Hervé Villemade Cheverny Rouge 2014
Wine: Hervé Villemade
Region: Cheverny, Loire Valley
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Gamay
Vines: Certified Organic
Most wines I write about are recent discoveries, and I've likely only had them once, usually a single bottle enjoyed over the course of two days. This wine, however, I've had twice. I love it with an intensity that makes me want to buy a case and think nothing of writing a new ode to its delicious beauty every week. I had originally wanted to use it for the Vine Club I curate for The Carriage Wine and Market in Florence, Alabama, but locating the wine didn't work out. So here you are, congratulations, my deeply insightful thoughts on Hervé's rouge is available to the entire world.
Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny are young A.O.C.s in the Loire Valley, established in 1992. The appellations are great enclaves for well-priced sauvignon blancs, pinot noir and gamay. This one is a 50/50 blend of the two red grapes, organically grown, hand-picked and fermented whole cluster with no sulfur added during the winemaking process and very little to none at bottling. That organic grape/no sulfur combo qualifies this as natural wine, at least by my standards, and backed by Hervés own words as shared on his U.S. importer's website. In that interview, Hervé talks about how he developed a severe allergy to sulfur in the late aughts, which lead him to re-think modern chemical-loving winemaking and farming. I wrote about sulfur and sulfites two days ago, where I stated that if you think you have a sulfite allergy, you probably don't. I will point out that Hervé, as vigneron, was handling great quantities of the stuff, likely in more than one form, and his exposure would have been far greater than the 100 parts per million maximum allowed in French organic red wines at bottling.
In Hervés words, re-posted from Louis/Dressner:
"My first attempt at sulfur-free winemaking was in 1999. What I hadn't realized, and what I quickly found out (through Marcel Lapierre in particular), was that to make sulfur-free wine, you needed clean grapes. From that point I immediately started converting the entire estate to organic agriculture. This was in 2000."
Hervé's response to whether or not he considers his wines to be natural wine is the paradigm of authentic winemaking with integrity. It is what I look for in wine and it embodies what I want all drinkers to understand: It is the person behind the product that counts, always.
"In the end, the wine speaks for itself. But if you're going to ask me what kind of wine I make, it goes back to what I said earlier about working organically: we do what we say and say what we do. I think that the vigneron's personality and work will reflect immensely in his wines, and you can't hide this from an experienced taster. There is no way to cheat: If you say you did something but it's not true, someone is going to know you're lying and call you out on it."
The Hervé Villemade Cheverny rouge 2014 is wild and funky on the nose, with sour cherry and herbal notes, and the distinct aromas of farm country air (barnyard is a good thing here). It's a touch volatile with spritz upon first opening - this is where nearly zero to zero sulfur added makes the difference - but that blows off with a few swirls and time in the glass. You could definitely decant it, though it did not throw sediment and is intended to drink young. It's weird, but juicy and soft but not limp, graceful but not delicate. I drank it while watching Steve McQueen in Sam Peckinpah's 1972 The Getaway, a near-perfect film with a complex and real story that goes beyond violence and fast cars and, like mass-produced soulless wines, should have never been remade. This wine just might be the Steve McQueen of the Loire Valley.