Éric Texier

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 essentially as a small négoce, working with fruit from a mix of vignerons. 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: Brézème, a once-celebrated but by then long-neglected slope in the wild and wooded Ardèche on the eastern side of the Rhône River, where the Drôme River joins it from the west. This area is between the northern and southern Rhône wine zones, at the northernmost limit of the broad Côtes-du-Rhône AOC.

The coteau of Brézème 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 Syrah had largely been abandoned, with only one tended hectare of old-clone Petite Serine remaining alive and well. 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 this historical area of untreated, old-clone Syrah called Petite Serine. 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 directly across the Rhône from Brézème, on the western side, 200 meters higher up (500 meters altitude), with completely different, granite-based soils and a warmer microclimate; here Éric also owns a mix of Syrah vines--including some Petite 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-Syrah-vine bottlings from Brézème and St. Julien. The “entry-level” Côte-du-Rhône wines (“Adèle” being the white, “Chat Fou” the red and rosé) are based on white varieties and Grenache from the latter. Virtually all Texier holdings in the Ardèche are massale or old-clone vines at this point.

While the core of Texier wines is his vines in Brézème and St. Julien en St. Alban, Éric still sources fruit from certain parcels farmed by like-minded vignerons. He bottles small quantities of white and red Châteaunuef-du-Pape, even smaller amounts of Côte-Rôtie, and even an old-vine Mâcon white. No matter the source, Éric’s priority and passion is terroir. 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); he uses the herbal tisanes of biodynamics but rejects the animal-product-based ones. He uses no fertilizers, seeds cover crops and no longer works the soils. Harvest is 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."