Buried in the southwest of France are the wineries of Bordeaux, the largest wine region in the country.
These vineyards produce millions of Bordeaux bottles, ranging from table wines to opulent vintages whose sumptuous tang tries to blunt the sting of the price tag.
Nestled in Entre-Deux-Mers lies the Château de Monfaucon, the vineyard producing Nobody’s Perfect.
The vast majority of wine made in Bordeaux is red, but Dawn Jones-Cooper decided to plant white.
Dawn’s inclination for an unusual approach is hardly surprising given that her route into winemaking itself was unusual.
Dawn entered this timeworn tradition as a hairdresser in St James’s.
In 2005, she and her husband Jay bought twelve and a half acres of Bordeaux real estate, including an old but operational vineyard.
She recalls her reaction: “I started thinking ‘cutting hair, cutting vines, just think how good that canopy will look with a nice quiff, short back and sides.’”
As an organic wine, the process is largely done by hand. Dawn does it all herself, even sticking every Nobody’s Perfect label on each of the 6,000 bottles of white produced each year.
A trial patch of vines yielded the first harvest in 2012 and Dawn celebrated with a London party. The aim was simply to produce something drinkable. Her brother’s assessment was ‘you wouldn’t spit it out, would you?’
Now, the Nobody’s Perfect sparkling wine has just been listed in this year’s Bordeaux Wines UK Hot 50.
Yet, Dawn and Jay’s motivation for buying the vineyard in 2005 was not a burning ambition to break onto the winemaking scene. They bought it for their boat.
When Jay and Dawn got together, he asked what she wanted out of life, and she responded: “The normal. Make lots of money, buy a boat and sail off into the sunset.”
In 1992 the couple moved from Cambridge to London, after Jay had returned from serving in Iraq with the Armed Forces for the previous two years.
Jay took Dawn’s boat suggestion literally and they began shopping around for one. They found the ‘Gainsborough Trader’, a 22 metre Humber Keel Sailing Barge.
“I started thinking ‘cutting hair, cutting vines’…”
Dawn said: “It was an old shell of a heap thing, which was all we could afford at the time. My parents almost had a fit when they saw it.”
Dawn and Jay spent the following ten years restoring their floating home on the Thames. Yet, exorbitant mooring fees eventually prompted them to cast about for alternative anchorage.
After a house hunt they found their French idyll with not only a perfect spot for mooring the boat, but a ravaged chateau and a neglected vineyard.
They racked their brains for ideas to repurpose the vineyard, but the vines stayed and Dawn went to Plumpton College and got a degree in Viticulture and Oenology.
Dawn said: “The only thing I knew about wine was its red, white or pink and if you drink enough you fall over.”
Dawn recalls her initial amazement at the vineyard’s bulbous red grapes, until she learnt how diseased the vineyard actually was. In 2007 Dawn ripped all the vines out and began cleansing the soil to later replant.
Dawn strove to produce her first vintage while simultaneously maintaining her 200 strong hairdressing client list in London, as she continues to do now.
Dawn describes: “When I go back to the UK, I never think of it as going back to work.
“I feel like I’m going back to catch up with all my friends, and I just happen to be cutting their hair at the same time.”
She has been cutting some of her clients’ hair for at least 20 years. Dawn noted: “All the clients knew me before this was even a sparkle in my eye. They watched everything grow.”
In homage to their support, Dawn name tagged a vine in her vineyard after each of her clients and now holds annual tastings just for them.
She laughed at how “Some of them think it’s quite amusing if they go to a restaurant and they have a wine that’s not quite up to scratch and they say ‘my hairdresser makes better wine than this!’”
In 2013 almost all of the vintage was lost after a half hour hailstorm. The remaining 30% that could be harvested was then christened ‘Nobody’s Perfect’. The name was only intended for that particularly fraught vintage, but it was a hit and stuck.
It also continues to strike a chord with Dawn herself: “Here I am: a British woman in a French red wine man’s world, trying to make a wine. Nobody’s perfect.”
Staying at home with my 17,000 babies, trying to get them under control🙄 well there’s just no stopping nature, they’re off to a flying start! 😁 #organicwines #Bordeaux #whitewines #farming pic.twitter.com/aJXzn4uQcA— Dawn Jones-Cooper (@DawnJonesCooper) March 25, 2020
The Doyle Collection, a group of luxury hotels, has stocked it for the last three years, as has 67 Pall Mall, London’s exclusive members club for wine lovers.
“In the last 15 years I’ve changed my life”
Dawn, 55, describes how: “It’s never too late to change your life and decide what you’re going to be, because I went to college at 40. In the last 15 years I’ve changed my life.”
Like the rest of us, Dawn is now in lockdown. She returned to France to tend to the vineyard before the lockdown measures were introduced, otherwise this year’s harvest would have been lost.
She said: “My clients will perhaps get a bit hairy and a bit shaggy over the next few weeks.” Unfortunately, you can’t cut hair, or cut vines, over Zoom.