2019 Pierre Jean Villa Saint-Joseph "Saut De L'Ange", Rhone Valley, France
A lovely, dense 100% Roussanne from a parcel in the northern end of the appellation in Chavanay and three smaller ones in the southern end of the appellation. This is one of the few 100% Roussannes made in the north (only four or five producers make one, and indeed very few growers in the north are interested in Roussanne because it is, as Pierre Jean says, un aspirateur pour la maladie--a vacuum cleaner for illness--but he stubbornly sticks with it). The total surface comes to 0.6 hectares, or 1.5 acres. It’s made mostly in 600-liter demi-muid barrels and even this white wine is normally bottled without filtration. The name—Angel’s Leap, or Swan Dive—comes from the parcel growing on a steep hillside that ends at a cliff above the winery. Production averages 1,500 bottles.
Pierre Jean Villa is a solid, well-built man, and maybe that’s why he gravitates toward elegance in wine. He came from the Rhône Valley but learned to make wine in Burgundy, which may also explain his bent for finesse. He first learned the ropes working at Mommessin’s Clos de Tart. After Boisset bought the Mommessin firm, Pierre Jean worked in Beaujolais and then for three years at Domaine de la Vougeraie with Pascal Marchand.
In 2003 he returned to the Rhône and became the manager for Vins de Viennes. This is the company that Yves Cuilleron, Pierre Gaillard, and François Villard created to resurrect the ancient vineyard area of Seyssuel, just north of Vienne on the left bank, as well as to do business as a négociant. For seven years Pierre Jean handled the administration and winemaking at the firm, eventually becoming the fourth partner. The other partners had their own domains to run; Vins de Viennes was Pierre Jean’s bailiwick, and he made it what it is today.
In 2009, after a lot of thought, he handed in his keys and started his own Domaine Pierre Jean Villa from scratch. He began with parcels in St Joseph, Condrieu, and Côte-Rôtie, plus he had a parcel in Seyssuel for his Esprit d’Antan. He made vintage 2009 at his buddy Jean-Michel Gerin’s domain in Ampuis and moved into a refurbished fruit processing building in Chavanay the following year. That’s Chavanay below, and PJ’s Roussanne vines are in those hills.
The cellar work remains hands off: spontaneous ferments–many with a percentage of stems, some without any, a decision taken at each harvest–normally no fining or filtration, and racking and bottling is done according to the lunar calendar. The domain started in 2009 with a cellar full of new barrels, but by vintage 2015 Pierre Jean managed to transition to having most of his élevages take place in older barrels. Going forward, this will be the norm, with now and again a small percentage of new replacement barrels entering the cellar.
Stylistically, Pierre Jean’s wines are clean, pure, deep, mineral and elegant.