André Iché: an Appreciationby Joe Dressner, November 25, 2007
I first met André Iché in 1989 at a marathon Muscadet tasting at Marc Ollivier's home. André had driven across the country from Oupia, his village in the Minervois, with his wife Marie-Thêrese. It was an insanely hot weekend in August and Denyse and I had driven eight hours from Burgundy with Noël Perrin, who was then a vigneron in the Côte Châlonnaise at the Clos des Chenoves. We tasted about 20 vintages of Muscadet from Marc and his uncle, toured Marc's vineyards, ate meals, discussed viticulture, winemaking, ate more meals, drank more Muscadet and we all got to know each other.
I barely spoke French in 1989 and I couldn't understand anything André or Marie-Thêrese said. Denyse, who is a Frenchwoman, also had trouble. I was totally unused to the accents of the Languedoc and found the pronunciations impenetrable. But, André seemed as authentic a vigneron as one could possible meet and even if we did not understand each other I knew I was entering new territory.
Denyse and I had just started a wine business, Louis/Dressner Selections, and we were working with a group of vignerons who had formed a small marketing group together. There was Jean-Luc Mader in Alsace, Noël Perrin, Ollivier and Iché, along with someone in the Roussilon, someone in the Beaujolais, and a grumpy guy from Champagne making Blanquette de Limoux. We happened upon the group almost by accident and all these years later still work with Marc Ollivier and André Iché.
Denyse and I received a call today from Oupia. Audrey, who works for André Iche, let us know that André had died this morning. André was 73-years-old and learned after working the 2005 harvest that he needed extensive medical exams in Montpellier. He was very disappointed that he was not going to be able to attend our annual New York tasting in April of 2006 with Polaner Selections, but his doctors did not want him to travel far, even though he felt fine. It turned out he had intestinal cancer and was going to have to go through three cycles of treatments which could not cure him. André had never been ill in his life, had never spent a day in the hospital, but finally left us this morning.
It is going to be difficult to imagine a wine world without André. We often talk about terroir, but André lived that notion, he almost seemed the personification of those windy Languedoc vineyards. André had made quite a bit of money when everyone was producing bulk table wine that was made at enormous yields, virtually unregulated, and which sold briskly. By the early 1970s though, he was one of the first vignerons in the area to embrace the notion of going from table wine to an AOC and was one of the pioneers of the Minervois AOC, which started in 1973.
Over three decades, he accumulated fabulous sites, often bought for a symbolic franc, which he converted into great vineyards. The great paradox of the area was that there was all that great terroir in old vines but no one wanted it -- the wines sold too cheaply and no one really knew how to make the transition to quality rather than quantity. André was the only independent winemaker in Oupia, all his neighbors brought their wine to a coop and received pennies per liter.
André loved the land he accumulated and worked his vines until his doctors told him to stop. He had several employees, but loved nothing more than touching, guiding and working his land. He had already paid everything off and made his money and rather than try only to make expensive super-cuvées, he was able to produce a range of affordable and delectable wines which sold quickly and gave great pleasure to people who followed his work. He wound up with nearly 60 hectares and managed to run it economically and profitably at a time when the Languedoc is facing an economic catastrophe.
It used to be such a great pleasure for us to visit André and to tour the vineyards with him. There was so much love and devotion, such an intimate relationship to the land. The first time we went he took us to a hill overlooking the town of Minerve to view the gorges and canyons surround that famed city. André told me there was nothing like that in America but I told him he was wrong, that we have beautiful sites and beautiful natural settings. André said, where do you have a view of nature that has been cultivated by man in much the same way for the past ten or eleven centuries. He had a point.
Every little site worked by André gave something different to the final wine. Denyse and I had started in the early 90s with a list top-heavy with Burgundies. When you visited a vigneron in Burgundy you tasted, both in barrel and in bottle. But the first time we visited André we were struck how the first thing you did was visit the vineyards. André would explain in detail the nuances between each site, why one site was good for Carignan, another for Syrah, how one site gave structure, another aromatics.
We sell a lot of wine from the Château d'Oupia, along with Les Hérétiques, their Vin de Pays. We always counted on André outlasting us, and doing the harvest into his 80s and his 90s. André seemed every bit as eternal as his vines and his 100-year-old Carignan plants. He seemed at one with the terroir.
I was talking to Jean-Paul Brun of the Beaujolais, who was also close with André, a week ago. Brun is in his mid-40s and he was telling me how at the beginning of his career he would handle chemical treatments for his vineyards that he never should have touched or been near. Jean-Paul said, imagine all the chemicals that André must have touched and handled over the years, all the toxic material he would have used as the wine industry pushed all these new chemical treatments in the 1960s and 1970s. We talk about organic work now, but often forget how perhaps the biggest victims of all the chemical treatments were the vignerons and their workers.
