The first time that I met winemaking Englishman, Jonathan Hesford was at Arrels del Vi in 2013 in Sant Martí d’Empúries, Catalonia. This was followed by a fair called Vignerons des Aspres in Thuir, France at the old Byrrh vermouth factory. There was also a small, laid back natural wine fair of Roussillon producers in Thuir as well. Then there was the Vin’Aqui fair in Argelès-sur-Mer, France quite recently. There may have been some other times as well, but it got to a point where it was quite ridiculous to not have actually visited Jonathan and his wife, Rachel Treloar’s cellar, Domaine Treloar.
Just as the vines were turning color and the leaves falling in early November we managed to make this visit, bathed in the glow of the setting sun and Jonathan’s wonderfully welcoming ways. How he, Rachel, and their children came to live in this small village about 8km southwest of Perpignan is due to needing change after working in New York during the 9/11 attacks. Watching both planes crash in to the towers they lost their home, job, and residence in the US during one dark morning. Originally working as a project manager in IT for Merrill Lynch, leaving all of this behind found Jonathan learning winemaking and viticulture in New Zealand where Rachel is originally from.
After working there for two years at Neudorf, he set about to find some corner of the winemaking world where he could carve out a space for the wines he wanted to make. As he puts it, he wanted to find somewhere in France where he could have ideas. This is not a trifling issue in an Old World wine producing country such as France where regulations are typically based upon decades if not centuries of pondering the terroir.
Jonathan and Rachel found what they were looking for in Roussillon. For anyone who has been to a tasting of the wines of this region, you know that it’s a bit of the Wild West. While resembling what’s found across the border in Empordà to a large degree, in terms of French appellations if you have some new idea of what you want to do, this is probably one of the best places to do it, especially in Les Aspres which are the sprawling foothills and mountains that lead in to the Pyrenees proper. The vines see plenty of sun as well as cleansing winds.
Their cellar is an old stony affair and they’ve built their home just above it. It has historically been a cellar and there are still many aspects (such as tremendous old barrels) to the building that attest to its past, prior to the Hesford-Treloar family taking up residence. Here, Jonathan produces what are by any sane person’s estimation, “natural wines”. He farms in an organic fashion albeit without certification, he only uses natural fermentation, and he doesn’t perform any manipulation in the cellar. The wines that end up in the bottle are as pure an expression of where they come from as you will find.
You will typically not find the tattooed and ironically facial-haired sommeliers or “wine directors” fawning over his wines though. This is probably due to Jonathan being an orderly, reasonable fellow who approaches winemaking in the same fashion as he approached IT project management. You have certain steps that need to happen in a certain order, there are some variables that need to be taking in to account, and ultimately you end up with the final objective that you’re looking for. In this case, it’s a tasty bottle of fermented grape juice instead of a financial trading application but it’s easy to see how a sane approach would work well to quell all the spiraling variables that are part of the final equation in winemaking. And this is possibly what turns off the overly hip in the wine world in that Jonathan’s wines are actually quite good, well-priced and have no funky bullshit to them that those searching for the most “natural” of “natural wines” so desperately seek out for some desperately unknown reason.
For the sane wine drinkers among us, it’s highly recommended that you do indeed find them and with 80% of his production exported, you just very well may.
La Ciel Vide 2012
Drifts between herbal, blackberry, and licorice notes that form a surprisingly spicy wine with a lingering finish.
45% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 15% Mourvèdre 14.1% 6€
La Terre Promise 2013
From old vines, citric, fresh, mineral, and overall very expressive with a clean finish.
65% Grenache Gris, 25% Macabeu, 10% Carignan Blanc, 13.5% 7€
One Block Grenache 2011
Sweet red fruits with touches of anise, pepper, and spice with a lively vivacity through to the finish.
70% Grenache, 30% Hairy Grenache 14.5% 7.50€
Three Peaks 2009
Aromatically full of pebbly, mineral notes. Medium body that’s easygoing albeit likes to stay a little closed.
40% Syrah, 30% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, 10% Carignan 14.4% 9€
Full and textured in the nose with touches of earthiness from the Mourvèdre. Stays fresh and lingers forever in the finish.
92% Mourvèdre, 8% Syrah 13.9% 13.50€
Jonathan’s take on classic vi ranci with an elaborate nose of orange blossom and peel as well as nuttiness that glides in to a balanced body which would pair well with any number of aperitifs or spicy dishes.
100% Muscat à petits grains 15% 15€