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This industry has many fantastic winemakers, individuals with the technical expertise to wring fantastic wine from average raw materials. There are far fewer great wine thinkers, vignerons who advance their craft with their minds as well as their barrels. Eric Texier is one of my absolute favorite wine thinkers, and like his Macconais mentor Jean-Marie Guffens, he is not at all afraid to say what he thinks, regardless of orthodoxy or offense.
Texier came to winemaking later in life than some, originally working as a nuclear engineer after a childhood in Bordeaux. After an abrupt career shift and a stage with the aforementioned Jean-Marie Guffens, Texier established his domaine in 1995. At the start, his business was entirely negociant, with rented parcels throughout the Rhône in Côte Rôtie, Condrieu, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Eric was later able to purchase vines in the forgotten appellations of Brézème and Saint Julien-Saint Alban, in the Ardeche. The Ardeche is the southernmost section of the northern Rhône. It shares the continental climate of Cornas, Hermitage, and Côte Rôtie, but where those terroirs are defined by granite and schist, Brézème is unique in the northern Rhone in having limestone soils. Brézème was considered the equal of Hermitage well into the 19th century, but the twin devastation of phylloxera and mildew meant that less than 10 acres of Brézème was still planted by the time Texier rediscovered it. Little did Eric know, those few acres held a viticultural treasure.
“It is not a variety. It is a name that has been given two different varieties, being different group of plants grown in different valleys, different villages, by different growers but all fitting more or less in the same characteristics. These same groups were sometimes called Serine, sometimes Syrah, Ciras, Petite Serine etc, while Petite Serine or Serine may have been used in some places to describe slightly different varieties, coming from cousin or parent plants and then developed into making their own varieties. The name Syrah includes all these different plants that fit in its description. Same can be said of Pinot and many other varieties. Serine is neither a clone since it's not a single individual but a family of plants. So, Serine isn't Syrah either, but fits in the big family of Syrah.” - Martin Texier, Eric’s son
Texier’s vineyard in Brézème held less than 2 acres of old vine Serine that was planted in the 1930s, before the availability of homogenous clonal material. These loose clustered, low yielding vines are sought out by Stephane Ogier, Yves Gangloff, Jean-Michel Stephan, and other top producers in the northern Rhône because of the intensely aromatic wines they produce. Texier’s work in the vineyard is some of the most progressive in all of France. Inspired by the no-till, polycultural approaches of Masanobu Fukuoka, Bill Mollison, and Didier Barroulliet (the retired former owner of Clos Roche Blanche, one of the finest organic domaines in the Loire), Eric has been certified organic from the beginning and has incorporated biodynamic techniques (he was once certified, though no longer) for the last 20 years. In true Texier style, he does not hold back when discussing his vineyard bugaboos.
“I do my best to never have to use the three things that I find the most intrusive in organic and biodynamic agriculture:
-Plowing (in between rows or at the root)
-Copper (Mildew, Black Rot)
Texier tries to intervene as little as possible in the vineyard (and cellar, but we’ll get to that in a minute). He limits tillage to preserve humus and fungal networks and refuses to introduce animal manure for fertilizer. “The idea is not to bring any more organic compounds from outside.” “The less I touch, the better it is for the soil. This is what I believe.” “It's not strictly that I don't plow. Let's say that I avoid plowing, and each time I have to plow for whatever reason, I know that I'm doing harm to the soil.”
Texier’s winemaking mirrors his hands-off viticulture. Inspired by the wines of Marcel Juge and Noel Verset in Cornas, and Marius Gentaz-Dervieux in Côte Rôtie, his reds are 100% whole cluster, and all of Texier’s wines are fermented with native yeasts. When asked in an interview how he manages his native ferments, he simply replied that he “has a very good microscope.” He uses a wooden clamp to keep the fermenting cap submerged, avoiding classical extraction techniques like punch downs or pump overs. His Brézème Vieille Vignes Serine had a short, unsulphured maceration of 5-7 days under the submerged cap, then was gently pressed to old foudres, where it rested for 3 years before bottling with no SO2. The aromatic lift of Serine is in full effect, with bright cherry and stone fruit, smoked meat, and subtle stemmy herbaceousness that reminds me of fresh peppermint. Texier’s wines, like the man himself, are simultaneously thoughtful and confrontational. They make you sit up and pay attention.
