“Sex, Rock & Gamay” – It was a phrase in small font across Karim Vionnet’s t-shirt, which unintentionally made a much larger statement about its wearer. Karim exudes an unapologetic, forthright, carefree spirit which manifests itself in various ways, including his wine. He drives three cars, none of them French. He owns three motorcycles but does not have a driver’s license. He is a fan of the heavy metal band AC/DC. He liberally sprinkles conversations with f-bombs. He has a weakness for beer.
But that attitude may have been indispensable for Karim’s success in the wine world. Karim was raised in Morgon, having been adopted by Marie and Josef Vionnet as a baby (he amusedly acknowledges the biblical parallel). He is of North African descent, a fact of little consequence locally; but it was a complicating factor when he started his winery because he was advised that use of his ethnic first name on labels would limit sales. He initially capitulated but quickly embraced his full identity and reverted to “Karim”.
Karim’s path has been lined with luminaries of the French winemaking world. He grew up with the nephew of Marcel Lapierre. After service as a French paratrooper and a short stint as a baker, Karim worked for Jean Foillard. He has also trained under Guy Breton. Indeed Karim was granted a rare opportunity to farm a vineyard parcel owned by Jules Chauvet, father of the French natural wine movement.
Karim’s vineyards are all bush vines. He prunes by hand because he loves clipping but relies a tractor for turning soil and spraying on organic treatments. Karim utilizes full carbonic maceration in fermentation. And he does not use oak barrels on any of his wines except for his Fleurie and Chiroubles.
A number of Karim’s labels were designed by friend Michel Tolmre, author of the highly-regarded wine tasting comic strip “Mimi, Fifi & Glouglou”. Another (for his Chiroubles) was conceived one night at a bar.
Perhaps Karim answers the age-old question of what happens when an irresistible force meets an immoveable object. If that force is Karim and the object is conventional thinking about French wine…the force prevails.