This photograph of winemaker Eric Texier reminds me somewhat of that I took a week earlier of Abe Schoener of the Scholium Project in California, and there are number of important similarities although Eric is working on the other side of Planet Wine to Abe in the Northern Rhône Valley of France. Both are true originals who came from outside the industry and saw winemaking possibilities that the insiders hadn’t. Both have mastered the technique of making attractive and highly individual wines with a minimum of added sulfites. As regular readers know, I have a healthy skepticism about that winemaking path, because sulfites are not only an antioxidant, they are also an antiseptic and without their help unwanted microbes would spoil vast quantities of wine. They make it work real well!
I’d encountered the Texier wines many times before (thank you Alice Feiring for my first introduction about 3 years ago), but I finally met Eric yesterday at The Big Glou alternative wine festival in the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg yesterday, where I took the above photograph. I found his entire approach fascinating, beginning with his principal that in the Northern Rhône mono-varietal wines work best, (in contrast to the Southern Rhône Valley where he believes blends work best), and continuing with both his short red wine fermentations in order not to extract too much from the grapes, and his use of concrete tanks. He always worked with organic grapes, even before he had any vines of his own.
Acquiring his own vineyards in 2009 was a decisive step for Eric and the wines he showed all came from two forgotten areas of the Northern Rhône, Brézème on the left bank of the river with its limestone soil and St. Julien-en-St.-Alban on the right bank with a granite soil. The latter enabled him to make the 2014 Adele, a pure Clairette that has a floral touch and a lemony acidity I never encountered in this grape before. It is also the location of a rare Grenache vineyard for this part of the region and Eric christened the wines from those old vines Chat Fou, or mad cat. The 2013 had bright red berry aromas, was sleek and had a startling liveliness at the finish. Grenache is usually a rather broad, warm and soft red! These are totally original wines with great clarity of flavor, and not a hint of microbial funk. Best of all, they are joyful wines and I think that makes Eric as true a Rhône Ranger as Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon in California (scroll down for the two recent postings about him).
Most exciting of all for me were Eric’s two Syrah reds, the 2104 St. Julien-en-St. Alban had very pure wild blackberry aroma and hints of both green and black pepper, tasting crisp and elegant with a real northerly freshness. More fleshy and powerful the 2013 Brézème had a stack of dry tannins, but they were very well integrated and the aftertaste was seriously spicy. Just a few days before I’d tasted the 2010 Hermitage Le Greal from Marc Sorrel, a bottle that will set you back well over $100 if you can find that sought-after vintage at all, and as impressive as it was this 14.5% alcohol behemoth was too much for me. At this stage in its life it’s a wine to admire from a safe distance, but not to actually drink. Eric’s wines are all about drinking rather than impressing people, and I’m completely on his side! No wonder that these are widely imitate wines and have also inspired many winemakers in the so-called “natural” wine field.