One of the little details that I love about living where I do is the “beep-beep” of a small yellow scooter in front of my house every day around 1 pm. I know that Serge le facteur–my postman is at the door. From time to time, if he’s got a special delivery or just needs a drink, he’ll open up and shout at the top of his lungs “MCLEEEONN”. Normally though, the mail just drops into the box and he’s on his way.
But the month of September is not a normal month. Serge’s got a sparkle in his eye. And he can’t stop talking about some very un-postman like stuff; bung holes, leaf thinning, maturity checks, pumping over and so on. No, believe me, he’s fine; in fact he’s a great postman – always helpful and never short of a good story. He’s just excited about his other job. For you see, Serge is the only full time postman/wine maker in France.
Serge Scherrer is a droll, wiry 48-year-old who grew up a stones throw from the great vineyards of Alsace in the north-east of France. In his teens he dreamed of making his own wine and even took a viticulture course at a local college. The problem though, was that vineyard land in Alsace was scarce and very expensive and Serge had neither the right connections nor loads of money. So when a job came up at the local post office, Serge applied and got in. And before long he had a wife and two small boys. The wine making dream started to look more and more like the pipe variety.
Fast forward to 2000; Serge and his young family are transferred to Uzès, a small town in the Gard department of southern France, in the midst of the biggest viticultural region in the world – a more or less uninterrupted sea of vines that covers the mediterranean coast of France like a giant green belt. The region used to be the source for an endless supply of cheap, undistinguished table wines that nourished thirsty workers in France and northern Europe for decades. But those easy markets started to fall away in the late ’90’s and within a few years co-ops were closing and thousands of hectares of vines were grubbed up. Land prices fell dramatically and Serge saw an opportunity.
Starting in 2003 he began the hunt for a small parcel of top quality vines. By 2007 he found what he was after: a prime, half hectare plot of old vine Grenache and Cinsault not far from Uzes. After a tense period of negotiation, the deal closed in mid-August, just in time for harvest. The dream was back on track.
Agarrus, the name Serge chose for his domain, comes from the Provençal word for the small kermes oaks that grow all over the dry hillsides of southern France. The first two vintages produced a small amount of concentrated, intense wine. But wanting to paint with a bigger palate, Serge added three more parcels of Syrah, Carignan and Grenache to the mix in 2009. Today, with 4.5 hectares that’s all farmed organically, Serge has his hands very full indeed. It’s amazing to see how far passion, determination and vision can carry a man. And he readily admits he couldn’t make it all work without his wife Lucile’s full support.
This year he figures he’ll make almost 15,000 bottles, most of it red. The wines are uniformly good to very good and have a real sense of terroir (see tasting notes). And since he’s not in a prestigious appellation, the prices are reasonable. He sells a quarter of his production locally and expects to be distributed in Germany and Switzerland soon.
The high point each year for Serge has to be les vendanges-the harvest. His many friends (the warrior included) offer to help and in spite of the hard work and the long hours everyone has a great time.
Defenses and stress fall away, laughter is king and everyone seems to get along. Around 1 pm each day the loud call, à table, summons the team to lunch, a time to unwind, drink a bit of wine or beer and kibbutz with your co-workers. Lucile prepares the delicious home-cooked food and we rise an hour later refreshed and energized. I feel lucky to be sharing the moment, for this traditional part of French culture is slowly dying off, a victim of harvesting machines and the increased costs involved. Here in the south only the smaller, quality oriented domains harvest by hand. For Serge, who has to make it on the excellence of his wines, it’s an essential ingredient.
This same attention to detail carries over to the winery where Serge invested last year in a nearly new pneumatic press and seven stainless steel tanks with full temperature control. He admits though that he is still learning and dealing with the odd moment of panic–like the terrible grinding his pump made, until someone realized it had to be primed with water to work–but they’re becoming rare.
As a guy who makes top rate hand made wines Serge qualifies as a true garragiste. The fact his winery is located in the back-end of a real garage makes him doubly worthy of the name.
By the end of a week of harvesting, Serge seems pleased. The grapes are perfectly ripe, he says, with good deep colour. The potential is there to make some great wines. The team or core of pickers are a bit sore and tired but everyone feels proud to have contributed a small bit to Serge’s amazing adventure and can’t wait to start all over again next year. Long may he run.