A Visit to
Samuel Boulay (Ardeche, France)
On a recent trip to France, seeing that I would be passing through the Ardeche on a drive from Marseille to the Auvergne, and with time for only one visit, my mind immediately settled on the possibility of seeing the elusive Samuel Boulay. I had little experience with Sam’s wines, but by chance had been given a bottle a few years ago in Hobart, Tasmania of all places, by stalwart importers Sue and Roger; Fricheti 2016, a strikingly subtle megablend of every grape that Boulay farms has stuck with me ever since.
Knowing that my travel companion and I spoke little to no French, Boulay, along with his partner, were both nonetheless incredibly gracious to invite us by their home and cellar and host us for lunch. Inhabiting the former residence of Gilles Azzoni (Le Raisin et l’Ange), Sam and his partner live an extremely quiet existence just outside the hamlet of Saint Maurice d’Ibie, deep in the Ardeche, and right by the beautiful river Ibie.
Throughout the visit, calmingly meditative winds blew through Sam’s vines as we discussed his cellar and vineyard work as well as life in general. Sam is incredibly calm, collected and zen, exuding a stillness that put us immediately at ease. In his fifties, he no longer drinks wine after waking up one day two years ago and listening to his body tell him “no more.” Strikingly, this has had no bearing on the quality of the wines that he is producing—Sam’s wines are, for lack of a better word, pure. They contain a true innocence and yet also feel mature and self aware. Working with Rousanne, Viognier, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache, and Alicante, Boulay, to me, stands out amidst the cadre of other winemakers in the region.
We spoke of the importance of vibrations—good and bad. Classical music such as Chopin is played in the vines and in the cellar. Believing that grapes coming into contact with electricity alters fruit, Sam eschews the use of an electric press, doing everything by hand, and the results of this are decidedly felt. There is a stillness in the glass that, combined with the fact that Sam doesn’t even taste his own wine, is pretty hard to believe. Every sip that day stopped us in our tracks.
Like the immediate surroundings in the area, the image left in my mind of these wines and of this visit is one of quietly epic grandeur—there is a confidence in Sam that one doesn’t come across too often in another human being; a knowing and acceptance of how deep life can be, how deep one has gone into their own practice, and a staunch opposition to shouting about it—let things be and simply watch.
Sam’s wines are currently not sold in the U.S., but if you ever see them while in France or elsewhere, do not hesitate.