So there we are, in the kura—interior storeroom—of the partially renovated space that will soon become Sado Island’s first wine bar, Barque de Dionysus.
The bar is just one of Jean-Marc Brignot’s many ambitious projects on this outpost some 20 miles off of Japan’s west coast. He is a vintner, a raconteur, an exile of sorts, and the meal with Brignot tonight has a unusual rhythm to it: we take frequent breaks from eating and drinking to wander outside and stare at the ocean. A storm is rolling in. You can’t avoid nature on Sado, it is always in your face—sea, forest, and mountain all merge together. After a moment’s reflection, we turn our back to the storm, go back inside, and eat more of the huge wheel of Comte he has just brought back from France.
Wine was what brought me to Sado in the first place. The Swedish magazine Fool had written about Brignot, turning the profile of the winemaker from Jura, France into a Manga comic. It was a suitably exotic treatment for a very rare vintner. In the natural wine world, and in France in particular, Brignot had acquired a certain unconventional reputation.
Brignot’s wines are lately so impossibly hard to find they are a kind of unicorn amongst collectors.
His wines are highly acclaimed, rigorously natural, and lately so impossibly hard to find they are a kind of unicorn amongst collectors. His style of winemaking in France eschewed modern techniques in every part of the production process—from utilizing biodynamically farmed fruit to employing a hand-cranked press to crush grapes. It’s what sets him and other acolytes of ancient winemaking techniques apart from their counterparts who embrace modern technology as a way to hone and improve on generations of winemaking tradition. “Natural winemaking”, for those who practice it, is a way of life and takes on the significance of a higher calling. It also tends to piss off those who do not fit into this tiny subset of producers, who feel themselves no less in touch with the land than their more outspoken counterparts, and bristle at being somehow “unnatural” by comparison.