I have old magnums of the André's Cuvée des Barons at my home in France and look forward to opening a bottle this summer. André's memory continues in the wine he has left us, the vineyards he has planted and maintained, in his wife Marie-Thêrese and his daughter Marie-Pierre. There is now a professional manager running the vineyards and winery and Denyse and I will be meeting with him in eight days.
What we will no longer have is André's almost magical presence. André embodied not only all the best of the Languedoc, and all the best about wine in the past 50 years, but was also a great friend who will never be replaced.
His death is a terribly sad event for all of us who loved him.
Denyse Louis on André Iché:
Notre vigneron André Iché nous a quittés dans la nuit du 23 au 24 novembre.
Nous l'avons rencontré à l'été 1989 chez Marc Ollivier dans le Muscadet, grâce à Noël Perrin, vigneron bourguignon avec qui nous travaillions déjà, et qui nous a présentés à ses collègues et amis de nombreuses régions de France.
Nous avons tout de suite aimé André, sa bonté se lisait sur toute sa personne. Quand nous sommes allés à Oupia en 1990, nous avons découvert son Minervois et compris combien il appartenait à son paysage et à ses vignes, combien son merveilleux accent rocailleux disait son terroir. Ses vins étaient l'expression sans fard, mais gourmande, des collines caillouteuses et arides où poussaient ses raisins.
André avait débuté ses propres mises en bouteille avec le millésime 1986. Sa longue expérience dans les vignes et à la cave aurait pu le satisfaire. Mais il était plein de projets et d'idées, et au fil des années son enthousiasme ne s'est jamais démenti: à chaque visite il y avait du nouveau, une plantation de grenache dans un invraisemblable coteau de cailloux, des vieilles vignes superbes dont personne ne voulait, des bâtiments acquis pour que le travail se fasse mieux, un vin moëlleux de roussanne, une cave de vinification toute neuve, avec beaucoup de place pour les barriques de Cuvée des Barons et Nobilis.
Pour exprimer tout ce qu'il aimait dans son métier et dans sa vie, André disait souvent: "Je me régale!" C'est ce qu'il nous disait aussi de ses séjours à New York, où il avait un immense plaisir à rencontrer les amateurs de ses vins, et à retrouver son groupe de collègues.
Pour nous qui avons cheminé un moment avec lui, André a incarné tout ce que nous aimons dans le monde de la vigne et du vin: un homme du cru, modeste à l'image de sa terre, humble devant les aléas des millésimes, fier et passionné par son métier, toujours inventif et prêt au changement. Un modèle que nous avons recherché dans tous les vignerons que nous avons rencontré par la suite.
Nos pensées sont avec Marie-Thérèse, son épouse, et Marie-Pierre, sa fille, qui continuent l'oeuvre d'André au Château d'Oupia.
André, tu as fait du beau et du bon travail, merci.
Some Notes from Admirers:
Good morning Mr. Dressner,
I was thoroughly saddened to read about André's death on your site this morning. Like you, we have many, many happy memories of our visits to the Ichés at Oupia. Such a soft, unassuming and passionate individual is a rarity in today's modern wine world where brashness, marketing prowess and techo-babble are all important. André's achievements over the past 30 years have been poorly documented but were many. I guess the best legacy he could have left (apart from Marie-Pierre) was some fantastic wines. Over here in the UK, we will be toasting his health in our offices tomorrow (probably with a Cuvée des Barons!) and our thoughts will be with Marie-Therese and Marie-Pierre.
Christopher Piper Wines
Devon - GB
(Agents and Importers for Château d'Oupia in the UK)
What sad news. I never got to visit, but I've enjoyed the wines for a few years now. I will open a bottle of the 2000 Poupette tonight.
sad, great man, always with a deep smile, wish more growers were like him!!
We are deeply saddened by the news. His kindness and genuine nature so clearly shines through the wine he made. He will be missed terribly.
This is indeed terrible news. Unfortunately I never met him (had hoped to on the aborted trip in 2006), but the first wine I tasted with a Louis/Dressner back label was a mid-nineties Cuvee des Barons, and that wine still holds a place in my heart. Another bottle will be required today to remember this great vigneron.
sometimes the saddest part of losses like this is knowing that certain people cannot be replaced. the unique personalities that dot our lives in the wine world and outside of it are slowly bidding adieu. r.i.p. andre.
I met Andre in February of 2001.
He climbed over barrels of the Les Barons.
We sampled from tank carignan from 100 year-old vines that turned our lips, tongues, teeth and fingers black. I discovered wines we never knew he made.
I was relatively new in the biz and these are some of the fondest memories I have.
Long live Andre.
i always loved the stories as well as the wine.......he did make a mark in this world, something from his earth that we can savor and something in the hearts of all who knew him that will continue on.