Elie Renardat Fâche is the 8th generation of his family growing grapes in the tiny sub-alpine region of Bugey, tucked in the scenic foothills of the southern Jura mountains at the crossroads of the Savoie, the Jura, Burgundy and the Rhône. Having taken over for his father Alain at the family winery in the hamlet of Mérignat, Elie and his wife Christelle grow and make only one wine, the signature of the area: AOC Cerdon du Bugey, a slightly sweet, sparkling rosé from Gamay and Poulsard made with the méthode ancestrale, wherein the wine finishes its primary fermentation in the bottle without the addition of sugars or yeasts. Though the official AOC is a relatively recent creation, going back only to 2009, it harks back generations to a time when farmers like Elie’s forefathers would throw some fermenting juice in bottles after harvest and soon enjoy a sweet, fizzy, low-alcohol libation. Though the process has been brought into the modern era, it is still a complex one, considering the fundamentally humble nature of the wine.
The Renardat family goes to great lengths to make the finest, most transparent wine possible. In the first place, viticulture here in general is a feat: the topography of Bugey is spectacular and challenging. This sparsely populated terrain twists and turns over steep hills and ridges, through forests and valleys, and is subject to changeable mountain weather. Renardat farms 12.5 hectares of vines, comprising multiple parcels scattered over hill and dale, with varied exposures on Jurassic limestone and clay soils. For the 136-hectare appellation, Gamay is the generous and charming mainstay; the fragile and finicky Poulsard is the traditional blending partner but in decline due to its low-yielding fussiness. Renardat actually tends 3 of the remaining 8 hectares in the AOC, for the sake of the aromatic complexity and structure it brings to the wine (when it survives the increasingly harrowing harvests).
From the beginning, Elie farmed the vines organically, converting the estate to full certification by the 2011 vintage. In addition, many biodynamic methods are applied in the vineyards. The soils are plowed by tractor, a relative rarity here.The fruit is harvested by hand, destemmed, lightly sulfured, gently pressed and allowed to ferment spontaneously in stainless steel tanks at cold temperatures. After about 3 weeks of maceration and fermentation, the process is stopped around 6% alcohol with deeper chilling—this was papa Alain Renardat’s biggest innovation in the 1970’s, since previously, a heavy dose of sulfur would have been used to stop it and to keep the wine from oxidizing ultimately.
The partially fermented wine is lightly filtered and bottled and continues fermenting to about 7.5-8% over a minimum of two months. During this last crucial stretch of fermentation, the bottles are kept upright and at around 40 degrees, in order to keep the yeasts reined in and working slowly, the idea being to preserve the delicate fruit flavor and perfume, the bright pink color, some sweetness and just gentle bubbles in the final wine. The wine is then emptied from the bottles into a tank to blend and remove the lees from it and then re-bottled and corked. While there is a simplicity inherent in this young, sparkling, sweet, pink wine, Renardat-Fâche’s renders it with a fine minerality and fresh acidity. It is Cerdon du Bugey at its very finest.