Where did you grow up?
On the western side of France, in the Vendée department, between Nantes and La Rochelle. We were five children altogether, three boys and two girls. I was second youngest, between the two girls.
Was anyone else in your family a winemaker?
No, absolutely not. But my maternal grandfather was a wine merchant in the little city of Montaigu; it’s a bit like Carlton [Oregon], maybe a little bit bigger. My mother worked with her father. They bought wine in big 600- or 300-hectoliter barrels and distributed it. We recycled bottles, using a machine to wash them so we could reuse them.
We sold a lot of what we called 'la fillette,' or half-liter bottles. For two people, it’s a good size. In France they started 15 years ago to reintroduce this size. Sometimes you hesitate because two [75-cl] bottles is a lot, but two fillettes is perfect.
At the start of your career, you studied in Nantes and apprenticed under the legendary Beaujolais producer Jules Chauvet. What did you learn from him?
At the end of my studies, I had to produce what we call in France a mémoire [thesis]. I chose malolactic bacteria. I sent a letter to Jules Chauvet, who worked at a winery in Beaujolais with yeast, and he said, 'You are welcome to come.' I made my first harvest with him in 1967. I did it more to see how the malolactic bacteria worked, where and when the bacteria arrived.
He used natural yeast and tried to use less sulfur, fewer products. And he followed a fermentation for gamay that was a bit different: a lot of people know Jules Chauvet now not so much for his work with bacteria and yeast, but more for carbonic maceration.
When you retired, everyone thought you were done making wine. Now you have started a new chapter.
It was not exactly like that. What I wanted, when I retired from Jadot, was to pass my role on to the next generation. I was 65; I had worked for Jadot since 1970. It was important for the team to take charge. I am free for something different now, so I followed the vineyards.
Jadot has many properties in France, but has never ventured overseas before. In August, the company announced it had purchased property in Oregon. Why?
We have a lot of friends in Oregon from a long time ago. We have tasted a lot of pinot and chardonnay from here, and even gamay! Since we have the best pinot and chardonnay in Burgundy, we know that the Willamette Valley is a very interesting place for these varieties.
Of course, we also had this opportunity because I am more free. I am retired from Jadot. We came and visited and saw that this vineyard is exactly what we like: it is not too big. And we tasted some wines made by some different winemakers from this site. We got a feeling for the place. And we said, 'Yes. Bingo.'
Resonance Vineyard will offer your first opportunity to work with vines that are on their own roots. How do you feel about that?
For me it is very exciting, because they are something we used to have in Burgundy and don’t [have] anymore. But I am not sure that because it is ungrafted, there will be a great difference. That will be very interesting for me to understand. I don’t know yet. I need to have full vats of grapes fermenting.
Do you intend to practise biodynamic viticulture here in Oregon?
I think we will come back to biodynamie here, but we have to look and understand first. It will take two or three vintages for that. In Beaune, yes, we produce 20 or 25 hectares (49 to 61 acres) that are biodynamic.
And will you build a winery?
Of course. We don’t know where yet. You see, we just arrived. We have to understand the place.
What was, in your opinion, the best vintage ever in Burgundy?
That is a really difficult question. It is still too early to say. Only with time can you make a big connection between the vintage and the place. It takes a minimum of 30 or 40 years.
Just for example, when I arrived at Jadot in 1970 we had a very nice quantity of Corton-Charlemagne ’59. We often served the ’59 and it was absolutely great, great, great, until 10 years ago. But now, the 1928 is absolutely glorious! No one would have believed it. No one spoke well about the ’28 at the time, it was, 'Oh, the ’29 is great.' We have a lot of examples like that.
What makes a grand cru site unique, in your opinion?
To me, the molecular potential and the potential of the flavor are the same. The more mother rock, the more soil you have on top. In some places, you have a connection with the elevation, and in others, you have friction, the dynamic of the earth. This means that your mother rocks become more warm. This warmth comes from the nucleus of the earth. If you have movement like that, and you have friction, you introduce a static electricity. The more activity from the ground, the better the result on the top is.
Do you mean to say that wines are better in seismic zones?
Yes, if the rock is warm and you have this activity, it is good. And if the ground is old, you have more facility for the mother rocks to be digested by micro-organisms – which is key. When I pass away, everything will disappear but my bones. We are all mineral. That is why it is important, when we taste wine, to always be connected to the minerality.
Naturally, different places have more mineralization than others. Resonance Vineyard is very interesting, because it is an old place; the rock is maybe 45 million years old. The stone, if you take it and work it in your hands, it is friable. It was very good news when we came to visit last April and saw that.
What was the highlight of your career?
Maybe in 1985, when we become proprietors in Côte de Nuits-Villages, we had our first chance to ferment many grand and premier crus during a recognized vintage for both white and red wines. In our cellar, we had maybe 150 700-liter casks, from 80 or 85 climats. We made all these wines in the same way – to understand the range from village to grand cru. We saw the differences so clearly because the process was the same.
What has been your low point?
When I said at the end of the 1970s that there are more than 2,500 flavors in pinot noir and chardonnay, people said, 'Jacques, you are completely crazy.' I said that flavor is not one molecule. And now scientists say that we have 4,000 flavor molecules.
What makes you happy?
I think the best is when your vats are fermenting, and you are waiting and tasting, and you understand that what must happen, is happening. You have faith. For me, wine is both an aesthetic beverage and a medicinal beverage – the best food that can exist in the world.
What do you see when you look in the mirror?
I see the work on my face. And time is time, everyone knows that. But I feel so young in my mind. The question is whether to do a lot more, or understand that it is time to stop and meditate. I am accepting of the rules and when my time arrives, I hope to be ready, but I am still full of life every day!
What brings you the greatest pleasure?
(He laughs.) That is a crazy question. I have an answer, but I will not answer it. I will not be truthful.