Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Julien Fremont - Cidre du Fort Manel: Terroir ciders.

When it comes to the French wine term terroir, I’ve witnessed it being called such expletives like “bullshit” and “fictional”. The word which commonly gets mispronounced “terrier” by my lovely wife, is supposed to encapsulate all the elements of a wine such as environment, climate, soils and topography. When you taste a wine, essentially you’re drinking terroir – not to mention a little French man’s foot fungus from when he foot stomps his grapes. Most commonly used in French wine, terroir is a sacred and special term which gives a wine an identity and sense of place. Appellation d’origine Controlee or AOC of French wine is moulded around terroir, where a better quality growing site equals a better quality wine. A little vineyard higher up a slope may produce much better quality fruit as opposed to a vineyard on the flats. This quality difference being due to more favourable climatic conditions, better soil structures etc. Obviously this is a fairly simplistic description of the term, but why am I babbling on about terroir in the first place? Well a little Cidermaker from Saint-Gerorges-en-Auge in Normandy named Julien Fremont is producing a line of ‘terroir’ cidres out of Fort Manel. Terroir in cider?? I bet you have never heard of that before.

Julien Fremont works off his 40 hectare farm, with 15 hectares consisting of apple orchards. Crazily enough, his distant ancestors bought this patch of land back in 1759 and set off making calvados, cider and raising cows. His orchards are farmed organically and biodynamically and are tended to by his cows that look after the lawns and cover crops. Julien’s ciders somewhat break the mould of the Pays de Auge, which commonly under AOC law must be sweeter (demi sec) in style. He tends to make his ciders dryer, less protected and different from other Pays de Auge Cidermakers who follow a more oenologist approach. One difference in Julien’s approach is he blends particular apple varieties before fermentation, and not after which is the more traditional method. Having such an intimate knowledge of his differing varieties characteristics, Julien confidently combines differing apple varieties before they are pressed out into old large wooden vats for co-fermentation. A selection of the best years apples are also stored in the attic of the farms ancient building to dry out and concentrate in sugars to produce special vintage bottlings.
The terroir line of Cidre du Fort Manel consists of Silex and Argile which translates to quartz and clay. The Silex cider is made using apples grown on trees in high quartz soils higher up on the slopes of the farm. The soils are littered with cailloux and in theory should give the resultant cider nice structure and mouth watering minerality. The Argile cider is made using apples grown on trees planted in fertile clay soils. This orchard lies on the flatter areas of the Fort Manel farm, and the ciders made show higher levels of minerality and acidity with riper flavours. The orchard also has better water retention with a deeper and healthier root system. What we need to remember is the idea of terroir is not limited to large distance. Two different soil structures can be spotted just a very short distance from each other – and in turn produce totally different ciders/wines.

Tasting these two ciders side by side was quite exciting, as it was a rare opportunity to see differing soils types at play – if at all. Unfortunately, I was/am none the wiser as to what varieties are used in the ciders and the vintage (although I have a suspicion that its 2011), but I do know they are all acidic and late ripening.
The colour poured a beautiful golden yellow with a slight haze. The carbonation bloomed into a large head of foam with a persistent bead and light stream of bubbles.

A rustic farmhouse funk offered up sour/lactic characters with just a hint of hydrogen sulfide and volatile acidity. Lovely floral notes blended in well with sweet honey, apricot marmalade and old woody tones. Despite the wild ferment funk, the nose was still very fresh, fragrant and quite inviting.
A soft and light mouth feel greeted the front palate, with a gush of light foam and moreish medium sweetness gliding across the tongue. The mid palate suffered some fadeout, being overwhelmed by a bitter and astringent back palate. Although quite lighter in body, nice simple flavours of fresh apple, honey, orange blossom and rose water were evident. A lingering note of oakiness rounded out the flavour. The palate structure was perhaps a touch flabby, with a lack of acidity lacking the ‘excitement’ factor. However, there was some minerality evident on the back palate in amongst the astringency - this could be possibly be an orchard trait but not enough to warrant a definite yes.

The Silex is fresh, inviting and very, very easy to drink. The bottle didn’t last long and at only 4.5%, it’s very sessionable. Easy drinking, lighter weight cider which is generous and delicious. Farmhouse characters may be a little daunting for newbies to this style.

The colour of the Argile was slightly darker than the Silex, being more of a golden orange and cloudier. The carbonation was light, with a fast fading mousse and light bead.

The nose was quite soapy, with some sweet floral aromas and sour notes. Green apple skin, horse hair and old barn yard made the nose quite dirty and musty. There was also a distinct pong, most likely from being reductive. The nose lacked the focus and freshness of the Silex, being simpler in structure. Although rustic, this nose was very dirty and a touch clumsy. But this could be down to shear bottle variation and/or vintage variation. This is the beauty of traditionally made cider – you never know what you’re going to get!
For a Cidermaker who claims they don’t like to make sweet AOC Pays de Auge Cidre, this palate was lusciously sweet with tonnes of juicy candy apple flavours. The odd thing was the sweetness withered away to a drying finish. Some attractive earthiness along with powdery tannins and good acidity added structural presence. The tannins were in much better balance in this as opposed to the Silex. Juicy ripe apples, orange and honey characters added length and the 3.5% alcohol did not affect the palate weight in any way. A touch of bitterness and steely minerality on the back palate finished off this cider well. This was quite a simple and straight forward palate. In saying this, the Silex was still the better example, offering more lushness and attractiveness.

The Argile was a clumsy cider in a sense. The nose was a little disjointed, and the big juicy flavours on the palate were at times a bit too moreish. This could possibly be a clay trait, with higher ripening levels? Quite a simple cider which to me looked like the ugly duckling of the two offerings. It just lacked the essential freshness and focus.
To me, the Silex was the much better offering. It was more attractive and just a little cleaner and focused. The Julien Fremont ciders definitely show a softer side, being lighter in weight but high in generosity of flavour. They definitely seemed more rustic and unrefined which is the way Fremont makes his cider. I felt they were a little more Breton is stature. So what was the verdict on terroir? They both definitely had their differences in structural make up, aromas and flavours. But could we just put that down to Cidermaker influence? I definitely think the ciders have distinct differences, but was it terroir? I’m going to say a little from column A, and a little from column B. Its hard to say unless you are there, living and working on the land and experiencing the fruit day in, day out as Julien Fremont does. But its definitely worth trying these two side by side.

Producer: Cidre du Fort Manel – Julien Fremont
Country: Saint-Geroges-En-Auge (Normandy, France)
Alcohol: Silex – 4.5% Argile – 3.5%


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