On the steep foothills of Valais, in the Swiss Alps, mechanized agriculture has never been an option. Pruning, tending, and harvesting must all be done by hand—and that’s just how Julien prefers it. The intimacy of care this landscape demands results in wines rich in story, connection, and place.
It is fitting that Domaine Julien Guillon bears Julien’s name, because he truly cannot be separated from the land he cares for or the wines he creates. He tends his vineyards with paternal care—lovingly and quite seriously referring to the vines as his daughters—and he often comes to sleep on the vineyard floor when he needs to clear his mind and refocus. Julien buried pink quartz in each corner of his vineyard to promote positive energy, and he is religiously devoted to biodynamic practices and an outspoken critic of all things chemical. Julien will tell you that he was literally born into his current vocation (his birthday is in September, under the sign of Bacchus). His journey towards his own vineyard started when he was only five years old, helping his brother harvest grapes in Gevrey. He later studied viticulture in Beaune, France and then returned to Geneva where he worked at Cave 20G, a wine cellar in Carouge, Switzerland. It was there he was introduced to the joy of natural wines. Julien later left Geneva to open a natural wine bar in Valais, but instead, he received a job offer from Marc Balzan to work in the vineyards of Domaine Chèrouche. By 2017, Julien took over 3.5 acres of vines in Ayent, where he produced his first vintage. One of the celebrated features of natural wine is its ability to preserve the “soul of the grape.” You don’t have to visit the terraces of Buitonnaz to know that in each of Julien’s vintages he blends his own soul with that of the grapes he cultivates.
After an exceptional first year in which Julien produced four celebrated wines, he was eager to expand, but struggled to secure capital. Following the acquisition of his vineyard, Steward’s support financed his storage cellar and the infrastructure needed for increased production. The loan also helped cover expenses while Julien awaited return of capital from the previous season. Following the upgrades, Julien produced 17 unique, mono-varietal wines in 2018.
Switzerland produces some of the world’s best wine, yet few outside the alpine nation know this because 99% of Swiss wine is consumed in-country. The export rate of the canton of Valais is only a marginally higher 5%. Julien is on track to be one of the first Swiss producers to export the majority of his product (80%). Next steps include finalizing the acquisition of his wine cellar, further plant breeding, purchasing the vineyard he has been working on at Buitonnaz and expanding it to 4 hectares (~10 acres). Agroforestry plantings of regional, native trees and fruit-producing trees will shade and protect the vines while also yielding a new product for sale. Julien also plans to acquire more agricultural land to graze sheep and sell Demeter labeled lamb to a Swiss restaurateur.