More purchases were added down the years. Today, the winery owns 50 hectares in Sancerre and Pouilly Fume. There’s and another 50 hectares in Touraine which produces a sauvignon blanc called Attitude. The 50 hectares account for 80% of Touraine blanc. In 2020, Attitude will be produced entirely from owned vineyard.
The 2019 vintage is delivering wines of very good ripeness. Time will tell if there should be more counter-balancing acidity.
A truck of harvested grapes being weighed.
When Pascal Jolivet first put his name on a wine label back in 1987, he produced 100,000 bottles a year. Today, that figure has soared to 1.5 million bottles. It’s no nubers alone that are impressive. The wines are produced from vineyards that do not use pesticides nor hebercides.
Ever on the move, last month, Pascal Jolivet launched his renamed Pouilly-Fume in the USA last month. It is now known as Blanc Fumé. Visting him for the harvest on 28 September, the man went down to the cellar and emerged with a 1959 bottle of such a named wine from Pouilly-Fumé, all of 60 years ago.
In that affirmation, Jolivet shows to the world his love and respect for tradition and history even as he takes us unrelentingly into the future.