On the edge of downtown St. Helena sits a quaint white house with an inviting yellow door. As you make your way through the flower and topiary garden, both French, and American flags hang in the doorway. This is VGS Chateau Potelle.
When owner Jean-Noel Formeaux du Sartel first came to America, he had no intention of staying. In fact, it was the French government who sent him abroad in the first place. As an Official Wine Taster for France, it became his job to find out exactly what was happening in Napa Valley. The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 had created such uproar that the government wanted Jean-Noel to spy on the state of winemaking in America. And six months later, he decided to stay.
I asked Jean-Noel why he made this bold decision and he replied, “In 1980 America was starting a culinary revolution. I knew if food continued to change then wine would have to change in style as well. To me, wine is experience, joy and pleasure. Just as you have a vision for a dish, you should also have a vision for your wine.”
Originally from Bordeaux, Jean-Noel fell in love with wine at an early age; however, he felt as though the people of Bordeaux were, at times, narrow-minded.
“For me, the world is my space. There are so many fantastic wines out there. Life is boring if you only enjoy one thing. Humans are people of complexity. Me, I am attracted to layers. Every glass I drink should bring out different nuances that satisfy me.”
Shortly after his big move, Jean-Noel started a winery using the name of his family’s 900-year-old castle in France. Moving to California was a big jump into unknown territory, but the name Chateau Potelle allowed him to keep his values and traditions close. It wasn’t until years later that Jean-Noel added VGS, letters inspired by what he called his “American Education.”
One day in his tasting room, Jean-Noel had a visitor who asked him how he rated wine for the French government. Jean-Noel thought for a moment and, with a sense of humor, replied, “Good shit, bad shit.”
The visitor, of course, laughed, then raised his glass and said, “Well, this is very good shit.”
Two weeks later, the Chateau Potelle tasting room was busier than ever, and the name had stuck. Guests were coming to taste what friends had declared was, “very good shit.”
VGS Chateau Potelle offers intimate wine tastings for every mood, and food bites from La Toque restaurant.
When asked about his winemaking philosophy, Jean-Noel replied, “Good wine is great, but our mood heavily influences the experience of wine. That is why my mission is to help Americans loosen up and listen to their mood. I want people to inspect their mood because that is a key factor to enjoying life. If you listen to your mood it will lead you to where you want to drink. Wine is for everyone. The more you experiment, the more you understand your mood and ultimately your palate. That is what matters most.”