France’s 50 best winemakers: Domaine Roulot’s Jean-Marc Roulot
Actor and winemaker of his renowned family estate in Meursault: “Mersault was always on my mind”.
For the 27th interview in Le Figaro Vin’s series we head back to Burgundy to meet Jean-Marc Roulot, #24. As both an actor and a leading figure in the vineyards of Meursault he defies categorisation. His sensitivity and intelligence shone through our meeting.
Both his grandfathers were winemakers in Meursault, and Jean-Marc Roulot has always been immersed in the world of wine. But if his DNA led him to undertake a vocational training course in viticulture and oenology in Beaune, he later changed direction to pursue an artistic career. “I dreamt of nothing but the theatre, I was always at the cinema, but I kept it to myself,” he confides. “After a couple of years working with my father, I told my parents that I wanted to be an actor”. So he moved to Paris without a penny to his name, enrolled at the Conservatoire d’Art Dramatique in 1980, when he was 24, and embarked on three years of study which allowed him to rub shoulders with the biggest names in theatre at the time, all the while “reassuring his parents”.
In 1982, when he was still a student in Paris, his father died following an illness. The estate was then managed by the American, Ted Lemon, who arrived in January 1983, followed by Jean-Marc’s cousin, Franck Grux, who left in 1988 to pursue his career with Olivier Leflaive. The following year Jean-Marc returned to take over the vineyard, but without giving up his acting career.
“Meursault was always on my mind, and when my cousin left I had to make a decision. I had a deep attachment to the estate; I wanted it to carry on and I wanted the wine to be good. At the age of 30 I finally appreciated what it stood for. I came back on one condition: that I would continue to be an actor.” Today, along with his sister, Jean-Marc Roulot embodies the sixth generation of an iconic Burgundy family, co-ordinating his responsibilities as a winemaker and distiller, while still allowing himself to act in the occasional film. Graced with an exceptional humility, he quietly concludes: “Theatre helped me understand that I could also put something of myself into a wine”.
Le Figaro Vin: How does it feel to be crowned a winemaking champion?
Jean-Marc Roulot: I am happy that my wines and the work of the estate team have received this recognition. It’s great, but I don’t want to wallow in it. I am constantly challenging how we do things; we can never afford to stand still. And, when I look at the world of wine today with its crazy prices, I remind myself that I am also an actor looking for work, and that calms me down!
What is your greatest source of pride?
Have you been training for long?
Yes, I have always been immersed in it, alongside my father. That was part of our family life, it’s how we were brought up back then.
Who is your mentor?
I could mention Hubert de Montille, my former father-in-law, who taught me a lot and was hugely supportive. There are also certain wines that have profoundly affected me, such as François Jobard’s Meursault Premier Grand Cru Genevrières 1973.
Is wine a team sport?
What is the key to making a good wine? The terroir or the winemaker?
It is the combination of the two that is interesting. The terroir is like a screenplay: if you give the same screenplay to two directors they are not going to make the same film.
To what do you owe your success?
To the work of my parents, as well as to my ten years in the theatre, and more specifically to my teachers, Jacques Lassalle and Michel Bouquet, who taught me the importance of attention to detail.
Is your family proud of you?
You would have to ask them. My eldest son puts a lot of pressure on himself. He will write a new chapter in his own image. An estate is an instrument that we pass on, not something immutable.
Your favourite colour?
Your favourite grape variety?
Pinot Noir. It is so expressive that I find it moving.
Your favourite wine?
Les Luchets, because it was the village Meursaults that first established the estate’s reputation. There are also emotional and family reasons behind my choice.
Your favourite vintage?
- It is a truly great vintage for whites and the year that my eldest son was born. Nature was on our side.
If your wine was a person, who would it be?
I would love my wines to have the grace of a Max Ophüls’ film.
What are the best circumstances in which to taste your wine?
I like to be focused and somewhere intimate with my family or my friends, in the late morning or late afternoon. I also like drinking when we hold the Paulée (the celebratory lunch held at the end of the grape harvest in Meursault, ed.), where it requires a real effort to concentrate. Remember, not everything is just given away in the glass, we have to put in the effort.
Who is your strongest competition?
Myself, because I don’t know when to stop. Still, we have to focus on what we’ve got.
What is your greatest trophy?
I am not a great collector of medals, but let’s say my certificate for climbing Mont-Blanc!
Who would be your ideal successor on the podium?
A wine fanatic, capable of learning from the past but without feeling pressured or bound by it, who would not be influenced by the latest trends, and who would simply want to make the wines that he or she wishes to drink, freely, with love and an open heart.