Weekly Interview: Julien Fayard

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 03-22-2013

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring winemaker Julien Fayard from Purlieu in Napa Valley.

A native of Saint-Étienne, France, Julien grew up in the French Riviera and studied agribusiness and winemaking while in university. After school, Julien worked in both Provence and Bordeaux – including stints at Château Lafite-Rothschild and Smith Haut Lafitte. He came to the Napa Valley in 2006, where he landed a job Quintessa and quickly became Phillipe Melka’s right-hand man. 

Check out our interview with Julien below the fold. 

What is your general winemaking philosophy? 

The underpinning of my general winemaking philosophy is vineyard-centric. The vineyard is the base. It needs to set the pace and is where personality and quality are created. The winemaking can be traditional or technical, depending on the production goals. I always prefer the craft approach, which I find much more noble and better able to express a site. It’s more natural. But sometimes, like with Sauvignon Blanc, winemaker intervention can improve the vineyard expression. 

Another important facet is having an open enough mind to explore – to observe and learn. 

What’s open in your kitchen right now? 

A 2008 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Mont Redon. 

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines? 

Phillipe Melka comes to mind first, because I worked with him directly for 7 years. I owe him my deep knowledge of Napa’s one-thousand microclimates.  

I always look to what winemakers accomplished and left as a legacy to the industry, like Émile Peynaud and André Tchelistcheff. Their legacy is more important than the wines they produced. Others, like lesser-known wineries such as Dalla Valle, are great icons that succeeded in finding some of the best vine/site combinations to produce the most refined wines. 


What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why? 

There are a lot of new talents coming up, and there is a lot of energy on the West Coast to push the limits of conventionalism and explore new sites, new styles. The beautiful thing about wine is that you can be book smart or you can learn empirically. In the end, your sensitivity will make the difference. Wine is about emotions.  

How do you spend your days off? 

It’s been a while since I had a real one — too long! But my 2013 resolution is to spend more time with my family and get some surfing in.  

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting? 

The best? Château Lafite 1988. Opened in 2003. That day a new dimension opened before me. The wine was just perfect, and immensely fresh and young. The bottle came directly from the Château’s private reserve. No warehousing/transportation, so optimal conditions of storage for 15 years. You learn that good Cabernet’s optimal drinking window is 10-15 years. 

Most interesting:?Yquem 2001 — texture, texture, texture. A very special grain to the sweetness. Unique. 

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive? 

The oldest is a 1920 Porto. The most expensive? I tend to forget the price of wine — I find it helps drinking it. The other day I realized I have a case of Château Lafite 2003 bought for 85 Euro per bottle in 2004. I believe it’s worth at least 10 times that price today, which is crazy! 

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose? 

Difficult choice. Right now, probably Mauro Vendimia Seleccionada for the red and Clos Floridene for the white. A little bit of Apain (Ribeira del Duero) and a little bit of the maestro of Sauvignon, Mr Dubourdieu.   

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker? 

Finding that balance in the vineyard that will tell the story of the site. 

What’s your favorite wine region in the world — other than your own? 

Pauillac. I don’t know if we can find more complex wines in the world. Napa is a close second. Time will tell the difference.  

Is beer ever better than wine? 

Both worlds are very different. Even though they cohabit, I don’t think they can be compared. There are fantastic breweries in America and I love what they do, but there is a complexity in wine I believe cannot be found in beer.    

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

I love bottling. I haven’t found another winemaker who can say the same.  

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing? 

I would open a surf shop that wouldn’t be open mornings. And travel as much as possible. 

How do you define success?  

By the degree of enjoyment and fulfillment one extracts from what they do in life. Love what you do.

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