It’s not strictly accurate to say that I met Eric Texier in the vineyards in the Rhone. It was actually in his cellar, just outside the little village of Charnay, in Beaujolais.
“I don’t like the people in the Rhone Valley,” is how our conversation started, once the initial pleasantries were over.
“I live in this village with my wife. My life is here. The vines just happen to be in the Rhone.”
Brézème is the terroir most associated with Eric Texier. Just south of Valence and on the eastern side of the Rhône, it is composed of mainly clay and limestone soils, and planted with young vines aging between just 3 and 10 years (which Eric planted himself) and others around 80 years old (which he clearly didn’t!)
At this particular moment, mid-July, 2015 is looking like a scorcher of a year in France. “The press is picking up on this already,” he sighs. “Big is beautiful” he quotes in English. He doesn’t sound too optimistic.
“1998 was my first ever vintage and 2003 was my best hot-vintage, in terms of success in the cellar,” he explains. “I didn’t have any experience making wine with these conditions so I was very cautious. In 2005, I thought I knew how to do everything. I was too cocky and the wines are overly extracted.” (According to his taste, that is!)
I spent several hours in total down in the cellar with Eric. By the time I left, I had really started to appreciate how Eric works; how and why. A scientist by training, his previous career has clearly had a profound impact on his current methodology. It is not enough to say that he works in full respect of nature. Yet Eric doesn’t do biodynamic treatments anymore because he considers them methods which were current 100 years ago. We talk about this further and I get the sense that he finds Steiner’s philsophy rather limiting and that, if he had the chance, he’d like to take it further.
Similarly, in the vineyards, he works with no chemicals or pesticides. It is, again, not strictly speaking biodynamic for the above reasons, but it is in total respect of his natural environment. Eric tells me that he had biodynamic certification about ten years ago… but as we all know having a piece of paper is not the be all and end all. Ultimately, a good wine is made first and foremost in the vineyard. If your vineyard is not healthy, your wines stand no chance.
He has just a handful of hectares, divided between 4 main terroirs, but his secondary calling is as a négociant – meaning that he buys grapes from other producers in the area. For example, the grapes for his most prestigious wines are bought from a friend in Cote-Rôtie and Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
As a result, Eric is able to make around 25 different wines – but often very small quantities of each. In contrast, he works with an enormous range of different grape varieties: rousanne, marsanne, clairette, bourboulenc, cinsault, grenache and syrah.
In terms of his work in the cellar, the everyday wines are aged in cement vats (more precisely, it was the tinaja format – which I also saw in use recently at Foradori.) When asked why he made this decision, he explains that he finds cement very easy to work with. It allows air to pass through, it doesn’t impose its characteristics upon the nascent wine as oak does and it is also relatively cheap.
Eric never does a carbonic maceration. He visibly shudders at the thought. Upon arrival at the winery after harvest, the grapes are sorted by hand. Most wines (especially for the reds) are made in whole-clusters in a historical vertical press. His philosophy can be best described as minimal invention: sometimes there’s a skin-contact maceration, sometimes not. No yeasts are ever added. The more prestigious wines will see some time in a barrel (228 litres) or oak vat (450 litres.) The great majority of his wines are not filtered nor fined and some have absolutely no sulphur added, even at bottling (and in this case, they have a silver capsule.)
I loved the wines. I found them lively, vibrant and full of personality. There is a wine to suit each occasion: from the Chat Fou rosé which is fun and a little frivolous to the Brézème Syrah which was a wonderful discovery and then to the stylish Cote-Rôtie which was just out of this world.
Interestingly enough, it’s Eric’s son who does most of the work in the vineyards nowadays and he will apparently start to make his own wine too, as of this year. Watch this space!