Pierre Jacques Druet
I will never forget my first ever visit to see Pierre Jacques Druet, for a long time regarded by those in the know as one of the leading vignerons in Bourgueil. It was late morning when I arrived at the domaine in Benais, just a few minutes drive from the town of Bourgueil. There was a time-worn appearance to some of the buildings, which stood on three sides of a courtyard strewn with gravel and stones, behind a dilapidated, tumbledown wall and rusting iron railings. Despite being close to the main road running above Bourgueil there was a sense of peace and tranquility here, the near-silence broken only by the sound of someone tickling the ivories in one of the upstairs rooms. The notes drifted lazily through an open window, brightening the air which was being slowly warmed by the morning sun. Within seconds of my arrival Pierre Jacques appeared and offered a warm greeting. We should go to his cave to taste, he instructed me, and it was apparently too far to walk; I should follow his van in my own car.
The journey to the cellars took no more than two minutes, travelling at a speed that never went over 10 miles per hour, the slow pace dictated partly by Pierre Jacques and partly by his dog, who trotted arthritically and obediently along behind his van. I had an inkling that to run over this beloved and long-term family pet would not be a good start to my visit, and I am happy to report we arrived at the cellars with no loss of canine life. Quite why we had to drive the short distance, little more than a few hundred metres, I am not sure; after all, the oldest bones in the two-car convoy were canine (taking into account age in dog-years, obviously), and he had been made to walk. Never mind, I told myself, with a mild sense of relief at having arrived without giving Bourgueil’s pet funeral parlour any new business.
Over the next few hours I had a glimpse into the world of Pierre Jacques Druet, listening with particular interest to his discourse on tannins. During the cuvaison, as the solids soak in the new wine, Pierre Jacques told me he would taste twice each day in order to determine when to run off into barrel, a decision made on the quality of the tannins, which should be ‘noble’. As soon as he sensed the ‘noble’ tannins yielding to more ‘rustic’ tannins, he knew it was time to run off the wine. On reflection, none of this was really that unusual; Pierre Jacques was merely calling a halt on extraction. But what was unusual was that Pierre Jacques did this with the aid of salt.
“Salt is why my wine tastes different when it has been exported; it is down to the salt in the environment. In the United Kingdom, if you run your finger along a table and then taste it, it is laden with salt. And then there is the salt content of foods – this also has a marked effect on the taste of the wine.”