Vigneron(s) Marc Balzan & Andrea Grossmann
Location Argnou (Ayent)
Coverage 0.86 hectares
Viticulture Biodynamic not certified, Sustainable viticulture with application of biodynamic principles. Floral preparations and petit lait against mildew
Terroir The soil is primarily Schist with a higher proportion of Quartz on the parcels of red varieties on the hillside tucked behind the home and some small pockets of dense clay and stone. These hillsides are arid and dry and need to be irrigated as a result, collected rain and glacial deposits are used in small amounts when absolutely necessary.
Marc & Andrea met while harvesting near Lausanne in the mid 2000s and since have been developing the idea and now the domain they run side by side, making wines of their own in a place that they came to love almost instantly. Chèrouche is a collection of lieux-dits vineyards in the commune of Ayent in Valais Switzerland.
As you drive North from Martigny we descend and re-climb what seems like a never ending range of hills as you exit the valley at Sion. Ayent is a collection of tiny parcels on the Western mountain range, “Chèrouche” translating directly to under the bedrock.
Andrea, studied to be a teacher before being captivated in wine making. Several harvests and stages followed and Andrea continued to pursue her passion while exploring painting and raising the 3 of their beautiful children. Marc began to work in gastronomy through Geneva and Navarre before becoming a maître d’hôtel in Genève. A passion in wine led Marc to recognition as the best sommelier of Switzerland, before eventually committing to winemaking and 2 years spent with Romaine and Hans-Peter of nearby Mythopia. Having tasted almost the full range of both, we see parallels in approaches to working the land; and consistencies in philosophy, but Chèrouche displays these wines in a way that are completely unique and have a character of their own.
"Something’s we just can’t control, we do my best to make the wines that make us happiest. Just look around, there’s a simple reason we fell in love with this place. We are happy to call this our home."
In 2017 with the addition of some new acquired plots, Marc and Andrea oversee a total of 1.35 hectares divided among 8 small plots almost all surrounding their home. One can guess we were at altitude, the lowest vines are at 550m above sea level while the highest reaches almost 850m, the hillsides pitch at almost 40% and can be extremely difficult to work. All plots are located in the commune of Ayent, the soil is primarily Schist with a higher proportion of Quartz on the parcels of red varieties on the hillside tucked behind the home and some small pockets of dense clay and stone. These hillsides are arid and dry and need to be irrigated as a result, collected rain and glacial deposits are used in small amounts when absolutely necessary. Marc and Andrea work with local varieties; Arvine, Chasselas, Amigne, Païen but also chardonnay, Gamay and Pinot Noir.
Previous vintages were farmed biodynamically yet Marc has since moved away from the guiding principles of biodynamic certifications to do those things he feels are most important. Water excesses required and availability of preparations locally is difficult and Marc turns to teas made from foraged plants, herbs and flowers (Absinthe, wormwood, dandelion, horsetail), as well as local sheep whey as treatments, manure is sourced from local dairy farms and tiny doses of copper and sulfur are used to treat vines to combat mildew, that comes about all too often. The movements of the moon are “artfully observed” at these times as per Marc & Andrea.
Their work in the cellar, precise and meticulous, gives birth to the finest wines, truly expressing that particular terroir. Amigne, Petite Arvine, Pinot Noir, or Gamay… to discover! The wines are alive, full of energy and as well as the whites as the red ones, provide a great tasting pleasure. Due to mildew, rot and poor climatic conditions in 2020 Marc & Andrea decided not to harvest, the fruit was left on the vine to return to the soil in hopes for a positive 2021. The cellar is tiny, one needs to work meticulously to make the best of the space. It is immaculately clean. All vinifications and ageing takes place in tanks, white wines have extended pressing times with a horizontal pneumatic press or are fermented semi carbonically as with the reds, all cuvées fully de-stemmed. Low aroma varieties require additional pellicular maceration to extract phenolics at the right level without drawing too many astringents tannins.
Marc agreed that macerated wines are very much the style these days. He believes that extended macerations cause of loss of varietal identity as well as a masking of mineral elements on both nose and palate. Extended maceration brings about a too obvious flavour of maceration that fits wines into the same category. Maceration for us he says, is meant to add texture where required, to experiment and to (sometimes) extract the full potential of the varieties. Racking is often done once with a second for some cuvées when necessary. Cool temperatures in the cellar allow sediment to settle quite quickly and fermentation usually starts without an issue but the ambient cool air prolongs periods by several days. Reds are de-stemmed by hand and macerated semi carbonically.
The identity of Chèrouche wines is that of Marc and Andrea, and that of Ayent. There is an alpine accent, cold air, stone, near frozen vegetation and spring water. It is quirky yet precise. There is a firm quality to persistence consistent across all cuvées with lifted acidity and intense mineral salt. Fruit condition remains cold. They are refined and energetic, while often demanding some focus to fully understand. Alpine wine crafted by a thoughtful couple.