Jean-Luc Thunevin and Murielle Andraud
Chateau Valandraud was created in 1989 when Murielle and Jean-Luc Thunevin bought a small parcel of vines, 0.6 ha, in the outskirts of Saint-Emilion up the hill near Pavie Macquin. After several purchases, they have today app.10 ha big vineyard with parcels placed in various areas of St.Emilion appellation. Before they started as vignerons, they owned three restaurants in Saint-Émilion and have created their wine merchant business, which still is very successful. Both didn't have any wine courses, and when they started to make wine, Alain Vauthier from Chateau Ausone helped them with some advice and borrowed them wine equipment. However, this 0.6 ha parcel hasn't had the best soil around.
I'm honest and admit that I wasn't impressed with Jean Luc's Valandraud when I tasted it for the first time in Spring 1998. I think it was vintages 1995 and 1996. At that time, everybody spoke of garage wines. The old guard of vignerons on the Left and Right Bank was left sleepless, looking at great reviews of Valandraud by Robert Parker. Jean-Luc Thunevin was called names like "black sheep" or "Bad Boy" for making technical wines without the character of the soil. This was at least what many wine journalists, including myself, though. Looking back, I confess that I was too quick in judgement and forgot one important thing - you don't build Rome in one day, everything takes time, and you can't put your style on the wine being winemaker for a short time.
The funny thing was that several old guard vignerons and younger ones criticised Jean-Luc in the '90s for bringing in new stuff in winemaking. I remember a young vigneron from the famous property in Saint-Émilion saying to me during the visit, "I'll always traditionally make wine, no new gimmicks and no copy of Valandraud style of winemaking, blah, blah..." during my stay in 1996, and then reverting completely half a year later to modern style. I won't mention his name here.
Then Valandraud and Jean-Luc weren't my main priority to visit due to f.i. Obligation to write specific articles for wine magazines and research other properties, mainly Pomerol.
First, in 2007, I decided to revisit the wines of Jean-Luc and tasted the 2006-2005-2004 vintages of Valandraud. I was impressed by the stunning quality of these wines and how much style and character of terroir these wines possessed. And this stunning quality has continued since then, which I've witnessed during my visits (twice a year) since 2007. I'm pleased to have rediscovered Valandraud.
Jean-Luc Thunevin is an extraordinary wine personality with a great sense of humour, blisteringly quick remarks and witty tongue. He passed his winemaking duties to his wife Murielle in 2007, instead choosing to promote his wines worldwide. Murielle's first vintage is 2008, and she told me during the visit in April 2011 that Valandraud already was a complete wine thanks to Jean-Luc's winemaking skills before she stepped in. Still, she wanted to add more softness and richness to it, in which she's succeeded exceptionally well. She already participated a lot during the 2007 harvest, when she tried to learn as much as possible, working with her husband Jean-Luc, before taking over 100% for the 2008 harvest. She wants to harvest late when grapes have reached full phenolic ripeness. Woman touch - try to taste f.i. vintages 2010-2009-2008!
She also oversees the harvest and vinification of white wine. "White" vineyard is situated after the cellars of Chateau Fleur Cardinale, and she started with white wine in 2003. M. Fakonellis (associated with Michel Rolland), who was consulting famous domains in Burgundy, is consulting here, and vinification is made after the Burgundy method (batonnage de lie, etc.).
Murielle is also a fabulous chef de cuisine and imho could work at any famous restaurant worldwide. Everybody who's had the chance to participate in lunch/dinner at Murielle and Jean-Luc's home can confirm that.