“As growers, we have to go much further than organic growing (in fact pre-1950’s agriculture) or biodynamy (which is not much better than organic growing, at least when considered in today’s actual practice). We have to face the question that people like Masanobu Fukuoka, Bill Mollisson, Miguel Altieri, Marc Bonfils raised at the same time, during the 1970s, on all continents, which is, can we compose with nature instead of fighting against it?” - Eric Texier from “A taste of Petrol” (please, if you would like to learn more, look up this blog post. Texier succinctly critiques the fossil fuel and energy-intensive practices common within the natural wine movement, from diesel-hungry tillage to cold carbonic maceration. Worth a read.)
100% Syrah. Brézème captured Eric's imagination as this once notorious appellation, rivaling the status of Hermitage, had dwindled to one hectare under vine by 1961. Located on the east bank at the southernmost tip of the Northern Rhône with clay-limestone soils, the area has a unique microclimate resulting from the cooling influence of the Vercors Massif and an altitude of 300 metres. Eric's annual production is around 20,000 bottles in total.
100% Syrah. From a tiny parcel of 60-70-year-old non-clonal Syrah, located in Brézème on a steep south-facing slope comprised of limestone soils, the grapes are hand-harvested and then whole-cluster fermented in concrete tanks with a one-week maceration without pigeage, before aging for 30 months in old demi-muids and bottled sans-soufre.
Tim Doyle is a true iconoclast of the Walla Walla wine scene. I have yet to come across another winemaker in the valley who thinks about and makes wine with his heady, scientific attention to detail and form while maintaining such a modest and quiet demeanor. His youthful project, Marginalia Winery, produces only a handful of bottlings that upend the norm of what is produced in our area and we are incredibly proud to represent them here at The Thief. Perfect for pairing with a variety of autumnal dishes, we welcome you to get adventurous this week with Walla Walla wines and put Marginalia on the table!
Tim splits his time between his winemaking passion and his job as a professor at Whitman College(ancient philosophy and foundations of mathematics), as well as being a husband and father. His commitment to minimal intervention, brainy, somewhat natural wine is a beautiful thing to witness – and it may get you into an epically detailed conversation on the world of wine if that’s what you come looking for. Most of all, however, his wines are delicious, incredibly fun, and worth exploring. We hope you will think so too!
In Tim’s own words: “Lighter red wines and amber wines are not accidental points of focus for Marginalia. I work primarily with these styles of wine because I think they taste good with the foods I tend to eat: rustic breads, strongly flavored vegetables, salty cheeses, olives, lots of herbs and garlic, umbellifer spices, and glugs of olive oil. The wines taste good on their own too, but the real test of a wine is whether it makes a simple meal into a memorable one”.
“The 47-hectare family estate is surely one of the finest Sancerre producers.”
– The Wine Advocate
There is a paucity of famous Sauvignon Blanc vineyards in the world. Perhaps it’s the ephemeral nature of most Sauvignon Blancs (more a thirst-quenching alternative to water than profound vinous experience), but besides Monts Damnes in Sancerre, Dagueneau’s various Pouilly Fumes, and Mondavi’s I Block in Napa Valley, I can’t really think of any. Domaine Vacheron, one of the finest domaines in Sancerre (which means they know a thing or two about Sauvignon blanc), is trying to change that.
Sancerre is a bit of an odd duck when compared to the rest of the Loire. It sits at the eastern edge of the Loire, much closer to Chablis and Burgundy than to Nantes and Muscadet. Before the twin scourges of phylloxera and powdery mildew, the majority of Sancerre’s wine production was red wine based on Pinot noir (with some obscure local varieties blended in for good measure). A parched Parisien bistro community, desperate for a quaffable white to accompany platters of moules frites, led to extensive replanting with vigorous, vivacious Sauvignon blanc. Nowadays, Sancerre is more of a brand than an appellation, a region that produces wines that are… ummm… cold, and…. ummm… wet?
