The first one who told me about Pierre Beauger was Pierre Jancou at Racines, and it was in almost lyrical tones : this vigneron who started his winery in 2001 was making extremely pure wines, if atypical, on the slopes of the Massif Central in Auvergne right near Gergovia (located near the village of La Roche Blanche) where the Gallic armies led by their chief Vercingetorix defeated the Roman army with Julius Caesar at its head in 52 B.C. Beyond the symbolic resonance of the area, Pierre Beauger happens to be a vigneron who works hard to revive the vineyards of the region, making wine on the most uninterventionist way on terraced slopes which were planted with vines long, long time ago.
Pierre Beauger is a native from Auvergne, and he has a brother and a sister. His father was raised in the multi-crop 7-hectare family farm, working with his own father, but he later started a negoce of his own dealing with garlic (Auvergne is known for its qualitative garlic) because the farm was too modest to make a living. Pierre Beauger put his roots back into the farm life with this winery (which he started in 2001), but his father, who is now 78, helps him all along for the vineyard tasks.
As said in an earlier post, the vineyard surface went down sharply in the region following the unfolding of different events : the phylloxera (which reached the region later than the other French regions), WW1 (which took away the men tending the vines, many never coming back), the transportation improvements (which brought all over France cheap wine from the south) and the setting up of the Michelin industry (based near Clermont Ferrand, it was a magnet for workers and it paid much better than growing vines).
He says that the region had also lots of coal mines in the past, and the Auvergnats who emigrated to Paris a century ago or earlier used to make a living selling both coal and wine from their humble street shops to the Parisians. These were the famed bougnats and their blackened pick-up trucks still roamed the streets of Paris loaded with jute bags full of coal well into the early 1970s'. Many of these bougnats got rich later when their business grew up in the café and bar sector.
We walk through the different vineyard of this slope. Some were planted in 2004, others in 2007 and there are also very young vines that were planted a few weeks ago. He is working the ground now and then with a walk-behind self-powered plower but he is thinking to get an animal, a draft horse maybe to intervene on the ground. He planted with a distance of 1,2 meters between the rows, which should be fine for a horse, he says that horses routinely work with as little as 90 centimeters between rows. He planted at 1,2 meter because when the vines age, they get twisted in strange shapes sometimes, and also because it is easier to find plows with a width of 1 or 1,2 meters. Otherwise, the vines are 1 meter from each other along a row, making a theorical density of 8333 vines/hectare. He also planted a plot near the one we're walking through at 80 centimeters between vines along the row, making a density between 10 000 and 11 000 vines/hectare. This, for yields that he plans to be between 30 and 40 hectoliters/hectare maximum. He is far below 40 ho/ha right now because his vines are still young anyway. He says that this yields question has to be handled carefully : for example if someone makes yields of 40 hectoliters/hectare with only 4000 vines per hectare, each vine will have quite a big load of grapes and the wines will turn out very different from say, a 10 000-vines/hectare vineyard with the same overall yields.
We drove 20 kilometers from these terraced vineyards to Jussat, where Pierre Beauger rents his cellar his cellar, and near which he also rents a vineyard of Chardonnay (picture on left), on a slope named les Malettes. This is right near Chanonat where former French president Giscard d'Estaing had his family home (he sold and moved recently). Pierre Beauger jokes that he loudly opposed some of Giscard d'Estaing's initiatives, like the European constitution referendum in 2005. Along with this 24-year-old Chardonnay vineyard on marls and basalt, he rents also 0,3 hectare of Gamay in the vicinity, plus 0,65 hectare on another slope. As he bought recently a building in Montaigut-le-Blanc where he'll move his facility, he'll let down these vineyards to limit the driving, centering on his terraces and on vineyards close to his future facility.
Although he farms organicly, he didn't join an organic certification. He is wary of the certifications, partly because the big wineries try to soften the rules so that they can sell their wines under the label allthewhile keeping working in the vineyard and the cellar with products. Pierre Beauger is part of the French natural-wine movement AVN and they tried at the AVN to set up a chart that would be presented to the French and European wine authorities and which would take into account more precisely the products allowed in the vineyard and bar the use of all the cellar additives. Today's organic certification leave the unscrupulous winemakers free to use all the technological additives to correct and adjust their wines, which is nonsense. This AVN project didn't get anywhere because there was hindering resistance in the administrations managing these questions.
