10 July, 2021
I met Thibault Stéphan on 13 June at a wine fair in Clisson. He knew Thomas Puéchavy whom I was helping selling wine. During a break I walked over to Thibault’s spot and tasted his wines. He inquired about the shirt I was wearing so we got talking. I tasted his wines, a very convincing Chenin Blanc and a few Cabernet Francs, and offered to help him sell his wines in Germany. In July, I rang him up at his home in Saumur.
How did you become a vigneron?
When I was a student I became interested in wine. One day my friends and me bought a bottle of wine by Philippe Gourdon of »La Tour Grise«. He is based in Le Puy-Notre-Dame, just like me today. I had a strong emotional response to that wine and decided to explore the world of wine in more detail. A friend of my girlfriend’s father is a winemaker, too, so I spent some time with him to see whether I liked the work of a vigneron. And I did! I wanted to make wine myself and not work for somebody else.
What brought you to Saumur and Le Puy-Notre-Dame?
I love Chenin. Also, the wine scene here is a bit more open, more free, I think. The land, the soil, is very good, too.
Where are you from, originally?
From Brittany, my parents are from Brest.
Do your parents like your wine?
Now they do. On my first pet nat, in 2015, when I was 27, my mum commented that the bubbles would make a nice cocktail which obviously wasn’t meant as a compliment.
I helped Thomas in June and thought the work we did back then, the ébourgeonage and the accolage in the vineyard, were very hard, tough physical work.
Yes, the work can be hard. Some parts are more fun than others. But I enjoy it, in general, I enjoy the whole process, from beginning to end.
Do you do everything yourself?
Most of it but I also have someone helping me on the land, on and off. I’ve got six hectares, quite a bit of land!
Which work do you prefer? Work in the land or in the cellar?
Work in the land. I prefer being outside. Also, I don’t want to spend too much in the cellar because the wine doesn’t need it.
Does the wine really make itself?
In a way. Not totally, but in a way. 80% of the work the wine does.
Do you make vin naturel? Natural wine? What term do you use?
I don’t make natural wine. But it’s an aim. I protect my wine if it needs protection. If it doesn’t ferment, then I help it. I would be stupid not to. I wouldn’t make natural wine just for the sake of it. I want to make good wine first. And the customer needs to like it as well. My first vintage, the wine was all natural. But there were a lot of problems, even in the bottle, I can tell you. Also, I had just taken over the land from another vigneron – you need at least two or three years to understand the land.
What do you think when you drink other people’s wines?
I usually have questions. So I ask them.
Was it easy to find your land? Did you need a lot of money?
Back then, for me, yes, it was easy. You needed money but not that much, it’s not like in Bourgogne or Bordeaux. There are other areas now where there’s land to buy but in general it’s becoming more difficult, also because more younger people start making wine.
Are you in touch with other winemakers in your area?
There are a few winemakers I speak to regularly. One arrived in 2007, so before me, one in 2016, after me. We share equipment, personnel, we harvest together, we try to solve problems together. We meet each week. It’s very, very important to speak to other winemakers.
Have you planted new vines on your land?
Yes! 0,7 hectares of Chenin. We’ll see next year or the year after whether it was a good idea or not, also thinking about the changing of the climate.
Do you worry about the changing climate?
Yes. I worry about frost. There’s been so much of it, except for 2018. But for the moment it will not stop me from making wine.