I was in France last week when a friend emailed me to say that Marcel Lapierre had died. He was only 60. It was a shock - as it must have been to so many of his admirers - and particularly poignant as we’d had it in mind to pop in and see him the next day on our way back to England.
We first met him a couple of years ago when we called by his winery in Villi-Morgon on the off-chance of finding him. He looked at us suspiciously then decided we were OK (it helped that my husband speaks fluent French) and hauled us off to taste in his cellar. We were there for the best part of the afternoon as he darted from barrel to barrel disarmingly asking our opinion on how we thought the blend should come together. At the end he thrust a handful of the brilliant 2005s in our hands to take away and enjoy properly - 'a table'. We talked of coming back for a hog roast in the summer but we never made it and now we’ll never get the chance.
He must have had the same effect on the many young winemakers who have now followed his example and make their wines with little or no sulphur. It was Marcel who put natural wine on the map and made it mainstream, and in doing so helped restore the battered image of Beaujolais.
He triggered our own interest in natural wine - an interest that has grown over the past two years and resulted in our recent roadtrip through France where we visited only organic, biodynamic and natural producers. We drink better and more healthily as a result and for that we are very much in his debt.
And when we crack open the lovely 2009s we managed to buy from the hotel* we stayed at on our last night in France we’ll raise a glass to his memory.
* La Cour de Rmi at Bermicourt which has a very interesting list of natural wines.