Being a rebel isn’t easy when it comes down to material things – I mean, even rebels need to earn a living, right? In rugged Auvergne (France’s volcanic region), Fred Gounan first started out as a successful mechanic, designing motorcycles for Voxan, the short-lived and now iconic French motorcycle brand. Quickly realizing he wasn’t cut out for corporate life, he went back to his “peasant roots” and took a sabbatical to learn how to make wine. That was a wise decision.
Reminiscing on how delicious the fruits from his youth tasted, he thought: “If this terroir is good for fruit, it will be good for growing grapes. And good grapes make good wine.” So he began to plant vines on a tiny plot of 1.7 hectares from his family’s land back in 2000, first with pinot noir, and later with pinot gris and sauvignon blanc. At that time, wine from Auvergne was considered average at best so he got no financial support from banks. His family and friends thought he was crazy, especially when he insisted on making wine the natural way, without chemicals in the vineyard or in the bottles. Yet Fred kept calm and carried on.
Today, almost 20 years later, the Vignoble de l’Arbre Blanc’s reputation has reached far beyond its native Auvergne. Fred’s wines can be found at NOMA, one of the world’s best restaurants. Hollywood celebrities come visit. Yet he and his wife Caroline remain modest and easy-going, seemingly unaffected by all this fame. They even look apologetic when they mention that their entire production of about 10,000 bottles is allocated one year in advance.
One can experience the true meaning of terroir when tasting Fred’s wines. His cuvée of pinot noir, Les Petites Orgues, is the most mineral red wine I’ve ever tasted. It’s all volcanic rocks, salinity, and freshness. Tasted in a black glass it could be mistaken for a white wine, and that’s a compliment! His most recent creation, an orange wine with a 6-month maceration on skins, is a treat for the senses. It constantly evolves in the glass and at each sip, offering a never-ending palette of floral aromas and a long finish with a pleasant hint of bitterness. All wines have no sulphur added and are very easy-drinking.
Fred Gounan says he’s just doing his part to make the world a better place for future generations. Indeed, it’s natural winemakers like him that are slowly changing the world of wine for the better.