29 March, 2022
Fabien Perréard I met by accident. Thomas and me had arranged to meet Thibault Stéphan, a vigneron in Saumur’s Puy-Notre-Dame who I represent as an agent for certain territories. I had never been to Thibault’s place. Thibault said that a friend would be accompanying us, he was a vigneron, too. »Would that be alright?«, he asked. »Sure, the more the merrier!«, I replied. We tasted his wines and loved them. I offered my services as an agent, Fabien said yes. Today, I spoke to Fabien to ask him a few questions regarding his way into the world of natural wine and to get him to talk a little bit about his domaine »Le Nadir«.
Salut, Fabien! Where are you? You’re outside, it’s windy and I can hear someone cutting. Sounds like you’re pruning!
I am. It’s about time. The vines will soon awaken!
How did you come up with the name »Le Nadir«? What does it mean?
I found it in a book. It means »under your feet«, our location in space. I like to speak about terroir with my wines, especially with my Chenins where the difference between the two terroirs is so obvious. So that word is fitting. It’s also an Arabic word which I like as well.
When did you decide to become a vigneron? In your previous life you were a graphic designer, right?
Exactly. I did an internship as a graphic designer in Paraguay, went to Brazil and back to Paraguay, one year I spent in each country, and then to Barcelona which is were I stayed for seven years. I started working with screen printing and… became an artist. I was also taking photos, these were my main two subjects. After that I moved to Cologne because I had a gallery in Dusseldorf. However, it didn’t work out. Wine is easier!
In a way, in a way…
… in a way!
How old are you?
38, turning 39 this year.
So, how did you get into wine then? You told me you studied winemaking and then also worked with various vignerons.
The school I went to, well… I didn’t go there: it was a distance school, it was all through the internet, while my family and me had already arrived in Saumur. Actually, I like learning on my own, so that was okay. However, the school wasn’t very good but it didn’t matter because I used my time in Saumur well. In 2018 and 2019 I worked in various Saumur vineyards with various vignerons. Aymeric Hillaire from »Domaine Mélaric«, Côme Isambert, Jean-Pierre Chevallier from »Château de Villeneuve« and Matthieu Vallée, »Château Yvonne«.
Tell me more about those four, please.
Aymeric Hillaire is incredibly good at managing stress. He’s just very, very cool. Also his vinification was very inspiring. And he has a sort of open-house policy. There are a lot of young people, always coming in and out, there’s plenty of intellectual exchange. Côme Isambert and his wines have convinced me to make natural wine. Before meeting him I wasn’t so sure about natural wine. I didn’t like the default: brett, volatility… He showed me that it’s actually kind of easy to avoid it. And Jean-Pierre Chevallier? He just gave me a job although I had nothing to show in regards to experiences in the agricultural field. Nothing. He answered all my questions, all the time. From Matthieu Vallée I learned how to work in the field – he has a fantastic way to organise work and takes beautiful care of the vines. All four working experiences were fantastic!
When did you get your own vines?
In 2020 I got one hectare of Chenin Blanc vines from Gil Caborderie’s »Domaine de Cabors« in Forges, in the south Saumurois. The vines had been farmed organically since 2012. Afterwards I bought another hectare in the same area with Chenin Blanc, Grolleau Noir and Cabernet Franc plants, from a winegrower in Brossay, for which I started the conversion to organic farming right away.
And where’s your cellar?
In Saumur! Côme Isambert is kindly giving me space in his cellar since my first vintage.
Do you work your two hectares alone? And how do you work, in the vineyard and in the cellar?
I do work alone. But friends help with the tillage, the working of the soil in spring, and with the harvest in autumn. For the tillage I use a tractor, the rest I do by hand. I rarely apply treatments to the vines. In the cellar I use an old wooden vertical press. The wine ferments by itself, with indigenous yeast. I don’t add anything at all and the wine is only racked two times: at the end of the fermentation and at the end of the maturation. The wines rest in barrels, fibreglass and Inox tanks. I bottle on site with the help of an external company, without filtration, without sulphites.
Let’s talk about terroir!
My cuvées »La dime d’Artemis« and »Forêts Paisibles« come from Forges where my vines are situated on the top of a small hill. The soil consists of gravel and clay from the Pliocene Epoch. It’s a hot terroir but due to its full exposure to western oceanic winds it always stays fresh, even in summer. The clay in the ground keeps a huge water reserve and supplies it all summer. The Chenin responds by developing elegant, sour tastes like those we can find in the Layon zone, but the fresh winds and the soil’s water supply make for a strong tension.
And in Brossay?
In Brossay the vines sit on a huge silex and clay plateau from the Jurassic. It’s windy and dry, cold. The Chenin grapes here produce a very deep and long-lasting saline taste. It’s typical Saumur terroir! My cuvées »Prémices«, »Chebro« and »Octobre« come from there.
When we met in February you mentioned that for you acidity is a crucial aspect and something you focus on.
I discovered Riesling during my time Germany. I love the way they work in the Rheingau and Mosel areas, I adore the way they make a blanc de noir using Pinot Noir grapes. Making a still blanc de noir is not very common in France. It was only later I came across the Chenin cépage which shows a great acidity as well. When making natural wine the best way to avoid problems is to have a high amount of acidity. But at the moment there is something that I find even more interesting: a low amount of alcohol. So when I pick the grapes, that’s all I focus on, the potential volume of alcohol. I just don’t like to drink anything above 13% vol. I drink a lot but I don’t like to get drunk, you know. Now that the weather is so nice I’ve started making myself Schorle.
Weinschorle? You mean adding water, sparkling or still, into white wine? Is there no French word for it?
No! The French have stopped doing it. In the olden times everyone did it – the Greeks, the Romans. My grandmother did it, too! With still water. The Germans are crazy about sparkling water and I like that, too, but myself, I use still. I’m always amazed about the various sparkling waters that I see in German supermarkets, from slightly sparkling to crazy sparkling! In Argentine you always get a bottle of sparkling water with your wine, too.
Let’s go through each of your cuvées from 2020, please.
With pleasure! Let’s start again in Forges. »La dime d’Artemis« is a Chenin Blanc. The yield was very low, just 10hl/ha. It fermented and rested in eight-year-old barrels – or huit vins, as we say, meaning eight wines, which is a particular French expression – for one year. It was bottled in November 2021 and has 12,5% vol. of alcohol. »Forêts Paisibles« is a blanc de noirs, a white wine made from Cabernet Franc grapes. It also fermented and rested in eight-year-old barrels for one year and was also bottled in November 2021. It has 11% vol. of alcohol. Now to Brossay! »Prémices« is a sparkling Chenin Blanc, méthode ancestrale. It rested on the lees for one year. 11% vol. »Chebro« fermented and rested in eight-year-old barrels for one year. It was also bottled in November 2021 and has 11% vol. of alcohol. Finally, »Octobre«: a red wine made from Grolleau Noir and Cabernet Franc grapes, 50/50, so I mixed my two terroirs here! Whole-bunch maceration of the two cépages, together, for ten days. The assemblage then rested in both tank and barrel for eight months in total. Bottled in June 2021, 11% vol.