It wasn’t always in the cards for Bertjan Mol that he would end up making natural wine in the Loire valley, but life sometimes takes unexpected turns. When tasting natural wine for the first time in the 90s, the journalist-turned-winemaker caught the bug. He then embarked on a journey that would eventually lead to Domaine La Taupe; his wine house in France, where he now makes completely natural wines; no compromises, no sulphites, and no filtration. Mr. Mol is a man of strong convictions, especially when it comes to his wines.
Jonathan Soriano: How did you end up down here?
Bertjan Mol: I’m not exactly sure, but in the end of the 90s, there wasn’t very much natural wine in Amsterdam—very few restaurants had it. But this is when I first tried it, and I was really impressed by the taste. With regular wine, I would have a couple of glasses and then turn to beer, but then this happened. I could drink wine and not get tired of it. Refreshing wines with lots of energy, vibrant and alive. I started visiting the winemakers and before I knew, I was helping during harvest. I really got into it. Then I started importing wine alongside my job as a journalist, to supply friends and family. My career was in journalism, so it took me some time to realize that wine was my future, and what I wanted to do. When I started the import, which I still have, I almost immediately knew that I had to make my own wines. For 10 years, it was stuck in my head, and now, it had to happen.
J: How was that process? One thing is the practical stuff like learning the ropes; helping out with harvest, pressing grapes, etc. Did you have someone to guide you? How did you get started?
B: I started by doing a harvest in Auvergne, Côtes du Forez. I loved the work, nature and spirit of making natural wine but the loneliness there was scary, after harvest you are quite alone. It is just you, the vineyards and nature. I wasn’t sure I could get used to it. But after some years, I moved on to this area (Loire) and worked at Maisons Brûlées, and with Bruno Allion from whom I bought the vineyards later on. I thought to myself, if I want to make wine, now would have to be the time. I am 45 years old, and my kids have a good age (at the time) to make the move to France. If I’d waited just four more years, it would be too late with the kids and maybe physically for me too. So, then I decided to look for vineyards. Finally, after dreaming about this for more than 10 years.
J: I guess this was a big decision when your family was based in Amsterdam?
B: Yes, but at that point, I knew I had to do it, and when I told my wife, she could tell I was being serious. Luckily, she said ‘Well, then that’s what we are going to do’. At first, I thought I would have to live in Amsterdam, and drive down here to work. It’s only 700km, so not that far. But she insisted that if we were going to do it, it would be as a family. It was more important that we were together as a family. She was a business consultant in Amsterdam and quit her job from one day to the other to help me live my dream. She did however always know that she wanted to do something else, and she’s always known that she would one day like to leave Amsterdam – I was the one who thought I never would.
J: Has she been involved from day one?
B: Yes, we’ve been doing it together from the beginning. Working the vineyards. My wife is really strong when it comes to working biodynamic. She prepares all treatments, and makes sure we give the vineyards what they need. The cellar is my territory, I make the wines.
J: So, you basically have a compliance officer (laughing)?
B: Yeah, that’s true! She likes wine, but not so much making the wine, more working with plants and nature. To say it more clearly; I am more dedicated to the end-product: wine. Whereas she is more into the process of getting to the end-product basically working with nature. Nicole just bought five sheep… they’re gonna help us working the vineyards.
J: So, when did you make the move?
B: We moved here in 2017, just before harvest. I worked with the former owner Bruno Allion the first half year and did the first harvest with him too. So, I was not all alone the first time. If we talk about a mentor, it’s him. He showed me the work in these specific vineyards. And he still does every now and then.
J: How many years did Bruno Allion have these vineyards?
B: 40 years!
J: We see how the farmers work together closely in Ardeche, especially between AFS and Gerald Oustric.
B: We have that here as well. With Bruno and with winemakers like Paul and Corinne Gillet from Maisons Brûlées as they are good friends and know the lands, so we have a great knowledge and support system in each other.
J: How was it coming in from the outside?
B: I believe a lot of the natural winemakers are in general outsiders. They do not come from a generational legacy of winemaking. The only way I’m an outsider is that I’m from Holland. The community is strong; from the start we felt very welcome. We help each other out, whether when losing grapes to frost or whatever, and people in this community really come together. We drink each other's wines and share experiences.
J: What is special about the Loire?
B: For me personally, the most interesting wines are those from the North. They have a certain freshness and acidity, which gives the wine a really good energy. Going south it gets more complicated to make these kind of wines. That’s why I am here. The variety of grapes is amazing, the movement of natural wine around here is just fantastic, and organic vineyards can be bought at a reasonable price.
J: Can we talk about your wines?
B: The first harvest I did myself was in 2018 and up until now, I have been experimenting and searching to get to know the grapes and find my style. I think I’ve found it, in a way that I’m always looking for freshness and a good acidity. But every harvest I will make different wines based on the fruit we harvest and my intuition. I taste the grapes, the juice during fermentation, following the evolution of the wines.
I discuss my ideas with Nicole, colleagues, people who work with us. There is not a single recipe or cuvee that I will always make the same way. I love the creative process of making wine and follow my feeling rather than analysis. And we make completely natural wines, no compromises, no sulphites, no filtration. I was lucky to obtain clean vineyards that have been biodynamic since the mid-90s. Therefore, we have healthy fruit, which makes it easy. Over the years, we’ve made subtle wines with good acidity and freshness, which are the main characteristics of my wines.
J: If we are not talking about wine, what does Mr. Mol like to do?
B: Cycling! I love the bike. I discovered it first when I was 31, and got really fanatic. The cobblestones of Flanders, the Dutch coastline, the hills, the Alps and the Pyrenees, Dolomites. We also go surfing with our kids in Brittany and Basque Country, something we started to do as a family.