At one point in a Pinot-Gris vineyard we walk past a walk-behind sprayer that we call in French atomiseur. Pierre Beauger uses it for spraying copper dilutions, or sulphur, or plant decoctions. He's not yet fully into the use of plant-decoction sprayings and he will learn more. Once he had Michel Augé [a Loire grower who is a specialist on the question of biodynamic preparations]with him here to help prepare this type of homeopatic spraying. Until now he has made one and a half preventive treatment for disease in all, this year. The newly-planted vineyard on the left is Pinot Noir. He had to put a net around it because of the rabbits who wouldn't otherwise leave much of the baby vines. There are no wild boars around here but occasionally some roe deers.
The good thing with these terraces which were abandonned long time ago is that these grounds never had any insecticides or weedkillers sprayed, and the diversity and health of the various plants is striking. He has some friends whose job is to pick wild plants for research- or pharmaceutical labs who come here to take samples of interesting plants like for example fumeterre, millepertuis or sage. These cueilleurs (that's how these professional plant pickers are named) help him in return to prepare plant decoctions for his vineyard. Pierre Beauger stops talking at one point and listens to a tiny noise coming from the bushes around : he says that there is an indigenous cicada in Auvergne, with a very different song compared with the familiar Provencal type. He finds routinely cicada sloughs around here.
For the record, Pierre Beauger wanted to be a farmer from his youngest age. He went to an agriculture/cattle school and later, as he was pondering over which specialization to follow for his BTS diploma, he chose a wine course in Macon, Burgundy, finding himself in the same class as Jean-François Nick and Thierry Puzelat (this was in 1986/1988). The course were more centered on wine commerce but otherwise it was the same teaching than the Viti_Oeno of Beaune. He never followed the commerce side and discovered the production side of the trade. After he got his diploma, he worked in France and abroad for different wineries, in the Entre-Deux-Mers, Saint-Emilion, Saint-Joseph, Cornas, in California (Matanzas Creek,), in Chile. He liked his California experience, Matanzas Creek was a medium-size winery which was growing some of its grapes and buying the rest. There was lots of investments compared to many French wineries, a superb lab, two house enologists and so on. What he liked there is the fact that he could take part to all the tasks there, so that his experience was whole.
He also worked at times between 1994 and 1997 with Marcel Richaud in Cairanne (Rhone) and at La Tour du Bon (when Thierry Puzelat was also working there) and Chateau Pradeaux in Bandol. He understood that the type of wines that he wanted to do was the one without the additives tricks favored by business-minded wineries.
We reach his chai and cellar in the village of Jussat near Chanonat : it's a traditional winery farm building of Auvergne, a stone house with a large door. On the street level, there's the chai, a large room stacked with vats (including three 60-hectoliter cement vats) and a vintage Mabille pneumatic press. This Mabille is one of the first pneumatic presses of its time, and this is the same Mabille-press model that was used by Jules Chauvet, the famed enologist. Hervé Souhaut as well as Dard et Ribo use this type of press too. This is an artisanal facility with a soul, it's not very large but wine has been made here for ages probably, and the walls carry their load of yeast population.
For the reds : grapes are put to ferment in the plastic or the cement vats, whole-clustered and without crushing or pumping over. The vat stage lasts one or two months, sometimes more. Then he blends the press juice with the free-run juice and proceeds to the élevage in casks or in vats. He doesn't use any additives including SO2. At the beginning he would add some sulphur on the whites in the press, and for the reds a bit at the malolactic fermentation. Since 2003, there's not even these minimal SO2 addings in his wines, they're totally additives-free, and of course, they're unfiltered and unfined. Asked about what allows this vinification without risking accidents, he says that the first imperative is to use healthy grapes. Now, he says, it's more risky to make whites with residual sugar. That's one of the reasons he uses only metal crown caps for all his wines, wether still reds, sparkling or sweet whites. He uses also only one type of glass bottle, it's a dark-glass Champagne-type bottle that can stand high pressure in case the wine gets lightly fizzy. The crown caps help protect his wines in different cellaring conditions, and they eliminate the cork-taint risk.
