Julien Fayard was raised in the French Riviera. In the 1970s, his uncle purchased the small Château Sainte Marguerite in Provence and began making small amounts of wine. “My youth was spent in the vineyards,” he says. “My cousins and I played and biked in the vines, wearing scuba masks and using grapes for slingshots!” Having spent a few years working for his uncle’s estate, he traveled to Bordeaux where he worked for Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Smith Haut Lafitte. After meeting his wife Élan, who grew up in the Bay Area, the couple moved to Napa Valley in 2006, where Julien worked with Philippe Melka, helping build several now-famous brands.
These days, Julien is the winemaker for Purlieu and Le Pich and he consults for many other wineries including Taplin Cellars and Caspar Estate. In 2009 he started his own label, Azur Wines, which focuses on rosé. “Our goal is to become the reference point for rosé in America,” he says. “I’d rather try and fail than wish I had. I think we can make really good rosé here.” Julien is also a co-founder of Covert Estate, a new winery in the Coombsville AVA, tucked into a hillside overlooking the bowl-shaped appellation. We sat down to discuss his many projects, what he refers to as “the eternal onion”—a web of personal connections, philosophical layers and the everyday details of winemaking, as well as his goals as a winemaker. “I want to leave at least one understanding that no one has found, for the next generation to pick up,” he notes. “I want to put an extra brick in the wall.”
You worked for many years with Philippe Melka. What did he teach you?
Philippe was a strong mentor. He taught me about the diversity of Napa Valley, all the microclimates, the detail and about how to approach a vineyard in small pieces. Napa is almost Burgundian: there are so many small parcels and separate picks. On average, a big winery will see hundreds of blocks. We worked together for eight years, but I wanted to create my own identity. I never wanted to take from Philippe what was not mine—his reputation—so I needed to do my own thing. You learn more when you branch out on your own.
What is it like to be involved in so many projects at once?
It’s a very complex environment. You must be able to have a ton of input falling on you and you need to have systems in place so that nothing falls through the cracks. You need to be at all the picks and at the wineries, so you set you set up a good network of interns and crews. I have a very good support team. In the end you’re the centerpiece that keeps it going. There’s a learning curve—many people very quickly feel overwhelmed and it’s easy to blow a fuse. It’s a matter of hard work and resilience. One of my favorite quotes is from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said, “If you need eight hours of sleep, sleep faster.” You must have the mentality to grab problems when they arise and not let go until you find the solution… READ MORE ON ROBERTPARKER.COM