I’ve been meaning to talk to you about Jessica for a while now, a woman I affectionately nicknamed the Spokesperson of EVERYTHING. Éduc’Alcool, Trudeau, la Fête des Vendanges, SAVORI wine classes, Vins au Féminin, the Barista coffee which bears her name… It might seem like a lot, but Jessica insists that she makes choices: “these are causes and products in which I believe, I don’t just jump in with anyone at any moment.”
It is in this spirit that she agreed to launch her own brand of wines, branded under the name Bù. She emphasizes that name because, to her, it was primordial that the wines were not branded with her name: “There is Chartier and Ricardo in Quebec that can pull this off. I am not a celebrity…” At large, perhaps, but the fact remains that on Quebec’s wine scene, you would be hard pressed to find someone who’s never heard of Jessica Harnois. What’s really stunning when you have the chance of knowing Jessica Harnois a little more, it’s to find just how approachable she is; when she talks business, she’s an uncompromising person, a fierce dealer that succeeds in everything she does. But on the phone or face to face, she is disarmingly humble; she was one of the first “pros” to reach out and tell me she liked what I did, back when I was working on a TRS-80 and a pinwheel printer, the type of compliment you would take by the dump truck when you are getting started.
And so she is getting outthere with her own line of wines, sold both in grocery stores and in SAQs. She insists that she does not care what tag is put on her wines, even if in Quebec, grocery wine carries a negative stigma. “What I did with those wines is fill a void. We wonder why people, when they have access to SAQs across Quebec, keep purchasing their wines in grocery stores; there is something intimidating for someone who doesn’t really know wine to go to the SAQ still,the elitist impression remains. When you pay attention to the wines people buy, very precise needs come out: inexpensive, trustworthy wines that will give you your money’s worth.” My colleague Frédéric Arnould, on his Website Tout sur le Vin (French only) also alluded to the “one-stop-shop” notion… But why would Jessica embark on this adventure now? In fact, it may be her most recent project made public, but it is also the project on which she has been pondering the longest.
Often disappointed by grocery store wines, wines that she thought were too “made up”, she wanted to offer wines that were honest, transparent and open: “all three wines from this line are below five grams of residual sugar per litre. We’re not trying to alter the wine, we want something that’s good from the get go, that does not need bells and whistles.”
And the same way she admittedly gave herself insomnia bouts and tremors by testing over and over again a plethora of different coffees before settling on the one she would put her name on with micro-roasters Barista, She tasted lot upon lot of wines, on the premises, surrounded by three oenologists, so as to ensure she made the best possible choices: “I am not an oenologist, and my team really challenged me. this being said, when I taste, I know what I am doing, and I do it rigorously.” The former luxury wine purchaser for the SAQ is truly meticulous in her approach, going as far as meeting the lots she had chosen upon their arrival at the Montreal Pier. Some lots were even sent back home.
She had meant to only release a white and a red from the start, but then a second red came into play. But why Italy? And why “Bù”?
“Simple: I’m nuts about Italy. In terms of value, at the price point I was targeting, this country’s unbeatable.” It’s true that Italy knows how to make quality wine at a sweet price. Jessica also found her marks quickly. In the Marche region, she scouted out for a pure Sangiovese, a classic, evocative grape for the Quebec palate. in Sicily, she had fun blending a Nero d’Avola, a grape slowly making its way into La Belle Province’s collective drinking consciousness, and a fresh, slightly underripe Merlot, thus giving a new perspective on Sicily’s flagship grape.
Finally, in Puglia, Jessica found a surly Chardonnay, that she rounded out by putting part of it in oak, and blended it with a slightly more nervous variety, Fiano, once again to bring perspective to the final result.
As for the brand, Bù, Jessica is clear: “I wanted a name evocative of the moment, the action. I did not choose to make cellarable wines (though I think my Sangiovese could go further down the road), but rather wines that are enjoyed in the present moment.”
Jessica got carte blanche in her agreement to release her wines. Is she ddreaming of other wines in the series? Has she gotten hooked? “I’m not hooked on making wines so much as I am hooked on democratizing wine… So I could see myself offering different wines in the future; what about a cava? An organic Bordeaux? BUrgundy white and/or red?”
Let’s let her simmer these ideas for the moment, because there lies Jessica Harnois’ true strength: she’s a creator. She admits: “When I have something on my mind, I don’t have it anywhere else!” you need but five minutes with her to feel her creative flow invade you. in short, she can give anyone the urge to put shit together, me included, as if I needed a little less time in my life. Asking her about her future project is to enter a maelström of holes that need to be filled, a flow of ideas you wish you had before her. This is why things go so well for Jessica. She knows how to pinpoint a need and fulfill it.
But what about her wines, you say? how are they? You’re so nosy! You can find tasting notes for her three new babies here on the right.