I’ve made no secret that I am a huge fan of Abe Schoener, owner/winemaker of The Scholium Project. His wines are never mere quaffs and consistently require at least this wine lover to pay extra attention to what is in his glass. His writing is often the same, and he provides his mailing list readers with his own interesting insights into the wine world.
Not long ago, I received an email from Abe that I wanted to share with you. It is admittedly long, so I’ve broken it into a few parts and made a few very minor edits.
So now, with Abe’s permission, I give you…
A NEW LESSON IN THE MORAL NATURE OF WINEMAKING: LES JARDINS DES ESMÉRALDINS
Winestudy in the Loire
I am in Europe. I flew from Chicago to Paris on Thursday and drove into the center of France to administer the vows at the wedding of two friends in Savennières, in the heart of winegrowing region of the Loire.
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At the wedding, I met other winemakers, very serious people who make small amounts of wine with the greatest of care.
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All of them work fields that belong to their families; all feel that they are engaged in very traditional work, extending not just a profession but a way of life that reaches back dozens of centuries. All of the people that I met work in a somewhat unconventional way, even if they think of it as traditional. They make very serious wines, not anti-establishment gestures, yet they all eschew the use of sulfur in the winery and farm their vineyards organically, with the use of herbicide unimaginable. They have all figured out how to hold to this and produce wines of absolutely classical clarity, grace, proportion, and deep complexity. There are wines produced nearby that are made also by serious people but who achieve very different results; wines that are for me to some degree caricatures of other wines, not efforts of gravity– and this is no doubt fine with them.
On Sunday my friend Robert had prevailed on one of the brides to reach out to a local winemaker who works very quietly and is completely reclusive in his habits. He is not easy to see, he has no desire to engage in promotion. We would have had no hope of reaching him ourselves, but she is a local kid, and somehow got us an appointment. Sunday at 5. “Show up early. Do not bring your normal expectations.”
We pulled into a narrow drive in the completely walled town of Brézé. There are no freestanding houses on the street; instead, unbroken walls made from the local tufa; with some houses set into the walls and opening directly onto the street, and other set back, with small, in-town, walled estates surrounding the houses, and ornate gates barring the way. Everything seems very old– perhaps from before the revolution. There is a large and famous castle across the street, and it seems quite grand, but everything on our side of the street seems to be not only old, but in a mild state of decline and disrepair. At the end of our grass and gravel drive, a small chateau, shuttered, and with the air of having been abandoned. The land around it is wild and overgrown. I think of The Fall of the House of Usher, of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.
We are met by a man, tall, thin, graceful, who greets us warmly and suddenly we know that we are already inside something very special, something unforeseeable. “Xavier,” he introduces himself and listens carefully to our names. He walks us around the corner of the chateau to a hole in the ground, underneath some kind of wild tree with leaves like a bay, but the growth habit of large weed. We discern stone steps overgrown with grass and moss, and wait, while he disappears further into the earth. He returns with a box of wine glasses like any others, and four bottles unlabeled, all previously opened, with their corks jammed back into them.
All of the bottles have been open for 15 days, he says.
To be continued…