Chateau Valandraud as seen from the vineyards of Fleur Cardinale (October 2018)
In August 2019, courtesy of Pekka Nuikki (founder of Fine Wine magazine and tastingbook.com), it was possible to taste all the vintages of Valandraud produced and bottled, meaning 1991 to 2016 in Helsinki (Finland). Pekka Nuikki wanted to celebrate his 30th anniversary of love with wine, and it was very appropriate to do it with Valandraud's vertical as he had all bottles. Jean-Luc and Murielle did also start their wine business in 1989. The tasting took place in his summer house near Helsinki, Finland. An exciting tasting indeed. Different styles were shown because of separate parcels going into Grand Vin in some vintages (very informative reading about this in Neal Martin's article about vertical of Valandraud in December 2017) and not entirely sufficient wine equipment in the beginning. NB! All wines were tasted with the label, and most participants agreed not to rate 2016 as we considered it a faulty bottle.
2021 (barrel sample) 94+p
Tasted in April 2022. Big, intense and concentrated, plenty of morello cherries and raspberries, violets, layered, great complexity, finely grained tannin, structure and length. Just unanimously called superb effort!
2020 (barrel sample) 98p
Tasted in May 2021. Had a classy nose of high-quality black cherries and fresh coffee beans with excellent purity, precision and focus, great complexity and fabulous structure, sophisticated touch, and great length. It makes a beautiful addition to 2018 and 2019 vintages! Highly impressive.
Tasted twice - last time in November 2021. Consistent notes. 90% Merlot + 7% Cabernet Franc + 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. Not a powerhouse in 2019. Still a wine with pure elegance and finesse, It's also refined and sophisticated with a velvety texture. Remarkable complexity and long lingering finish. Sheer class and refined style we have here!
Tasted three times - last time in April 2021. Consistent notes. 90% Merlot + 4% Cabernet Franc + 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Malbec. There's a fabulous nose of high-quality black cherries, excellent purity, precision and focus, great complexity and finesse, sophisticated touch, and great length. Sheer class. Highly impressive.
Tasted twice last time in October 2019. Consistent notes. Now in the bottle and confirms the initial impression from tasting barrel sample. Powerful, polished, and juicy with silky fruit, tannin, and delicate complexity. Splendid for the vintage.
Tasted four times - last time in October 2019. Consistent notes. It was a potent wine with excellent complexity, structure and depth, rich and sophisticated touch. A winner. Same impression on all occasions. It also tasted in August 2019 during Valandrauds vertical in Helsinki, Finland, but the bottle was off.
Tasted four times - last time in August 2019. Consistent notes. Powerful and intense, with excellent structure, length and finish. Great class. Chewy and fat texture. A winner! This was in April 2018, and it closed when tasted in August 2019 but displayed enormous potential.
Tasted four times - last time in August 2019. Consistent notes. Very seductive and intense næse of blackberries, rich and multi-layered, great acidity and length. Very stylish wine for the property in this vintage.
Tasted twice - last time in August 2019. Consistent notes. This wine was well made with splendid complexity, ripe fruit and ripe tannin, silky texture and long smooth finish. On the light side, and very nice for the vintage but will mature quickly.
Tasted four times - last time in August 2019. Consistent notes. Very ripe fruit, strong, fresh, big ripe tannin. Sappy and lush. Intelligent winemaking and a big success for the vintage.
Tasted four times - last time in August 2019. Not consistent notes. It offered an extremely complex nose of black cherries with great intensity, length, depth and structure on the palate. A vibrant and complex wine. This was in March 2015. In August 2019, this wine seemed closed and edgy.
Tasted six times - last time in August 2019. Consistent notes. This wine had a seamless composition, long, deep, exquisite blend of black cherries and chocolate, sophisticated touch, sweet fat tannins, impeccable balance and long caressing finish. Sublime stuff and maybe the best wine ever made here.
Tasted four times - last time in September 2012. Consistent notes. This wine had a more intense nose than 2010 but less richness. However, there is nothing to complain about - extremely well-made, fat, rich and sensual wine. Kudos to Murielle Thunevin!
Tasted five times - last time in August 2019. Consistent notes. Great nose of black cherries (cérise noir) and blackberries, strong backbone, great structure, great concentration and length. A very elegant wine with finesse. The first vintage was made entirely by Murielle Thunevin.
