Next on our agenda was to hopefully see Jean-Charles Abbatucci in the seaside city of Ajaccio. (If one were to look at Corsica as a clock, Ajaccio would be located at roughly 8:30). It is the capital of Corsica AND also happens to be the largest in population. In short, Ajaccio is, well, a BIG city, especially by Corsican standards. Our hotel was just 2 blocks off the port in a very congested part of the city, maybe 2 blocks from the old part of town.
Then why go to Ajaccio?
It had quite a concentration of small neighborhood eateries nearby to the hotel & therefore an opportunity to try some authentic Corsican food, especially in the old part of town, eventhough the parking was very challenging. Plus, my cousin really wanted to see where Napoleon was born & raised (his one tourist-y stop on this trip).
Domaine Comte Abbatucci is a drive outside of Ajaccio city. It wasn’t that easy to find, given the vineyard & winery really doesn’t have an address listed.
Our early attempts to schedule a visit with Domaine Comte Abbatucci were declined. I was told Jean-Charles rarely sees visitors & especially at this time, since it was the end of harvest & heavy winemaking operations going on. Yes, he is very hands on. On Saturday, however, we received an email from them noting that he would be willing to see us on the coming Monday, but only for 30 minutes. We were thrilled, as this was not only one of the very top vignerons of the island, but also a big proponent of rarely seen heirloom/heritage indigenous grape vines, which his father started searching out & collecting during his frequent travels into the mountains–fallow, dilapidated vineyards & many small, “peasant” farmers. He is also a vehement champion of uber-biodynamic farming & a true master at grafting (to the point of almost appearing to be a bonsai master) indigenous vines to the old vine root system (which is used to the biodynamic regiment & less compacted, horse trodden soils).
The original 30 minute time limit actually ended up being more like 6 1/2 hours, as he passionately showed us vine after vine after vine of his masterful grafting techniques, which seemingly differed with each plant. His goal was to be as minimally intrusive as he could be, so the vine would concentrate on producing supreme quality fruit, rather than on healing from the cuts & stress created by grafting. Imagine at least 1 hour of looking & explanation……vine by vine!
He also proudly & patiently explained what he meant when he referred to his craft & several other of his peers as a vigneron. In short, it was a definition of a code, an ethic, a passion, an honor, kind of similar in thought to the difference between a samurai & a swordsman. He named only a few on his island who he considered true vignerons. (Those that I was not familiar with, we then tried to add them to our list of visits or we bought the wines at stores or restaurants during our travels to sample).
So, I asked him, if you are not a vigneron, what are you?
I later mentioned this to a wine friend from France, & he later emailed me this–“A Bricoleur does “Bricolage” which is defined as: Something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available. It was very often used by artisans when I was growing up in France when talking badly about some of their competitors not having great skills or performing shoddy / sloppy work”.
Got it. Jean-Charles Abbatucci is definitely a vigneron.
Wine wise, Domaine Comte Abbatucci has three main, differentiating sub-labels–
Cuvée Faustine–(Blanc–produced from 40 year old vine Vermentino; Rosé–typically produced from 90% Sciaccarrellu, 10% Barbarossa; and Rouge–typically produced from 70% Sciaccarellu, 30% Niellucciu). I would say, these are his core wines & the ones most restaurants & retail stores should concentrate on, especially when considering price points.
Vin de France–(wines grown &/or produced not withholding to the AOC laws)–Extra Brut “Empire”–100% Barbarossa, planted in 1960 & 1962–done method traditionelle…….Rosé “Gris Imperial“–90% Sciaccarrellu, 10% Barbarossa……Rosé “Valle di Nero”–100% Carcajolu Neru–typically 250 cases production…..Rouge “Frais Imperial”–100% Sciaccarellu…….Rouge “Monte Bianco”–100% Sciaccarellu–typically 400 case production……..Rouge “Valle di Nero”—100% Carcajolu Nero, typically 200 case production. There is also a dessert style Aleatico “Dolce Rosso”–produced from a smattering of 20 year old vines, .21 hectares, fermented for 2 months in 300 liter barrels & then aged for 9 months in demi-muids. (roughly 80 grams per liter residual sugar).
Cuvée Collection–are grown & produced from their oldest vines & is his homage to his long, long line of distinguished ancestors, using nearly forgotten, indigenous grape varieties such as Carcajolu Biancu, Paga Debbiti, Riminese, Rossola Brandica, Biancone & Vermentino for white wines; AND Carcajolu Neru (young vines, as it was only recently discovered & planted), Sciaccarellu, Niellucciu, Montaneccia, Morescono, Morescola. These wines are quite pricey as Corsican wines go, but are his “family’s crown jewels”–produced in the vineyard & winemaking at their highest level.
We ended the afternoon at his childhood friend’s seaside restaurant, enjoying his Extra Brut “Empire” & 2 different of his Cuvée Collection bottlings with Jean-Charles. The sea breeze & aromas were wonderful, the seafood super fresh, the wine mesmerizing & the conversation intoxicating. It was definitely a life long memory moment. Oh yeah, we also got to try his brother’s (Jacques) lean, tasty Vaches Tigre beef–rare indigenous Corsican cows which roam freely on the 80 hectares of the estate which has no vine plantings.
Thank you Jean-Charles for a great & very insightful visit.