Soings en Sologne, Sologne (Loire)
Ever since I first met Claude Courtois and tasted his wines at the small ( but professional ) wine gathering in Groslay [ picture above ], near Paris , I wanted to visit his estate . He lives and works in the middle of Sologne , which is a wooded region in the middle of the Loire valley . I had heard about him before discovering his wines , but was really impressed by his wines at Groslay , especially his whites , some very atypical and outstanding . The man himself is a personality, entirely passionated by the work on his vineyard and the resulting wines . Speaking with him is exciting, as he does'nt use velvet gloves to express his views ..
So, one day at last, when we could arrange a mini tour in the Loire Valley with B. and Haruko ( this was last week ), we began with a visit at his "Les Cailloux du Paradis" winery . Haruko joined us outside a subway station near the peripherique early in the morning, and we headed south of Paris to the toll motorway, down to Blois . His vineyards are about 210 km south of Paris in the beautiful Sologne region known for its extensive forests , thousands of ponds , royal chateaus, and wild animals . By 11 am we were there , at a short distance from Soings en Sologne . Just the time to get out of the car, kneel down to play with Caramel , his dog , and he was there .
His estate is in the middle of a mix of vineyards, woods , orchards, and wild flower fields . 6 hectares of vineyards altogether . You just walk to the vineyard plots on a dirt track from his house and chai .
He settled here 13 years ago ( 12 harvests ) . The region has an arid and poor soil . Clay under a few inches of earth . The clay layer begins at a depth between 5 cm and 25-30 cm , depending of the spot . Not very suitable for agriculture , and a lot of stones , too . When he arrived here, a soil analysis stated the place was on its way to desertification, due to bad management of the soil ecology . In some spots it was bare and void of any vegetation . It was still rich in potassium and calcium but lacked the humus that is so important to the microbic life in the epiderm of the ground . The surface was close to white . he needed years to bring this soil back to life . Now, he says , you can see these fallow fields he keeps between the plots, with the vibrant interaction of insects and wild flowers . He points to the many sorts of leguminous plants there, which is a good omen of revitalization of the outer layers of the ground and the presence of humus . The soil has also gained a basic side that allows the wines to be less acidic . He saw the evolution in his different millesimes along the years .
In the vineyard, he keeps grass every other row . The first plot we see is an old Gamay one, with 60 year old vines . What he does between the rows is not exactly plowing, but something more like subsoil splitting, to aerate without crushing the outer layer .
We walk past an orchard , then he shows us an old Sauvignon plot . This is the cuvée "Quartz" plot . Caramel, the dog, runs freely between the rows back and forth( he knows the place, that's what he wants to say )
About the yields, he says here he harvests 20-22 hectoliter/hectare ( very low indeed ) . Only hand harvest . Speaking of the rules , he says it is sad the INAO did not allow a Sologne Appellation , as wine has been made in this Loire Valley subregion for centuries . Also, he does not understand why you can't freely plant different grape varieties, even the ones that are known to have been planted and cultivated here long ago . Punitive suits are the risks for transgressions . Biodiversity : All his plots have either a wooded plot nearby , or an orchard, or an empty plot with wild flowers . Even a 150 year old big chestnut tree where he says he often hears a woodpecker .
At some point we walk in a 5 year old Gascon grape variety vineyard plot [ second picture above ] . This now minor grape variety was very widespread before the phyloxera : 9000 hectares in the Yonne departement alone ( in northern burgundy ) . We head back to the chai and cellar now .
__2 White . Plume d'Ange 2004 . Sauvignon . Will mature 24 months . Will be on the market nov 2007 . Very mineral . Acidity is modest but like for his other wines, the mineral side is there, and "holds" the wine Nice fullness .
__3 Red . Cuvée des Etourneaux 2004 . From the old Gamay vines we saw first . . Will have a 18 or 24 months maturing time . 28 months if you count decantation . Slightly perlant at this stage .
__4 Red . Pinot Noir . Clear colour . Delicate and deep, Haruko says. No name yet .
__5 Red . We went to another cellar to taste this wine . This is Racines 2004 . Nice nose, fruity . Different grape varieties vinified together . Stone and clay side . Will mature 18 to 24 months . The goal is have a very stable wine, as he adds no SO2 in the wine . He jokes about the cellar wich is not that cool in summer and gets cold in winter . But the wine has this substance, this "matiere", and it stands just fine . Air conditioning dealers don't like to hear that, he says, as it goes against the trend and the certainties of the modern wine industry ...
__6 Red . Just 7 months for this wine, and already a well structured frame . This is Syrah . Will need 18 months at least . He worked 15 years with this grape variety and loves it : Rustic, no diseases , enough of tannins . Last year : 13,8° . The wine is not for sale ( not authorized around here ) . Just for personal use or for friends . No fining , no SO2 . Directly in bottles as is ( will be bottled march 2006 ). He says that as the vineroots go deep in the soil here, they get this sugar side with the potassium underneath .
__7 Red .While pouring from the wine thief, he says : This one is something great : The most beautiful of the domaine, he adds . This is the Gascon grape variety, on a soil suited for reds . And as at this stage it is still young, you guess what it can give after some time, say 18 months . Old cask , so old he does'nt count anymore, he says . The cask is not there to oak the wine, not even a hint of oak ...
__8 White ( we moved to a 3rd cellar ) . Or Norm 2004 . Beautiful ripe nose . Ananas . 24 months in casks, plus decantation time . Bottled in 2007 . Very nice ending . Great wine indeed . This is the one I marvelled at when tasting it for the 1st time at Groslay last march . His friend Carlos , who is caviste in Poitiers and joined us for the tasting, says it is even better than when he tasted it the other day . This wine is a Sauvignon, which makes the thing even more outstanding . In fact , its name "Or Norm", sounds like "out of the norms" in french ( hors normes ) , but reads like gold ( or ) . Colour : Nice yellow, turbid at this stage .
__9 White .This one, he says, will be something in 20 years . Romorantin (grape variety) 2004 . Nice nose , really . Fills gently the mouth and the palate. Will be over 13° when finished . The 2004 wines we taste generally had an average of 13° . This is the best millesime so far, he says . When he poured the wine in our glasses, he tried to have us guess which variety that was . Not easy to recognize .
__10 White . The future "Evidence" cuvée 2004 . Grape variety that can come with 3 names : Menu Pineau , Petit Verdet, Orbois . 30 months in casks . Will need 1 year , 1 1/2 year to "eat" the sugar : Spring 2006, this will be a nice dry white .
__11 White . Sauvignon . Very turbid white at this stage . Nose : Citrus, ananas, white peach . Pomelos at the end . Excellent, B. says . So good in the mouth, where it persists . White flowers aromas .
__12 Red . For the last wine, he brings us in a room that he would like to arrange as a tasting room where you also could eat some local products . He opens a bottle of Nacarat after bringing several goat cheeses on a plate . He likes goat cheese , he says there was a time he had 25 goats and made cheese himself . Nacarat is the name of the cuvée , and it means "light red" . As we sit down and relax, enjoying the wine with some goat cheese , we notice that this red has the uncommon virtue ( for a red ) to pair nicely with it . Wine full of fruit , made through short fermentation . Mostly Gamay , with a little bit of Pinot Noir, plus something else ( undisclosed ) . He says that more and more he realizes that if you don't rush the nature, the soil, etc... , it bouces back to you through beautiful wines . Claude Courtois . Les Cailloux du paradis . 41230 Soings en sologne .
Phone 33 2 54 98 71 97
Jean Frederic Courtois : Cell Phone : 33 6 62 24 09 10 .