12 March, 2022

Cédric Fleury I first met on 29 January, 2022, at a small wine fair in Monthou sur Cher. I later e-mailed Cédric and asked whether I could try to sell his wines to a German importer and maybe take care of a few other territories as well. We agreed on me starting with his Chenin from 2018, »L’herbe tendre«, which he sells under the name of his domaine »Les Gauchers«. I spoke to him via Skype at lunchtime on 7 March.

Have you just come back from the vines?

Yes. I went to the vines this morning and then had lunch.

What are you doing in the vines at the moment? Pruning?

Pruning, and in parallel working the soil.

Are you on your own?

The soil I work on my own but for the pruning, especially now that I’m cultivating almost seven hectares, I have help – two people who work on a seasonal basis. With pruning I prefer to be ready in time, not be too late, so I need the help.

Do you enjoy pruning?

In theory, yes. But at the moment I’m pruning vines which were damaged by frost last year. All the wood I was counting on for this year to work on is dry. Also, we need to go quite slowly which is a bit frustrating. I’ve been pruning for some years but what I’m seeing now, the damage caused by frost, I’ve never seen before. Despite the frost the affected vines are not weak. They didn’t give a lot of grapes, only 1,5 hl per hectare, but they concentrated on producing wood. They have reserves, and I did my best to care of them so that they could grow in the best conditions.

Were you used to having to face problems and dealing with them? I’m referring to your previous job, working for NGOs.

I am familiar with dealing with problems but not with frost… What is similar to my old job is the intensity. You can never rest, there’s always plenty of things to think about. When I changed jobs I was looking for a similar profession in terms of involvement, a job that would ask as much of me as before. I haven’t been disappointed.

Please explain what exactly it was that you did.

I worked in rural areas. I was a coordinator in the field of project implementation. I had to identify needs and evaluate the project – and everything in between! So I had to write concept papers and deal with the financing, with donors. Then, if funding had been received, the project needed to be implemented, followed up and then evaluated – many steps to be taken. I dealt with technicians, doctors, farmers, with the beneficiary, with authorities of all kinds of levels, from the village to the ministry, with other NGOs and the UN, with logistics and finances.

In which countries did you work?

In 1997 I first went to Afghanistan, that was still a part of my studies.  After that I worked for two years in Mali and then came back to Afghanistan for another four years, approximately. I also worked in Jemen and Tajikistan. Afghanistan is the country I know best, I can speak Persian which changed everything. When I left Afghanistan in 2006 to go to Jemen I was prepared to learn Arabic but the job was so intense that I didn’t manage to. In Tajikistan they speak Tajik which is similar to Persian but I quit the job after six months as I wasn’t happy with the job. I went back to Afghanistan, again working for the same French NGO that I had been with before and which only works in Afghanistan. I’m still a member of their board of administration.

You went, like Marie Rocher and Thomas Puéchavy, to the Lycée Agricole et Viticole d’Amboise where, among others, Anne-Cécile Jadaud is a teacher.

After I decided to change jobs I thought it would be good to actually learn about winemaking, for one year. I also thought that it would be useful in regards to finding a job afterwards, being able to show a potential employer a diploma. So I went to Amboise and learned, from 2013 until 2014. I’m from Vendômois so to me it was clear that if I would make wine it would have to be there. In Vendôme there was one winemaker, Émile  Herédia. He had founded his Domaine de Montrieux in the Coteaux de Vendômois appellation in 1999, and I had been drinking his wine ever since after my uncle, who I will speak about later, had told me to meet Émile. Whenever I found the time, between my NGO missions, I visited Émile and talked about winemaking. My practical training, during my stay at the wine school in Amboise, I then did at Émile’s. Later, he employed me as an agricultural worker. Eventually, he sold his domaine to Ariane Lesné. I continued working at the domaine until I could find my own vines and created my domaine »Les Gauchers« in 2017.

What brought you to natural wine especially?

My uncle was a cook at L’Ange Vin, Jean-Pierre Robinot’s legendary natural wine bar and restaurant that he opened in Paris in 1989. My uncle made me taste natural wine from the moment on that I started drinking wine. My parents and me were exposed to all these great wines that my uncle brought with him from Paris – ten different wines at the same time,  sometimes including open bottles customers hadn’t finished. He knew everything about each bottle, vintage and winemaker. From that time on I focused on natural wine and could always easily tell how a wine had been made. I started going to salons and looking for places where I could drink these kind of wines. Later I helped winemakers to harvest, prune, bottle etc.

Your Chenin that I’m hoping to sell, »L’herbe tendre«, has 15% of alcohol which is a lot. I was surprised as it doesn’t taste like that.

I agree. The volume of the alcohol is not something I have chosen. It was the year 2018 – and the location of the parcel which is exposed to the south, like most of my parcels. The process of reaching maturity goes very fast which could also relate to the kind of variety of the Chenin grapes that I have. They are clones, planted in 2003 and 2004. In general, Chenin grows early but reaches its maturity quite late. In my area I often pick the Chenin earlier than the red varieties which is quite unusual. In 2019 the vines were hit by frost which limited my harvest. The potential of alcohol showed as 11% with the grapes clearly not being ripe. One week later I harvested in a hurry because the potential showed as 14%! And that was one week before the official start of the harvest announced by the body that takes care of the AOC certification – you can only use the AOC designation if you start on or after the date they announce. So, yes, nearly 15% for 2019, too, I’ve already printed the labels and only had the change the vintage. In 2020 I thought: ›The weather will not have me again! Hurry up!‹ I started harvesting with a potential volume of alcohol of 12%. The harvest was huge as I hadn’t really picked anything in 2019, the vines had compensated… The harvest took twelve days. Each days, within 3 to 3,5 hours, we picked 1.500kg of grapes, more than enough for my press. The press takes between seven and eight hours, so one pressing per day is all I can do. On the first day, as I said, the potential of alcohol was 12%. The next day it was already 13%, after five days it had reached 15%. Crazy! In 2021 I didn’t harvest at all so in 2022 my plan is, if things go well, to start harvesting even earlier, not wait until the grapes have reached their full maturity. So that then, when I mix all the juice from the parcel, I will reach a level of alcohol which should not be too high. By the way: There is a tank version of »L’herbe tendre« from 2018 that has 15,5%! What you are selling is the barrel version. It spent two years in barrels and one year in tank. It was  bottled in early September 2021. I call it »démi-sec« or »sec tendre«. I didn’t filter it and didn’t add any sulphites.

Please explain the name of your domaine. »Les Gauchers« means »The Left-Handed«, right? Two or more!

Well, I am left-handed, that’s the explanation. Being left-handed is particular, it’s somehow special, for some people it’s always an issue. I was the only kid writing with the left hand in my village. I have many stories to tell that deal with being left-handed. Also, I have a cousin with whom I share the uncle I’ve mentioned before, who is left-handed. He is making wine as well but only for himself, just one barrel each year. The name of my domaine indicates that there is still a place left for him should he want to focus on making wine full-time. Having said that I don’t really know if we could work together, ha! When you’re left-handed you’re never alone, at least in your head. That’s also why there is a ›les‹ instead of a ›le‹. My daughter is left-handed.

Les Gauchers, »L'herbe tendre«, 2018

Les Gauchers, »L'herbe tendre«, 2018