__ Pierre Beauger Potion Magique (name of the cuvée) Chardonnay 2002. It was made from 5 pickings of pure botrytis on Chardonnay with 15,15° developped alcohol and 100 grams of residual sugar. He made 200 bottles like this one, with a 50-centiliter volume. He sold them for 25 € each and regrets that he has almost none of it now.
The casks in the cellar contain whites and reds, from different vintages, 2007, 2008 and 2009. Among these wines, there are 7 hectoliters of whites (3 casks made from 0,5 ha) which were harvested november 25th 2007 and this wine will be bottled at the end of summer.
About the cuvées, on favorable years where he harvests a normal volume of grapes, he makes about 10 different cuvées. This from 3 hectares of vineyards which are not yet all productive.
We taste a few wines :
__ Pierre Beauger Jussat 2008, from a cask. Chardonnay. There's a bit of oxydation, he says. Very light if any, I think. Notes of gingerbread. Nice wine. It's dry, he says, the malolactic fermentation is not made yet. He'll bottle this soon.
__ Pierre Beauger Jussat 2008, same wine but other cask. This is one of the 3 casks of the Chardonnay "Champignon Magique" 2008 (magic mushroom) cuvée. This cask doesn't have this light oxydative note, and he'll blend the three casks. The wine is lightly perly.
__ Pierre Beauger Chardonnay 2007. More a demi-sec (half-sweet) than a moelleux (sweet wine), it was harvested november 25th 2007 with a potential of 17,5°. Beautiful nose. That's a nice wine, with lots of complexity... The wine wasn't moved except for one racking. He tops up sometimes, rarely in fact, when he gets a bottle to pour there (he hasn't a separate container to top up his casks). He says that there has been some noble rot on some grapes, some passerillage plus some frozen grapes. There was no leaves on the vines when he picked on november 25. There's still residual sugar, the aromas have hints of exotic fruits, it's coming after some time i the glass. He will sell this wine 29 € a bottle (it'll be bottled this autumn probably).
__ Pierre Beauger Champeix (the terraces) Pinot Gris 2009. Harvested november 25 last year. 6-year old vines, planted in 2004. There was lots of noble rot too, he says, the harvest was beautiful. Lots of residual sugar still, but very beautiful, candy-like wine, with aromas of orange peel among others. This wine will stay there for the necessary time. A pleasure to sip, even if it's not yet near the completion of its élevage.
__ Pierre Beauger Gamay 2009, from a cask (grapes from a rented plot that we didn't see). Nice tannins. He doesn't make extractions and so the wine hasn't a harsh side. The tannins are there though, but they they're part of the whole. When he tells me the alcohol level here, I'm stunned : 15,6 ° ! that doesn't taste like this high, really. There's a light sugary feel at the end of the mouth, it seems, but he says that ther wine is dry. The cask isn't even full, the level is barely over half volume. This is the last cask of the press juice, he says, it will be blended with the rest later. To protect it, he puts some CO2 from time to time. It tastes so well that he considers making a small bottling of part of this press juice to see what it can yield as a separate wine.
__ Pierre Beauger Gamay 2009, another cask. This is the first cask that was filled. Some reduction, but not a problem, really. Dry wine already, it seems. Nice wine with character, with a hint of bitterness at the end.
__ Pierre Beauger Gamay Vitriol 2005. From a bottle. Made from a vineyard near the plateau of Gergovie, the color of the wine is dark because the vineyard has a few vines of teinturiers (dark-grape varieties). His life companion Fabienne is the author of the labels (see the Vitriol one on the right). There are a few words on the label, they were picked on an old alchemy text. Prune aromas, very beautiful wine. 13,5° nature, harvested in october, semi-carbonic maceration. This one exceptionally got a bit of sulphur, 1,5 grams at the blending before bottling. He sold that bottle for 13,5 € he says. This is easy to drink, fresh and all, nice wine indeed. Small black fruits side, liquorice maybe. These were whole clusters with ripe stems and this make people think they feel wood in there.
Pierre Beauger and his wife Fabienne have a 15-month old baby.
Pierre Beauger's wines are exported to Japan and to the United States (Savio Soares) and can be found in many cavistes and wine bars in Paris and across France.