Winemaker Files: Maison Idiart

Nicolas Idiart

Nicolas was the youngest-ever graduate at the Blanquefort winemaking school in Bordeaux. He returned to his family roots in the Loire to establish Maison Idiart, working with small growers from a number of regions to create distinctive wines that express their terroir

I was born and raised in Bordeaux, but had no idea that I would end up in the wine industry. I was a terrible student and the only subject that I excelled in was biology. My marks were so low in high school that my teacher encouraged me to go to the agricultural school since it included many science classes and she thought I would excel there.

I chose to follow my teacher’s advice and went to Blanquefort. It ended up being a great fit for me as well as a pivotal decision in my professional trajectory. I was immediately enthralled by the curriculum and very quickly focused my studies in winemaking and viticulture. From that moment, I knew I wanted to work in the wine industry and it is also why I was their youngest graduate ever.

I learned a lot in Australia and New Zealand. I went there when I was 20 and when I first arrived, I didn’t speak a word of English. I ended up getting arrested my second night there because I was drunk and sleeping on a bench. But it was an amazing adventure and I had a lot of fun.
They were recruiting every recent oenology graduate that they could get their hands on from the best schools in France. They call many of these guys flying winemakers and when the opportunity presents itself, it’s something that I still really enjoy doing to this day.

Establishing Maison Idiart is something that I did after working at Maison Sichel as their sales manager for North America for six years. I could see the gaps in distributors’ inventories for fresher and higher acidity wines that were becoming more popular. With my experience making wines in this region, I saw an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I saw a way to make it happen and I went for it.

The idea was to start with Loire Valley Pinot Noir because Burgundy and its Pinot Noir wines were gaining serious traction. The Loire Valley is at the same latitude as Burgundy, and Pinot Noir does well here. However, Pinot Noir from the Loire Valley is traditionally blended with other grapes and we decided to do a single-variety wine and market it that way.

That first vintage, 2013, was a terrible wine growing year. The first grower I bought Pinot Noir grapes from for winemaking said to me that if I could make it past my first year with that fruit, that I would succeed and make it through anything. Eight years later, we’re still here, so I imagine we’re doing something right.

The Loire Valley is a very exciting place to work. There is a lot of innovation going on there but there is also a global trend that is returning to more natural methods, where maybe you have less control but you have a lot more personality. That is something I really enjoy.

Pinot Noir is the most challenging grape variety to work with. Everything is difficult, from the growing, ripening, and even fermentation where it can react differently in every tank. It’s very fragile and unpredictable. That being said, it also makes it the most interesting to work with.

We have two Pinot Noir wines in the Maison Idiart portfolio. Nicolas Idiart Pinot Noir is from the Loire Valley and Les Amis is from the Occitane region. We use the exact same winemaking techniques but they couldn’t be more different. Drinking these two Pinot Noirs side by side perfectly illustrates how a change in terroir can affect the growth and ripening of a variety to create a very different style of wine.

Chenin Blanc is a wine in general that I don’t think gets enough attention. Chenin Blanc is also very difficult to grow; the grapes ripen at different rates within the same bunch. Chenin Blanc is quite dry with strong notes of quince and is not an aromatic grape. Many of the aromas come from the ageing that is done on lees, which rounds out its high acidity and makes it richer. It doesn’t shine immediately after bottling and needs time to settle down and for the aromas to stabilise.

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