An interview with Louis Terral, Merignat, Bugey

Posted by Joel Wright on

Based in Mérignat in among the mountains of Bugey, Louis Terral is making remarkably pure and elegant wines the still somewhat under the radar region of Bugey. 
Louis started his own project in 2016 after spending time working in Beaujolais and Burgundy with the likes of Michel Guignier, Julie Balagny, Valette & Tripoz. He made the decision to start making wine in Bugey and specifically around the village of Merignat, partly from circumstance - Louis' partner is from here and they were restoring the house of her grandparents. And partly from the raw potential of the region, with old vines, at altitude and parcels situated quite remotely and not among the 'sea of vineyards' you can see elsewhere in France. In his village he is the only producer making still wines in a place where all other winemakers make the classic off-dry sparkling rose - Bugey-Cerdon, the region is known for. 
 
Louis is a highly skilled, thoughtful guy making wines that are already startlingly accomplished. He has big plans for the future and we caught up with him to discuss these plans and more. 
 
 
Vineyard for Louis' wine Vera.
How are you doing? Have the frosts affected you badly?
 

I’m always good, the rest is just an expression of life. As an example we had this recent frost which has resulted in 50% losses for this harvest. But I know the choices I have made to be here today and I fully accept the price. You know, I consider myself as a paysan and not as farm operator. The difference is that I don’t use the earth to make my job, i’m living from the earth so I also have to accept what she can offer, especially after centuries of human domination and destabilization. Also I started my installation as a paysan with 2017 : 90% frost, hail twice during the season and wild pigs a week before harvest. So I learned quickly how things works in agriculture and I’m shielded from it therefore.

Can you tell us a little about where you are from, and how you came to be a winemaker?

I’m from France, born in Royan, front of the Ocean, as a family we often relocated and I continued to on my own as an adult. So when the installation started to grow in my mind, I felt free to choose where. But before that, I started so far from the nature. With an industry’s technician license I worked in different companies and explore the dream and the limits of industry of course, but also the capitalist way of thinking. After climbing the ladder and tasting the excitation of money I quickly quit that world in order to find something useful and find myself. During a transitive period I had the opportunity to make harvest and I discover another human management, physical and outside work, respect (of earth, of work, of people). I completely felt in all, I found a breath for another step in my life.

Now I had to learn everything. I didn’t knew what biological agriculture was, neither the weather, neither the name of the trees, neither how to eat, neither how to live

You have worked with some brilliant winemakers mostly in the Beaujolais region, what led you to them and what did you learn?
I have worked for some extraordinary people and taken many lessons. With Michel Guignier I discovered the hardness (and pleasure) of working by hand, what organic culture was, biodynamics and natural wine. He also input the idea of a global farm and of the paysan spirit. I learned with Julie Balagny to listen to the plants, the wines and people, I keep from here a sensibility in work. With Valette the technical precision in work and with Tripoz how to articulate a domain creation, family and renovations. A dense but nearly full learning.
Why did you decide to make wine in Bugey, not Beaujolais where you had been working before?

 

I consider that my first experiences in work and industry gave me the idea for what what the world and society needed. I'm so glad that life pushes me in the direction of earth, philosophy and love so young. My experiences in Beaujolais helped me in this awakening. 


We made the choice to take the old house of my wife’s grand parents in  Mérignat, which had been abandoned for 25 years and not restored since the 1950's - quite the project. I must admit I completely felt in love with Bugey and specifically Mérignat, their mountains, the colors and this wonderful diversity of landscape. This point was crucial, it was hard to find my global farm idea in a sea of vineyards as we can see in so many areas in France.

Marianne Vineyard.

What do you look for in the wines you make?

My wines, I first do them for myself as my vegetables, fruits or eggs. And I often say, I had too much for my friends and me so I decided to sell the rest. 

I’m looking for pure energy, I want to have emotions with a glass and feel the light sending me beyond the sky. My dream is an 8% vol wine, matured, something like source water infused with a grape, fresh and energizing. Marianne 2016 had the idea and Lucie 2019 is coming as a teaser for the  future (I hope).

However, I’m always surprised of the wines I help to produce. “The wine become” (Patrick Desplats) I just support the vineyards to do grapes and the juice to do wines. I consider that if I want a different wine, I have to change my way of working the plants.

Tell us about the 2019 vintage that we are now releasing in the UK

2019 is for me and the vineyards the understanding of biodynamic culture, I saw the results of the conversion on the leafs colors, the diseases, the alcohol, the yeast dynamics. I feel a step forward for these vineyards coming from hard chemistry.

You have some very exciting plans for your vineyards, including planting fruit and vegetables in the vineyards.Can you tell us about your plans and the inspiration for this work?

My future is the result of a fact. To establish my farm, I started side by side some vineyards, garden, wood for winter, chickens and orchard. But I quickly saw that it takes too much time and to much space for that model, So I thought of a way to do everything in the same time, in the same place.

First example according to the labels, I mixed my deep love of women with the wines but also with politics and culture. I could wink a woman from history, honor or reveal her fight, propose to associate musics, films, paintings with the wine tasting, and share some opinions with details on the label.

Another example in the vineyard, but still in bud for now. I have thought how to work in all dimensions with trees, high vineyards and vegetables or aromatics. Here is the plan :

-planting a lot of trees in the vineyards (with fruits or just for wood) and keep them pruned around 2m (to limit the shadow and work easily on them). Planted in the rows

-let the vineyards get attached on trees and find a solution to put as much vines as possible on each tree in order again to limit the number of them. Having high plants and going far from grass, humidity, diseases, pest, frost

-have the chickens and small sheep all the year in the parcel to take care of insects, grass, organic manure. (the grapes are too high)

-add on the soil some thyme, sage, comfrey, lavender….. to make tisanes, oil, etc.

I can’t develop all here, this is the project I have. So for now in 2021, I start a lot of experiments influenced by permaculture, biodynamics and Goehte approach, Masanobu Fukuoka’s natural agriculture. These 3 ways of Agroecology should talk more together and I try to take the best of all to find my way. 

I’m looking for coherence, always. How could I do a natural wine, with hard metal like copper, or gas oil, motors smelling and sound… We must go ahead and solve the economic difficulties we are going to have, climate saving, water saving, air saving, life saving. 

And solve it with love, in peace, by work.

I know that I just get installed (800 first bottles in 2016) and I don’t have the economic strength to realise directly my projects so I try to do my best every days, concentrate my human energy and right with one hand, my 1 month old son's in the other.

Thanks to everyone is supporting and appreciate my work across the wines I propose!