Apremont’s arch-terroiriste: Jean Masson

Apremont’s arch-terroiriste: Jean Masson

Bonjour mes amis,
Imagine, if you will, that it’s the middle of the night in a sleepy alpine hamlet, the moon and stars shining brightly down upon the surrounding mountains.  The only sound to be heard is the nocturnal chorus of the wind and insects, playing their timeless tune.  Out of this familiar calm and quiet explodes an unearthly rumbling.  Quite literally, the heavens are falling!! Massive limestone boulders tumble and squash the majority of the homes; a panicked and bewildered crush of humanity and livestock scurry to seek shelter, helpless in the face of such elemental force.  After only a few minutes of apocolyptic horror, the rumbling is done.  Several thousand souls are killed beneath a 3 mile long flow of stone and earth……
This unimaginable nightmare is exactly what happened one fateful evening in 1248 in Apremont, France of the Savoie region of the Alps.  The iconic limestone Mount Granier had collapsed, crushing everything in its path.  The traumatic event was of such deeply scarring suffering to the valley’s inhabitants that the area forever more takes its name from this tragedy: “bitter mountain” or Apremont.

As a direct result of this geological shift, the limestone debris radically changed the landscape and its agricultural usefulness.  Limestone is broadly recongized as being some of the best soil for farming under vine, which has been a principal crop of the area ever since.  The dominant grape variety here is Jacquere, a white cepage that yields refreshingly crisp and aromatic wines with a unique specrum of fruit/floral flavors, finishing with limestone’s signature saline mineral finish.
There is very little doubt that Apremont’s greatest domaine belongs to the Masson family, grape growers for four generations.  Pictured above is Jean-Claude Masson, the proud steward of his family’s 9 hectares.  He has been dubbed the “arch terroiriste of Apremont” by the Wine Advocate’s David Schildknecht, as he fashions 10 different cuvees from his various parcels to highlight the subtle differences in character that emerge from these soils.  While many subtle aspects of the wines change in each cuvee, there is an undeniably universal deliciousness in all of them.  I prize wines that deliver both a certain immediacy as well as some palpable complexity; sheer deliciousness allied to soil driven flavors.  A table with Jean-Claude and family, we tasted through all of the wines from a few vintages…..while Jean-Claude and I were busy critically evaluating the wines and their origins with our modern wine-geek style, we asked his father what he thought of the wines.  He simply took another sip, smiled from ear to ear, and proclaimed them “tous bons”.  That was his expression for each and every wine we tasted, a broad satisfied grin at his son’s work….
Jean-Claude himself is a jovial and hearty character; I genuinely appreciated his “down home” lack of pretension, sense of humor, and passion for his family and home.  As we toured the vineyards, it was fascinating to see the lengths to which he has pushed the envelope, seeking ever finer expression from the land.  For example, the “la Dechiree” parcel, meaning “the torn”, is just that: a piece of land whose almost 2 meters of topsoil has been torn off to reveal the rock shelf below.  It is like a small rock pocket carved into the hillside, stony deliciousness….

2011 Apremont Cuvee Lisa $15 : David Schildknecht’s review of the 2010:
“The Masson 2010 Apremont Cuvee Lisa (as always, from an especially chalky, high active lime site and appropriately sporting an off-white version of the V.V. Traditionelle label) lives up to its persistent pattern of invigorating ping as well as animated and refreshing exchange between flinty, chalky, stony mineral suggestions and zesty citrus (here favoring lemon and grapefruit). This installment exhibits a lusciousness to accompany its exuberance that I have not found in previous vintages of Lisa. A greenhouse-like aromatic amalgam of leafing and flowering things also has a delightful inner-mouth echo in this long-finishing cuvee that should remain deliciously entertaining for at least the next 3-4 years. ” 91 points
2011 Apremont Cuvee Nicolas $15 : David Schildknecht’s review of the 2010:
“The sparely- and modernly-labeled 2010 Apremont Cuvee Nicolas is anything but sparse in aroma or flavor, brimming as it does with fresh white peach, lime, and grapefruit, its zest and piquancy added to seemingly chalky mineral impingement (typical for this cuvee and its gravelly site) making for a finish of sustained invigoration. This is superficially quite Riesling-like though, as usual, I find it a little less finesseful than its V.V. Traditionelle counterpart. “2011 Apremont la Dechiree $19 : David Schildknecht’s review of the 2010:

