The wines of OIivier Lemasson, aka Les Vins Contés, can be taken for granted at times- the ubiquitous labels (Olivier’s wife Cecille draws them) a fixture in the natural wine world for years. Lemasson’s wines are everywhere for a reason- they’re the perfect intersection of serious farming, exuberance, and skill.
Lemasson knows the wine world in and out, first a caviste, then a sommelier, eventually landing with the laudable Beaujolais fixture Marcel Lapierre prior to founding his own négociant project. Under Lapierre, about as significant a guide one could ask for, he worked as a grape picker for several harvests before moving onto cellar and vine work, and from this experience was born his commitment to organic production. If that wasn’t enough, he worked alongside Thierry & Jean-Marie Puzelat of Clos du Tue-Bouef and Hervé Villemade, the latter of which was the partner of Vins Contés in the early years. With a project grounded in the tutelage of such talented vignerons, Lemasson’s success was virtually guaranteed.
The early years of Les Vins Contés featured grapes from two sources: a few hectares farmed by Lemasson himself, the majority carefully selected old parcels owned by farmers from whom he would purchase grapes. These were plots of mostly old vines, some 80-100 years, and Lemasson nurtured the relationships for years- a bedrock of loyalty and trust. As of 2016, he was able to purchase much of this land, and now owns 9ha.
These are zippy, buoyant bottles, vin de soif to the max, but not lacking in character and detail- real 5 tool players. The reds are hand-picked and undergo whole cluster carbonic maceration. Lemasson has a unique skill- in his hands, grapes that may otherwise be interpreted as stuffy or austere, like Malbec, or esoteric and obtuse, like Pineau d’Aunis, pop and leap from the bottle. Every year, we turn our eyes to his “R” series, in particular- currently R19- a red table wine blend that changes its makeup each vintage, this time settling on 60/40 cab franc/grolleau- earthy and rustic, high-acid and lively, both deep and energetic, with cherry, mint, and cinnamon.
Every vintage will be different, whether it’s because of the weather, the specific grapes used or maybe the winemaker changed up their vinification process. But you owe it to yourself, as well as that one wine and its winemaker, to stick with it. Different vintages allow you to contrast, to compare, to learn and to be truly surprised. And appreciative, when that one wine that changed your life comes back in a new glass to remind you exactly why it did.