Behind The Vines: Patrick Bouju

Behind The Vines: Patrick Bouju

We’ve just been blessed with a big shipment of new wine from iconic French winemaker Patrick Bouju. Patrick Bouju of Domaine la Boheme is killing the game with his natural wines from the Auvergne region of southern central France. We’ve been having a blast tasting through the new lineup and are so excited to share these wines with you. Since we’re on such a Patrick Bouju kick right now, we thought it would be the perfect time to bring you a meet the maker feature on Patrick and his winemaking story.

Patrick Bouju

The Early Days

Patrick Bouju had a whole non-wine life before becoming a winemaker. He first went to school for chemistry in Clermont-Ferrand. While in school, Patrick discovered that he had a sulfur intolerance that made many classic wines undrinkable. After finishing school, he joined the military in 1994 in Chalon-sur-Saone. There, he ended up meeting many sons of natural winemakers and having conversations that began to stir his winemaking curiosity. He grew inspired and began to consider winemaking as a career path for himself. Eventually, he decided to pursue his interest and went to Beaune to study viticulture. After completing his studies in the world’s most prominent classic wine region, it was time for Patrick to create the natural wines that he wanted to drink. He moved to Glaine-Montaigut in the Auvergne region and began cultivating just a few small handfuls of vines. He released his first commercial vintage as Domaine la Boheme in 2002. The operation remained small and Patrick Bouju continued to work as an engineer as a day job. In 2008, he left his job as an engineer in order to make wine full time.

Organic and natural wines

The Site

The Auvergne region was hit hard by phylloxera post World Wars I and II, with most of the vines completely wiped out. The region is still rebuilding its wine industry from the setbacks of that era. That being said, Auvergne offers a very unique terroir for winemakers to play with. There is a ton of varying topography that bring about a range of wine styles in the area. If there were underlying characteristics to describe the region, however, it would be bright acidity and a fresh fruit quality. The higher altitudes of vines in Auvergne mean that temperatures are cooler than its neighbors in southern central France. Earlier ripening grapes do best in the region’s cooler climate and shorter growing season. Auvergne is neighbors to Burgundy and Beaujolais and makes wine from similar grapes--mostly Chardonnay for the whites and Gamay for the reds. Patrick Bouju was one of the major players in putting the Auvergne region back on the map and continues to draw awareness to the wine scene there.

Patrick’s vines rest on basalt-dominant volcanic slopes that bring his wines a unique mineral quality. The special terroir is brought about by the chain of extinct volcanoes known as the Chaine des Puys in the Massif Central of France. The average elevation of Patrick’s vines is 1,600 feet. Patrick now makes wine from several small plots of vines in his village, some of which are up to 120 year old pre-phylloxera vines. His plots are fragmented across the village because he searches for the best or forgotten terroirs in his area. These plots include land in Égliseneuve-près-Billom, Chauriat and Corent. Most of his vines are Pinot Noir and Gamay, but Patrick also preserves rare local grapes by growing those as well. He grows grapes like Limberger, Mirefleurien, as well as multiple different local varieties of Gamay. Patrick takes a minimalist approach in the vineyard and allows Mother Nature to take the lead. He farms using organic practices and minimal intervention. He uses some copper and sulfur treatments on the vines, as well as fermented plant extracts and herbs like nettle, horsetail, and comfrey. No weed killers or synthetic chemicals are used on the vines. Most of the vineyard work is done manually without the use of machines. Patrick gives the vines what they need to flourish, but also knows when to step back and let nature do its thing.

wine bottles

The Wines 

Patrick Bouju keeps his production small in order to personally tend to every step of the winemaking process. He runs every aspect of the winery, from plowing the vines by horse, bottling and labelling the wine, and bookkeeping. Patrick vinifies each of his plots separately to showcase the terroir of individual sites. This allows him to also feature the individual native yeasts indigenous to each terroir and its flora and fauna. He creates wines of depth through small yields and long extractions. Harvest rarely takes place prior to October 15th, so that the grapes can reach their full ripeness and maturity. From there, Patrick takes a hands-off approach to vinification. He believes that with healthy and concentrated grapes, the grapes have everything they need to achieve wines with a natural balance. Patrick does not add any sulfites or other additives in the winemaking or bottling processes. He does not fine or filter his wines in order to preserve all the flavor inherent in the grapes. Patrick Bouju is a natural winemaker through and through, and allows the unique terroir of Auvergne to sing through minimal intervention winemaking.

We’ve brought in eight brand new wines from Patrick Bouju. Three of the new wines are the 2019 Festejar Rose Pet-Nat, the 2019 Festejar Blanc Pet-Nat, and 2019 Picapol. The Festejar Rose Pet-Nat is made from 100% Gamay d’Auvergne grapes on old vines. It pours an electric red hue and offers vibrant cranberry and raspberry fruit with a touch of spice. The Festejar Blanc Pet-Nat is made from Chardonnay grapes and is incredibly refreshing with bright grapefruit and lemon notes. The Pet-Nats are named after the spanish word “Festejar” to celebrate, and we can confirm that these wines get the party going. The Picapol is an orange wine made from Picpoul Blanc grapes, and it is super fresh and floral with orchard fruit flavors. Check out the full lineup on our website and snatch up these limited production goodies while you can!