Jean-Claude may give the impression that he’s ready at any moment for the next Nascar race or hit the jet skis out on the Lac D’Annecy and knock back a case of beer (or two). That may not all be true (it likely is), but rest assured that he is one of the most serious and well respected vignerons in the Savoie.
Masson’s young Jacquére based white wines grown on limestone and schist, and aged only in stainless steel, crackle with electricity and elegant power. His entire range of nearly a dozen organic and naturally made wines are all stars in their own way. However, it is the wines that bear the name Apremont that take the range to unexpected heights.
More like best friends than father and son, Jean-Claude and his son, Nicolas (an aspiring rock star), feed off of each other’s sense of humor and laugh their way through the seriousness of their wines. After a tasting of their young, electric wines, we are often treated to a series of old Apremont wines (100% Jacquère by law) that you’d have to be there to believe, especially for a wine that has somehow mistakenly acquired a reputation for not aging well.
Lay of the Land
The majestic glacially carved mountains that make the ridge line of the Savoie is breathtaking. One of this region’s most recognizable natural rock sculptures is the imposing limestone cliffs of Mount Granier, the mother that gave birth to the soils that make up Apremont, the appellation where all of Masson’s vineyards are located. Like other mountains with a recent violent history (a la Mount Vesuvius, or Mount Saint Helens), Granier had its moment in 1248 when half of the mountain crashed down and buried five villages and thousands of people. This large landmass is what makes up the appellation of Apremont, one of the wine world’s youngest non-volcanic geologic settings.
Limestone is the principal rock in the appellation and it is often layered with small amounts of hard, grayish blue schist stones. The soils tend to be more sandy with less hard limestones (no surprise that the mountain fell with this kind of weak rock as structural material) and would easily erode from the hillsides if it weren’t for the overabundant amount of plants, grasses, brush and trees growing on these somewhat steep slopes; Jean-Claude explained that Apremont has the highest density of natural herbs and grasses of all wine regions within France and a look into his organically farmed vineyards is a good supporting argument for that claim.
The family’s nine hectares of vines are primarily planted to Jacquère, a white grape variety that when grown on Apremont’s east facing limestone vineyards can (if farmed well) yield wines with a dense core of electricity, ripping acidity and always strong mineral impressions. Like many Alpine wine regions (for example, like Italy’s Valle d’Aosta and Alto Adige/Sudtirol) the climate can be unpredictable from week to week, but generally have hot summers and cold, harsh winters. The close proximity to the mountains brings these alpine foothills optimal diurnal shifts (large day and nighttime temperature swings), which during the months before harvest brings balanced physiological ripeness while maintaining fresh natural acidity.
Jean-Claude Masson - 2014 Apremont, ‘La Centenaire’
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