Éric Texier > How We Make Wine

 
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Éric's Secret
One of the secrets to Éric's success is his ability to discover excellence in the vineyard. Whether re-discovering a nearly forgotten viticulture area like Brézème or finding the best source in the Côtes du Rhône villages he has that je ne sais quoi. Many speculate on how he does it and where his grapes are born but the real point is this: whether he tends the vines himself or partners with a vigneron that shares his philosophy he always follows his heart which remains true to the terroir.

How We Make Wine

Éric's Philosophy
Terroir
Vineyard Management
Vendange
Vinification
Élevage

Éric's Philosophy

Éric firmly believes that wines are conceived in the vineyard and that his role is to provide the vision and guidance needed to allow the wines to reflect their unique terroir while highlighting their best characteristics. Just as a mother and father determine the genetics of their children and guide their growth into adulthood, so the terroir and practices in the vineyard determine the foundation and essence of the wine and the winemaker's role is to guide and direct the wine's development.

Éric strives to make each wine the best possible expression of its unique terroir. The interpretation of the wine maker is crucial. Making wine compares nicely to fine cuisine. Just as three world-class chefs could start with the same basic ingredients of tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil and basil and each produce an entirely unique salad that highlights different aspects of the tomato, so could three wine makers take grapes from the same terroir and produce three entirely unique wines. Éric's philosophy and practices for vinification and élevage can be found below. Simply put, Éric raises his wines like a parent. He provides gentle guidance, the best possible environment to foster their growth and minimizes his interference with their natural development.

 
 

Terroir

Terroir is a complex and quintessentially French concept that really has no English equivalent and is therefore difficult to define precisely. In general, terroir is a holistic combination of natural elements whose interaction results in characteristics unique to the geographical area, which are reflected in the wines. More specifically terroir is the combination of the soil and local topography and their interactions with the macroclimate to determine the mesoclimate and ultimately the vine's microclimate. Furthermore, these natural components can be detailed as follows:

  • Climate, as measured by temperature and rainfall
  • Sunlight energy received (per unit of land surface area)
  • Geology and pedology, which determine the soil's basic physical and chemical characteristic
  • Hydrology or soil water relations
  • Local topography comprising of altitude, slope and aspect

Each of these components can vary tremendously in very small areas. In addition, the results of the interactions between the elements can vary drastically when even just one component is different. For example, the difference in terroir from the steep part of the slope to the part that levels off merely feet above can be dramatic.

Finding the best terroir is a challenging task so Éric took several approaches. He read books about wine from the 19th century, one leading him to his re-discovery of Brézème. He spent time learning about the Rhône valley and it's many villages, he studied topography maps in the local town halls and spent many hours in the local cafés discussing who's vines were the oldest, the different vineyard practices, and who made the best wine. And of course he sampled the local product, tasting thousands upon thousands of wines over the years.

 
 

 
Vineyard Management

The vine and its fruit provide the crucial link between the terroir and the wine. While vineyard practices cannot substantially influence the natural elements of terroir, they can have dramatic effects on the wine produced. Again, Éric's minimal intervention philosophy applies in the vineyard where natural practices such as tilling and hand cutting are preferred to using herbicides, pesticides and machines.

Éric Texier wines come from a combination of estate owned and operated vineyards and vineyards where long-term contracts provide growers the security to partner with Éric year after year, sacrificing quantity for the more concentrated flavors found in lower yields.

In addition, Éric and his team practice year round vineyard management to ensure the best possible vines. During winter, the dormant vines are carefully pruned to provide the perfect balance between plant growth (leaves) and reproduction (grapes). For example, in Condrieu the vines are pruned with just 2 shoots left on each vine. These shoots will produce the following year's crop.

During spring, "desuckering" is practiced several weeks after bud break. This is where any water shoots that survived in the old wood are pruned away. Dead vines are also replaced with new ones and only shy-bearing rootstock is chosen to avoid overproduction and the bud wood is often native to the vineyard. Clones are not allowed.

