Almost as soon as Jean-Luc Thunevin began making wine 10 years ago, his competitors in St-Émilion were putting him down. Someone came up with the nickname "Tue-le-Vin"--kill the wine. "What gets them," the 50-year-old Thunevin says, "is that I have a big mouth and I attract a lot of media attention." Indeed, the first time I met him, he was with a TV crew that had been following him around for a week, filming his every encounter for the popular French weekly show Capital. He has since appeared on the nightly news, and this fall he'll be the subject of a report on Envoyé Spécial, the French equivalent of 60 Minutes.
His methods are controversial, but what's beyond dispute is that Château de Valandraud, the groundbreaking St-Émilion domaine he founded with his wife, Murielle Andraud (whose name he gave it), is turning out wines that are not only getting better reviews than those of many nearby blue-chip châteaus but also--and this really rankles the long-established wineries--fetching higher prices.
In the mid-'80s, Thunevin and Andraud--he had been a bank employee and a logger, she a nurse's aide in nearby Libourne--bought a small house in the center of St-Émilion, and Thunevin opened the town's first wine bar. Before long he owned several wine bars and shops and had started a wine-brokerage firm, which now represents some 400 domaines, mostly in Bordeaux. (He has sold the wine bars.) In 1990 he bought a couple of rows of vines on the outskirts of town. The next year he turned out 1,500 bottles; because he had no money for equipment, he'd had the grapes stemmed and pressed by hand, and he stomped them with his own feet to break up the fermenting cap of skins and pips. He did the work in his garage, and thus St-Émilion's vins de garage movement was born.