Tasted three times - last time in August 2019. Consistent notes. Very aromatic cherry fruit, round, silky fruit, silky tannins and finishing soft and tasty. Very seductive wine with delightful balance.
Tasted four times - last time in August 2019. Consistent notes. Beautifully composed wine, ripe berries, superb balance, chewy, complex, fine concentration and length. Great effort despite Merlot not achieving full ripeness. One of the best wines in Saint-Emilion in this vintage, that's for sure.
Tasted five times - last time in August 2019. Consistent notes. Black red. Great intensity on the nose of black cherries, blueberries and blackberries. Great power and concentration of sweet, perfectly ripe berries and impressive fatness and length. This wine is a real treat for wine lovers. All the five times I've tasted this wine, it was breathtaking and a fantastic tribute to the vintage!
Tasted twice - last time in August 2019. Not consistent notes. Very seductive wine with aromatic cherries and immediate appeal. This was in October 2007. Almost eight years later, this wine was closed and hadn't revealed much. I'm not sure if it's experiencing a bad period or will stay like that for several years.
Tasted in August 2019. Slightly liquorice, relatively light, fruity, warm vintage as fruit displays heated flavours. I believe this vintage won't make old bones here.
Tasted in August 2019. Fruit drops, nice concentration and intensity, good structure and complexity, good balance, smooth fruity finish. A fine effort for the vintage.
Tasted in August 2019. I was surprised how well this vintage showed when compared to 2000! Potent with a lot of tasty fruit and ripe tannin, complex and fresh, delicate complexity and length. Smooth and fruity finish. A fabulous effort, no doubt about it!
Tasted twice - last time in August 2019. Consistent notes. Creamy black fruit on the nose, very aromatic. Creamy black fruit on the palate, tight and concentrated, with great complexity, balance and length. Smooth and long aftertaste. Impressive stuff from Jean-Luc Thunevin. This was in December 2013. Almost six years later, it still holds its ground well, and I think it'll even improve with age. It makes a great pair with 1998!
Tasted in August 2019. Some grapes in this vintage came from the acquired property in 1999, Bel-Air Ouÿ in Saint-Etienne de Lisse, neighbour to Fleur Cardinale. Concentrated and rough, it could have benefitted from more ripeness. Slightly dry tannin, and I'm not convinced it'll age and get better.
Tasted twice - last time in August 2019. Consistent notes. Very aromatic on the nose and palate, sweet fruit, elegant and well-balanced. Seductive wine with soft fruit and tannin, velvety texture. At its apogee and delightful to drink now. This was in September 2015. Tasted even better in August 2019. Excellent winemaking skills from Thunevins in this vintage!
Tasted in August 2019. Although the weather didn't allow the winemaker to get the vintage going, the result is OK, meaning the ripeness of Merlot was better than in 1996. This wine is well-constructed with perfect structure and length. Nice complexity and fruity finish.
Tasted in August 2019. Oaky. Merlot didn't do well on Right Bank and hadn't reached full ripeness. Lacks freshness and complexity.
Tasted in August 2019. A gentle and elegant wine, tasty and well. balanced. Complex with fine structure and smooth finish. Well-made.
Tasted in August 2019. Rough edges, tannin is strong, and acidity is strong as well. Some time is required here to soften the edges.
Tasted in August 2019. Neither 1993 vintage in Bordeaux was blessed by good weather, but Jean-Luc and Murielle made much more than respectable wine. Nice fruitiness and structure, pleasant complexity, good balance and length.
Tasted in August 2019. This vintage in Bordeaux followed the frost-affected 1991, but 1992 wasn't blessed by good weather at all. However, this wine was still alive, but tannic, a bit rustic, and otherwise OK. Some of the other participants in the tasting were convinced that this bottle was corked, I did disagree with that.
Tasted in August 2019. Not clean flavours, in my opinion, this wine was probably chaptalised, still alive to be honest, a bit jammy. OK, one. However, the terrible spring frost didn't have any adverse effect here. The first vintage of Valandraud.