François Ecot (L’Insolent Négoce) 

Mailly-le-Chateau, Burgundy

Francois Ecot is L’Insolent: one of the original irreverents when it comes to playing fast and loose with the conventions of French winemaking. An accordion tuner and jazz pianist who worked in bars, he learnt to drink natural wine in its pre-moniker era: as yet unnameable, not yet ‘natural’. From there he segued into the industry proper, co-founding the vanguard import business (Jenny + Francois Selections) that would discover first French – and then European and US – natural wine for New York. Today, he’s moved deeper and is a winemaker (and negociant) himself – working with a small parcel on a slope in an overlooked corner of Eastern Burgundy.

When Francois brought his parcel in Mailly-le-Chateau, south of Auxerre, north of Vezelay,  it had been abandoned for 80 or so years. Phylloxera had happened here. But its clear, almost lunar hostility was very welcome: savage stony ground, sparsely vegetated and desert-like even in its wild state, where shallow 15-30cm soils barely retain any water. Beneath the superficial limestone and clay, there are coral reef tables, the remnants of primitive sea bed which are older than those of Chablis and Irancy. It’s hard work, and drought is a constant fear here, but the result is grapes of exquisite concentration.

Francois has replanted his vineyard from scratch: massale selection vines from the close collegiate of natural winemakers in the region including Dominique Derain, Marc Pesnot, and Christian Chaussard. His focus is local varietals, so Pinot Beurot (Pinot Gris), Cesar, Abouriou, Gamay, Pineau d’Aunis: harvested by hand into 15kg crates and fermented either in his wooden Grenier vat or in open top plastic, indoors or out. Fermentation is typically carbonic, thus necessarily whole stem, with particularly notable results for the Pinot Beurot, whose ripe stems remain green and impart vegetal, menthol notes to the wine. Francois may then partially destem (depending on the wine and the vintage) when the fermentation is advanced. No sulphur is added at any stage in the process.