Jonathan Healey: Terroirist

3 by Ellen Hall 3

Did you have to read the subtitle a second time? I did when I found it on Jonathan Healey’s web page. Not to worry! If he is a fanatic, it is about wine. And vintage MG’s. And red Harleys. Also teaching and writing.

I met Jonathan in a cosy cafe on a windy Wednesday in March. He is tall and lean, a rugged-looking Yorkshireman in his faded denim shirt. His conversation roams from London to California to Australia to France with side trips to Japan and Egypt. Not bad for a man who claims he hates leaving his Argelès home.

He discovered Argelès through a friend about 10 years ago and bought his own place in 2002. When he settled here he looked for a book on the wines of Roussillon. Unable to find one, he wrote it himself:
[‘The Wines of Roussillon’->] Then he was contacted to write [“Discovering Wine Country:South of France”->] published in 2005.
Both books are available at Caves du Roussillon opposite the market in Collioure.

Jonathan’s current book project is aimed not at wine drinkers but at wine makers. It’s focus is how to develop tourism on wine domains. He believes there is a lot to be done here in Roussillon and in France in general. “In California, vineyards can earn one third of their income from tourism. Here it’s 2 or 3 per cent.” His wine tourism course at the University of Perpignan is popular with French and foreign students.
From a “wine culture” at home in Yorkshire, Jonathan went on to study wine in California, near the Napa Valley. At every opportunity he’d jump onto his red Harley Davidson following Highway 29 to explore the vineyards.

“Like a lot of English people I’ve come to understand wines through new world wines. When you get a bottle of Chardonnay or Merlot or Sauvignon, you know what grape variety you are getting.”
Where then does terroir fit in? “Terroir is extremely important.You have to match grape variety with a terroir which suits it.”

What hot tips can he give about the best Roussillon wines? Jonathan says he favours independent winemakers who produce handmade wines. Here in Roussillon the terroirs of interest are the Agly Valley, the Aspres and the Albères. Look for “the hilly parts of the department, those with unforgiving soils, rocky slopes”. Jonathan says young winemakers are more switched on in terms of good cellar practices, modern vinification methods. “The Catalans are focused on tradition. The best combination is old world wine with new world techniques and methods.”

Future projects include a book to help English people rediscover French wines through the knowledge gained from their experience with grape varieties. For instance, if you like Chardonnay, then try a white wine from Burgundy.

He is also writing a piece of fiction about a homosexual scandal within Ronald Reagan’s campaign team when he was running for Governor of California in the 1966.

During his studies in California in the 80’s, Jonathan started writing for the university paper. From there he went on to present TV programs. At his home in Argelès he writes at a large desk beside a picture window with a view of the Golfe du Lion. And a cup of tea!

Wine and wine-tasting he saves for the wine tours he leads in the area. One-, two- or three-day tours in Collioure, the Agly or the Aspres are available with wine-tasting in the morning and vineyard tours in the afternoon. Why not contact him and become a terroirist yourself?

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