In these strange times, unable to travel, the mind wanders to the winemakers I have been privileged to visit over the last few years. One place that often comes to mind is the village of Berrie, thirty miles south of Saumur, where François Saint-Lô and the collective at the Rue Des Belles Caves have built their own reality. Building something new in what had almost become a ghost village, they are restoring houses that were not fit for use, using traditional techniques. There is a carpenter and a blacksmith in the collective. They are breathing life where there was none, the village having been abandoned by those in search of work. They have restored a quite incredible cellar and are making long-lasting, serious wines with zero compromise. They are living as much as possible without interference, and it's incredibly inspiring.
We have just shipped a few new wines from François and thought it a good opportunity to talk to him about how he came to be in Berrie, some of the traditional methods used in his winemaking, and the exciting new plantation that he is working on currently. Thanks to Alex from Rue Des Belles Caves for the translation of his words. You can find the wines here.
When did you decide that natural wine was the way you wanted to work and were there any wines you remember drinking that moved you, made you decide to work this way?
What made me decide to go natural wasn't quite the wine itself but more the environment around it (nature, humans) and the philosophy that it carries.
The emotion you get from a wine is too personal and complex. A big influence was my travels to Eastern Europe, especially Romania where I got to drink lots of natural wine. Friends like Sylvain Dittière (who was also in my classroom during wine studies), Antoine Foucault (son of Clos Rougeart) and Olivier Cousin are good examples of people who influenced me.
Even though the first two do use a little amount of sulphur before the bottling.
Similarly the producers you worked with - I believe I remember you saying that Olivier Cousin influenced your farming and Eric Dubois more in the cellar? Were there more influences beyond this - in terms of your winemaking.
Eric for sure, and the three others I just mentioned have all influenced me at
different times and places.
When you press the grapes you use (two) very old, large presses and using it you press very slowly - through the night for days sometimes. What do you think it brings to the wine?
The idea is to go slow. Very slow. Today you could do it with a modern electrical press. But you'd meet a few problems: It is very noisy, so you can't hear any noise that plays as indicators of a good pressing process. It consumes a huge amount of electricity. When we can, we enjoy not using electricity. When you go old press, it"s vertical and slow. So the juice is clear from the beginning to the end as it gets naturally filtered during the process.