Summers in the Rhône valley and the Mâconnais can be very hot, but that doesn't mean the work stops. Where needed (and possible since many slopes are too steep), tilling and hand clipping of weeds is practiced and canopy management occurs throughout the summer. Even though steps have already been taken to limit grape production, if necessary, a green harvest is performed.

 
 


 
Vendange (Harvest)

Autumn brings vendange, or harvest. This is the wonderfully exciting time when the year's work in the vineyard pays off, the grapes are brought in and a new year's winemaking process commences. This is also the most challenging time of the year as it requires a tremendous amount of coordination and hard (manual) work to ensure the grapes are picked at their optimum ripeness.

Starting in mid August, each vineyard is monitored regularly, taking measurements to determine the ripeness of the grapes. Once the desired levels and balances for sugars and acidity are reached the harvest begins. Because Éric produces wine from as far south as Châteauneuf du Pape to as far North as Mâcon Bussières the vendange is even more complex. Plus every grape is handpicked and in the steeper locations (like the Côte Rôtie) only small baskets are used, as the pickers must carry the grapes up the steep grade to the climate-controlled trucks above that take the grapes on to the winery. Thankfully his trusted team and growers work day and night to bring in the grapes at the their optimum ripeness taking care to not harm the precious fruit.

 
 

Vinification

Vinification is the process by which the harvested grapes are turned into wine. Not surprisingly, the exact steps will vary depending on the vintage, terroir and varietal but Éric's philosophy remains constant with the goal of providing the grapes the best possible environment to ferment with minimal intervention.

  Basket Press

Once the grapes are brought in they are hand sorted again (they are first sorted at the vineyard). All of the wines made from Chardonnay grapes are pressed whole cluster using a traditional vertical basket press. The press, made with design principles that date to the Middle Ages, is time consuming and labor intensive but its gentle pressure is perfect for Chardonnay. Once pressed, the wine is allowed to settle and then placed into barrels for fermentation. The wine ferments naturally with indigenous yeast and malolactic fermentation is not blocked. The wine is aged on its lees and is generally not fined nor filtered prior to bottling.

Whites from both the Northern and Southern Rhône are made in a similar fashion with barrel fermentation, the use of indigenous yeast and gentling aging without unneccesary racking, fining or filtering.

The red wines are made in a similar gentle fashion. Once the grapes have been sorted, they are normally de-stemmed, lightly crushed and placed into traditional open top fermenation tanks. A combination of wood, concrete and stainless steel tanks are used depending on the vintage and the varietal. Once the grapes are placed into the tank, CO2 is used to create a blanket to protect the wine from oxidation.

Once fermentation has begun using indigenous yeast, the temperature are controlled and never allowed to exceed 30° C. Pigeage, the pushing down of the cap of grape skins that naturally float to the top of the fermentation tank, and remontage, the gentle pumping over the grape juice over the broken cap, is done usually on a daily basis. Once fermentation is complete, the wines are gently pressed using a bladder press.

 
 
 

Élevage

Élevage is another quintessentially French concept that really has no English equivalent. The word means "rearing," "breeding," or "raising" and is commonly applied to livestock or people. For example, bien élevé means well brought up. The concept applied to winemaking is that the winemaker's role is to raise the young wine, guiding its unique development much like that of a parent.

Winemaking, and élevage in particular, is much more of an art than a science. In general, élevage includes the practices of aging and blending the wine after fermentation but before bottling. Éric raises his wines with the gentle hand of an experienced parent who knows how to provide a nurturing environment without obstructing the natural growth and development. In addition to minimal intervention, Éric believes it is key to age wines in cool cellars with stable temperatures. To this end his wines are cellared in his naturally cool cellar in the Beaujolais. Here, the temperature averages 14º C with limited fluctuation between winter and summer.

The wines are primarily aged in traditional oak barrels (228 L) though some demi-muids (450 L) barrels and large casks are also used. The use of new oak is limited in order to allow the wines to fully express the terroir (and not the cooperage). Éric also keeps his wines on their lees for extended periods of time, rather than separating (racking) them. When ready, the wines are bottled without fining or filtering unless absolutely necessary.

 

© 2003 Éric Texier