Domaine Vacheron is upending the mediocrity of generic Sancerre by taking their cues from the monopoles and climats of their Burgundian neighbors. In addition to biodynamic viticulture and much longer elevage than the average Sancerre domaine, Vacheron now vinifies 8 different single vineyard cuvees (6 white, 2 red). We have secured allocations of five of those unique wines. A note - Domaine Vacheron lies in the silica rich “silex” soils that are common in the eastern part of Sancerre. While some of their holdings contain limestone, they are best known for their siliceous vineyard (much like Didier Dagueneau). From the importer -
● A full south-facing vineyard. ‘Les Romains’ was one of the domaine’s first ‘single-vineyard’ bottlings (the first vintage was 1997). Pure flint (silex) soils, rich in fossilized material; such soils contribute a minerality and smokiness to the wine.
● A south-facing vineyard, on a plateau. The topsoil of ‘Chambrates’ is poor, a combination of clay and white stones, pieces of decomposed, shattered limestone (from the Jurassic geological era). Vine roots are trained to reach down to the chalky limestone “mother rock” subsoils, a source of minerals and nutrients that the winemakers believe gives a “particular edge” to the wine’s aromas and flavors.
● ‘Paradis’ faces full south, on a steep hillside. Topsoils are stony and poor; subsoils are pure chalk “mother rock.” The family has trained vines’ roots specifically to reach deep into the subsoil.
● A selection of fruit from vines in the ‘Guigne-Chevres’ vineyard, located not far from ‘Les Romains.’ A northeast-facing vineyard; very windy, which causes vines to grow close to the ground. Soils combine flint (silex) with red clay and limestone.
● Le Pave - An east-facing, five-acre vineyard, planted by the family in 1990, on marl (limestone-clay) soils.
Domaine Vacheron has consistently produced some of the most profound and longest-lived examples of Sauvignon blanc (and Pinot noir, for that matter) that can be found anywhere in France. Long known for their sensitive viticulture, the domaine became one of the first in the region to convert to biodynamics (2004). Now under the steady guidance of cousins Jean-Dominique and Jean-Laurent Vacheron, the domaine has continued its house style with hand-picked fruit, low yields, and native yeast fermentation, followed by aging in Stockinger foudres or barrique. Many of the wines are bottled unfiltered after a year in foudre, a rarity for a region beholden to a market that demands fast turn-around. The Vacherons will not be rushed in their quest to explore and expand the notions of terroir in Sancerre.
Nero d’Avola, the dark, chewy, Syrah-esque grape of Sicily is lightened by the floral grace of Frappato in this blend from Sicily’s only DOCG. Organically grown, this may be the ultimate mid-week pizza wine.
Speaking of Syrah (and I will, at length, if you don’t stop me), this peppery, funky northern Rhone example is textbook. The Combier’s were one of the first families in the region to convert to organics. Perfect for braised lamb (dutch oven sold separately).
Rich, savory, and slightly fizzy, Freisa defies expectations. Flavors of blackberry, red currant, and hints of tar make this a fantastic pairing for a charcuterie and cheese board because just because it has cooled down doesn’t mean you always want to have the oven going.
100% Petit Verdot? From the Languedoc? Yes, and a delicious one at that. The sun in the south of France is perfect for ripening the notoriously late-to-harvest Petit Verdot. This one has red and blue fruit with pretty florality and a licorice root core that makes me think of pork with grill marks.
The spicy red blends of the Languedoc are great with braises, stews, and frosted windows. This is 50% Grenache, 30% Syrah, and 20% Cinsault, organically grown, and fermented/aged in concrete tanks, reserving a purity that new oak would simply cover. Thyme roasted squash (and maybe a pigeon. People eat pigeons, right?) would bring the wild herb garrigue of Provence right to your kitchen.
Cabernet Franc always makes me think of fall. It often smells like dried, fallen leaves and warming spices. This blend of 70% Cabernet Franc and 30% Merlot was aged in amphora and older barrels. Roast a chicken. A whole one. Trust me. You need bones for gravy, and it’s fall.
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