Jean-Marie Vesque – 25 years of independence

This is not the summer Jean-Marie Vesque or his daughter Lisa had hoped for. It is a season that should have seen a fitting celebration of a major event – the 25th anniversary of their estate, Cep d’Or. Although Covid put paid to that, the planned festivities are merely on hold and will take place at a later date!

Few estates spring up from nowhere. Cellars are more often passed on than built from scratch. Quarter of a century ago, Jean-Marie Vesque nevertheless took the plunge. Although records show that the Vesque family has grown grapevines since at least 1762, it previously sold its grapes rather than using them to make wine. The young winemaker lacked any enthusiasm for this model and instead nurtured altogether different ambitions. “I dreamed of making my own wine,” he explains. “Grapes weren’t worth much – which incidentally has not changed – and I was not thrilled by the prospects for the future…” Although initially cautious about the risk entailed by such a move, his father Pierre eventually came round to the idea. In 1995, Jean-Marie Vesque set up his wine estate aged 31.

His enthusiasm for the project was initially manifested in the construction of a new cellar complete with its characteristic imposing concrete press. Based on plans provided by architects Hermann & Valentiny, it stands on the banks of the Moselle in Hëttermillen between Stadtbredimus and Ehnen. The building attracts people’s attention, which is exactly the desired effect: “When you’re starting out, you’ve got to make your mark!”, says Jean-Marie Vesque with a smile. “We had this parcel along the Route du Vin and thanks to this location, everyone travelling along the Moselle passes by our door.” Nice work!

Since it was founded, the estate has changed considerably. For starters, it has doubled in size. The estate now owns around 15 hectares of land and cultivates around 20 hectares in total, which is more than sufficient. “We won’t expand any more!” says Jean-Marie Vesque with a smile. “Our aim is to stabilise at around 18 hectares in our possession. Any more would involve taking things up to the next level, which would mean we would have to hire more staff. While the machinery is increasingly efficient, it is also increasingly complicated to operate. And it’s not easy to find people with the right qualifications who also share our commitment.”

So, the estate has expanded its vineyards, but has also seen a minor revolution in terms of its grape varieties, due to the concurrent imperatives of meeting ever higher quality requirements, adapting to climate change seen in vineyards, and keeping up with changes in consumer tastes.

Elbling, Rivaner and Auxerrois (less prestigious varieties) are clearly losing ground, while Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and hybrid grape varieties (so-called “PiWi” varieties such as organically cultivated Cabernet Blanc or Pinotin that require much fewer treatments) are taking over. “The land consolidation seen around Stadtbredimus in recent years has prompted us to adapt our approach, largely by planting new clones that produce lower yields but higher quality grapes.” This year, the estate manually planted a further 2.5 hectares in the Goldberg terroir, including 400 Chardonnay vine stocks, on terraces that are inaccessible to large machines. All this was achieved during lockdown.

Rather than celebrating the founding of the estate, next year we’ll celebrate the release of our first vintage at the Wäimoart in Grevenmacher in 1996. Don’t worry – whatever happens, we’ll find a solution!

The past quarter of a century has also been a period of rapid change. “In the early days, we prepared our invoices by hand,” says Jean-Marie Vesque with a smile. Computers were a relatively new development!” There have also been some spectacular technical advances in vineyards. Caterpillar tractors, which are more stable, safer and lighter than conventional tractors, are now used on steep slopes even during periods of rainfall. And on the subject of weather, forecasts are now easier to interpret thanks to the Vitimétéo service provided by the Luxembourg Wine Institute in Remich since 2010. “It helps us determine whether, for example, there is a risk of mildew affecting our parcels,” says the winemaker, showing his appreciation. “This is a great help.”

The market has also changed a lot in 25 years. “In the early days, if you wanted to sell very large volumes, all you had to do was go to the Foire de Printemps at Luxexpo,” he reminisces. “This has now changed completely. The market is highly fragmented and we have to fight hard to sell our wines as the competition is now global.”

Looking back to his early years as an independent winemaker, Jean-Marie Vesque acknowledges that the estate has had some good times. “From the outset, we had a significant presence on the ground enabling us to become known and we immediately got off to a good start. We initially assumed that people were buying out of curiosity, but many have become loyal customers. Of course, the fact that we started winning medals in 1997 helped establish our reputation.”

So how does he see the future? “The estate will keep its current size, no doubt with more international wines, and perhaps more wine matured in foudres (editor’s note: very high-capacity casks), certainly more red wines due to climate change, although they already account for 20% of our production, and perhaps a Pinot Meunier for our crémant range, which is something I am considering…”

Most importantly, the estate’s long-term future is in safe hands, since his daughter Lisa (aged 28) came to work with him in July 2016 having studied viticulture in Geisenheim (Germany) and Bordeaux. “I am very proud to have Lisa by my side and to know that she will continue the business after me,” says Jean-Marie Vesque with a smile.

And believe me, Covid will not have the only say on the anniversary celebrations. “Rather than celebrating the founding of the estate, next year we’ll celebrate the release of our first vintage at the Wäimoart in Grevenmacher in 1996,” jokes the winemaker. “Don’t worry – whatever happens, we’ll find a solution!”

Crémant - a permanent priority

Since the estate was founded in 1995, Jean-Marie Vesque was determined to have fizz in his product range. Although the Crémant de Luxembourg designation of origin had only been created four years ago, the winemaker rightly sensed that it had a bright future ahead of it. “We produced two cuvées in our first year, a Riesling and a brut, with 7-8,000 bottles of each produced to test the ground,” he reminisces. “It was an immediate hit!” says Jean-Marie Vesque, describing the response to this initial batch. In fact, it was so successful that production doubled for each new vintage in the early years. “Production stabilised about five years ago at around 75,000 bottles.”

Crémants are now one of Cep d’Or’s mainstays. Jean-Marie Vesque has created his own style, largely through long maturation periods. While fizz is required under regulations to mature on the lees for at least nine months, here it is left at least twice that length of time (for the classic brut and the Riesling cuvée) and sometimes much longer. The estate’s Cuvée 36, a champagne-inspired blend (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc) is left to mature “sur lattes” for at least three years (and often much longer), hence the name. It’s well worth the wait as these crémants are refined, frank and very elegant.

The estate also gained kudos by producing a very early “crémant supérieur”, its Signature cuvée created in 2001. It is the first of its kind to be seen in the Luxembourg Moselle wine-growing region and the idea has since been adopted by several other estates. The delicacy and balance of the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend with a touch of Pinot Gris is a sheer delight.

In 2018, the Cep d’Or estate invested in a complete production line enabling it to disgorge and bottle its cuvées independently. It previously relied on a service provider that visited its premises with a fully equipped truck. “Crémants are one of our strengths, so it was important for us to be able to carry out all stages of the process ourselves,” explains Jean-Marie Vesque. “We are much more flexible, which makes a big difference!”


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