“Sporting a rather wild-looking label designed to suggest a ragged-edged beige-and-red rock surface, and constituting a diminutive cuvee of which this is only the second installment, Masson’s 2010 Apremont La Dechiree suggests pineapple near to the core in its tartness and pungency, augmented by overtones of resin and a maritime salinity and alkalinity that persist into the finish, lending it some invigoration and saliva inducement. “
2011 Apremont Collection $19 : David Schildknecht’s review of the 2010:
“Bearing the oversized but understated, vaguely antique pale green label that it has for years and originating in the same parcel as his V.V.

du Sciecle cuvee, Masson’s 2010 Apremont Collection displays a greenhouse like aromatic display of leaves and flowers, with a dynamic palate interchange between multiple mineral nuances (alkaline, stony, fusil, somehow crystalline and seemingly shimmering) and bright citricity. The flavors here – for now at least – shade toward the cool, subtle, almost aloof; at the same time, I experienced the highest-acid impression among Masson’s cuvees of this vintage. There is an uncanny alliance here of palpable extract with levity not to mention refreshment, and if the scents and flavors are for now a bit less diverse and alluring than in a couple of siblings, this long-lined, vibrantly and penetratingly persistent Apremont should be worth following for 4-6 years.” 91 points
2011 Apremont Vieilles Vignes du Siecle $25 : David Schildknecht’s review of the 2010:
“From old vines that his grandfather planted right into almost bare rock, and as usual bottled only on the cusp of the subsequent harvest,

Masson’s 2010 Apremont Vieilles Vignes du Sciecle (as he refers to it in conversation and on his price list, even though “du Sciecle” never appears on its oversized, pale green label) is the cuvee most worth following in bottle and I don’t doubt that in this case that means for the better part of a decade. Bittersweet floral scents mingle with intimations of wet stone, maritime salinity and alkalinity, as well as hints of iodine. The inner-mouth performance is every bit as hauntingly floral and intriguingly, diversely mineral as the nose had let me to hope, and there is a vibrant, tingling, shimmering sense of interaction among floral, mineral and juicily fruity elements (white peach, pear, and lime) in the wine’s memorably long finish. Even more so than the corresponding Collection cuvee, this exceptional value manifests a slight sense of austerity when compared directly with its siblings; but here is “exhibit A” in the case for truly profound (yet for all that no less exhilarating or ultimately refreshing) Jacquere. ” 92 points
2011 Apremont Coeur $29 : David Schildknecht’s review of the 2010:
“Another cuvee of which the present installment is the second; and sourced from old vines that previously informed the his Collection bottling, Masson’s 2010 Apremont Coeur features succulent white peach and crenshaw melon to which ashen, alkaline and iodine-like notes offer striking counterpoint. A slight, pleasantly-integrated suggestion of gooseberry preserves puts me in mind of certain Loire or Austrian Sauvignons. This luscious, expansive wine – his last-picked and ripest, having finished (with but one gram of residual sugar, exceptionally low chez Masson) at 12.5% alcohol – does indeed wear its heart on its sleeve not just its label, yet it retains the brightness characteristic for its vintage and a portion of the vibrancy that rendered this year’s Collection and V.V. du Sciecle bottlings so memorable and promising of subsequent, supplemental rewards. A cyanic peach kernel note adds piquant intensity to the wine’s persistent finish.”

Wines of this quality at these prices are a joy to present.  Do yourself a favor and mix up a case.  The versatility and sheer joyful pleasure of these wines are not to be lost on anyone……..
As always, if you have any questions or interests, hit me up at rob@downtoearthwines.net


About the Author:

Leave A Comment