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.
Adding sulphur locks your wine at a precise moment, like a photography, so you do lock some aromas, and kill others. In the end, natural wine just feels so more lively. It shines better.
You never add any sulfites to your wines, can you express how for you this impacts on the taste and energy of a wine.
Like any product you add, it will modify your wine. Good or bad isn't the question. If you do your best getting high quality grapes, you'll get a high quality juice, so keep it that way. Adding sulphur locks your wine at a precise moment, like a photography, so you do lock some aromas, and kill others. In the end, natural wine just feels so more lively. It shines better.
There is a community that has been built at the Rue Des Belles Caves that is quite unique, was this a conscious thing or did it just develop naturally. And how did you come across Berrie and the original cellar?
I came with friends and things built up naturally. There were no plans, I didn't know it would bring so much energy, it would get so big. I saw an ad for this place, number 13, for sale. And I loved it. I then saw other places, but I would come back regularly checking this number 13. Then one day I decided it was the right place.
Could you tell us about the new plantation of vines? And a little about how hard it is to find land to purchase near your cellar?
The new plantation is finally happening after 8 years of trying to convince people to sell me something. All the owners are old conventional farmers. They are very suspicious towards newcomers especially when they work in a different way with a different approach and philosophy... And they just want to keep everything for themselves until they die. As if they could bring those lands in paradise with them! Those new lands will go through a minimum of a three years resting
process. I've sown a huge amount of plants that will work the soil during this time, and bring life back to it. After that, the soil will be alive again, and I will be able to plant vines.
To the future. Thanks François (and Alex for the translation).
Photos - all apart from the one of the wine press by Joe Woodhouse