Le Grain de Sénevé — Hervé Ravera


Hervé is a rarity in Beaujolais: his Gamay vines are on a hill.  He avoids appellations, largely because Beaujolais-Villages has come to stand for homogeneity, rather than terroir. But his micro Vin de France bottling could not be a clearer expression of the particularity of his altitudinous commune – Beaujolais-Marchampt, known for its steely clarity and bracing, high altitude fruit.

Hervé started out life as a nurse. And when it comes to kind of winemaking, there’s the distinct sense that he just swapped one subject for another: vines need nurture, too.  It’s also true to say that he’s growing more than just fruit, on his one hectare of land. The Domaine <le Grain de Sénevé> is named for the parable of the mustard seed in the Gospels: the mustard seed is not just a mustard seed; it is a metaphor for the Kingdom of Heaven. And this is what Hervé is planting here: his own 2 hectares of stony, schistous and volcanic paradise, rehabilitating soil which was once treated to within an inch of its life and allowing it to recover its full, verdant potential. He has replanted apples, cherries and peach next to his vineyard; keeps bees, geese and chicken.

Hervé brought the domaine in 2007, after a transitional period working alongside Marc Guillemot in Mâcon. Over his one decade tenure, starting quite cautiously and following received, conventional wisdom, the wines have evolved to become entirely biodynamic, made with no added sulphur, unfined and unfiltered. They have character that brings us up short: so much so that when we received our allocation for this year, we immediately got on the phone to Hervé and begged him to send us more. 

The vineyard work is fully autonomous: just Hervé and his horse; and then his neighbours join for the pressing. This is possible when the vineyard is just two hectares. His two main cuvées are Roue Libre and 500m: from parcels on either side of his house. 500m is fruit from the higher altitude vineyard.

And this year we received a third, experimental cuvée, of which only 50 magnums made: big crunchy gamay, almost more Rhône in character than Beaujolais, with rich balsamic fruit and white pepper spice. It’s named for his grandfather who, every night during WWII, would listen for the code ‘Vos Lettres Sont Irrésistibles’. When he heard it, he went out to a field in Burgundy to wait for a parachute drop.

As standard, Hervé does not destem, elevage is in concrete, no fining, filtration or added sulphites. He unusually uses only natural CO2 in his tanks – it is quite standard procedure among even natural winemakers in Beaujolais to add CO2 to their tanks to speed up the fermentation.