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Éric Texier might not have been the most obvious candidate to become one of the Rhône Valley’s most dynamic winemakers: he is a Bordeaux native and nuclear engineer by trade. But he fell in love with wine, drawn particularly to the wines of some of the great, old-school vignerons in the Rhône (Gentaz, Trollat, Verset, Juge), Burgundy (Henri Goyard at Domaine de Roally, Jean-Marie Guffens at Maison Verget), Beaujolais (Chamonard) and Provence (Mas de Gourgonnier). Bitten hard by the wine bug, Éric dumped the corporate-scientist life for one in vines and wines, starting with an internship with Guffens in 1993. By 1995, he and his wife Laurence and their two young children Texier family had moved into a house with a 16th-century underground wine cellar in Charnay—in the southern Beaujolais and still home today—and Éric was bottling his first vintage.
At that early point, Éric was working closely with vignerons from whom he learned and purchased fruit. Having his own vines seemed an unattainable dream. But Éric’s favorite old-guard Rhône growers pointed him in the direction of a venerable old Syrah vineyard to the south but still technically part of the northern Rhône Valley: Brézème, a once-celebrated but by then long-neglected vineyard area in a remote area on the eastern side of the Rhône River, where the Drôme River joins it from the west. The coteau has full southern exposure, 300 meters in elevation, limestone-rich clay soils and an increasingly steep aspect with rockier terrain as the slope rises. Back in the mid-1800’s, the wines of Brézème had rivalled those of Hermitage (20 miles to the north, also on the eastern side of the Rhône), in terms of reputation and price; it attained solo AOC status in the Côtes-du-Rhône zone back in 1943. But by 1961, Brézème and its ancient terraces of pre-clonal, old-variant Syrah known as Serine had largely been abandoned. Éric was fortunate enough to be introduced to the “godfather of Brézème”, François Pouchoulin. Pouchoulin almost singlehandedly kept the Brézème AOC alive for over 50 years via his family’s tiny property, the Domaine de Pergault. Éric fell in love with the area and its rich viitcultural history. He began working with the fruit and eventually acquired several hectares of Syrah and Roussanne.
Éric was able to do the same in a similarly obscure, Syrah-rich Ardèche vineyard area: St. Julien-en-St.-Alban. It lies across the Rhône from Brézème, on the western side, 200 meters higher up at 500 meters, with completely different, granite-based soils and a warmer microclimate; here Éric also owns a mix of Syrah vines--including some Serine--as well as Marsanne. Texier bottlings from the oldest red and white vines in Brézème and St. Julien en St. Alban bear the moniker “Domaine Pergaud”, an homage to Pouchoulin. There are also younger-vine (30-40-year-old) clonal Syrah-vine bottlings from Brézème and St. Julien. When he has to replant, it is always selection massale.
While the heart and soul of Texier wines is the wines from Brézème and St. Julien, Éric makes a number of other wines. The entry-level Côte-du-Rhône wines (“Adèle” being the white, “Chat Fou” the red and rosé) come largely from his own vines, including in Brézème and St. Julien but also from the Vaucluse. Additionally, he makes very small quantities of Châteaunuef-du-Pape and Côte-Rôtie with fruit from like-minded vignerons with whom he has collaborated for years. No matter the source, Éric’s priority and passion is purity. Over years of intensive study and experimentation, he has picked and chosen from various farming traditions and philosophies--organics, biodynamics and Fukuoka among others—to arrive at the best way to get out of the way of the purest expression of grape, place and vintage in his wines. His own vineyards are certified-organic, but he rejects the use of copper and sulfur treatments (which are permitted in organics); he uses some of the plant-based preparations of biodynamics but rejects its animal-based ones. He encourages cover crops but no longer works the soils. Harvest is of course strictly by hand.
Éric’s feelings about is farming choices are strong--and strongly expressed as is his way--but they are not dogmatic. The same goes for his cellar practices. In his own words, he is “very old-school and very minimalist”, adapting the particulars for vintage variation. Éric’s attention to the most minute details from start to finish is exacting and exhaustive. Reds and white both are generally made with whole clusters; native-yeast fermentation; short macerations; very gentle pressing; little to no sulfur, and only at bottling if at all; vinification and aging in cement, steel and used oak (varying sizes, never new); no punching down and no racking for reds; extended lees contact with no bâtonnage for whites; and no fining or filtering. He is restless and willing to try new techniques (example: amphora-aging for Marsanne in 2015). The goal is finesse, not weight or power, which one senses in the fine acidity, the high-toned aromatics and the clean lines of his wines.
Generally pegged as part of the natural wine movement in France, Éric shrugs this and every other label off. He is an intellectual, a scientist, and a pragmatist with a clear-eyed, unapologetic take on his work: "My wines are not "nice" or "fun". I believe that they express where they come from and truly show a sense of regional identity. They are clear and precise. I don't give a damn what people are drinking at hipster wine bars in Paris or what a 1000-Euro bottle of Bordeaux tastes like. I'm very happy that people like my grandma and François Pouchoulin, the father of Brézème, like them."