Restigné, Loire Valley (Bourgueil). Cabernet Franc country.
My first experience with a Catherine & Pierre Breton wine was when B. brought a bottle of Perrières 1997 or 1998 for dinner. She had bought the bottle maybe in 1999 or 2000 and we drank it after
several years in the cellar, maybe in 2002. Lots of maybe, I did not take notes then, but what is sure is that this was a wine moment of pleasure to the last drop. Intense, complex, velvety, this wine left an enduring milestone in my/our wine experiences.
We became familiar with the Bretons, chatting with them while tasting their wines at various fairs and gatherings. But a personal visit at the winery allows a better understanding of the work behind the wines, and we could find a schedule with Pierre in may. We drop at the winery on a sunny spring day. Restigné is a village next to Bourgueil, on the north bank of the Loire, between Tours and Saumur. On the landscape side, there are some gentle slopes going down to the Loire. The villages of the region, although sleepy, are so beautiful. The architecture of its 18th and 19th century houses expresses the quintessence of harmony and intelligence and remind us that the region_not Paris_ was in the past the heart and head of France. As we park in the courtyard, Pierre Breton walks to us from the vineyard (les Galichets) nearby [see picture on left, at work in Les Galichets]. He has not as much time as he expected : a new worker is debudding the vines today and he has to check his work. So, he offers to go straight to the chai to taste the wines in their elevage. The chai is contiguous to the house, a farm which they bought a few years ago and renovated extensively. This farm sits in the middle of the 4 hectare Galichets vineyard.
We are sad not to see Catherine, but she unexpectedly has to drive to Paris today. The chai is rather small and its fixtures were probably the same 40 years ago. In the room : 5 tronconic wooden vats and 5 stainless steel vats. This is where the grapes (Cabernet Franc) arrive for vinification on harvest day. The grapes are then destemmed. The grapes from the vineyards on gravel soil ( les Galichets) go into stainless vats and the grapes from clay-limestone plots go into wooden vats. There will be a lot of pumping-over so that the indigenous yeasts can develop, the aeration allowing not to loose time for the sugar/alcohol transformation. Cap punching may be done on some millesimes. It has not been done in the last 2-3 years. Can be useful on "small" millesimes, depending on the grapes' ripeness. But sometimes, even when the grapes did not reach correct ripeness, it is better not to punch the cap. The winemaker (Pierre) decides along his tastings of the juice.
Pierre pours a sample of the first wine from a stainless vat :
__1 Les Galichets 2005. The wine will go into wooden (tronconic) foudres soon. Bottling is scheduled for next november. "Gourmand" in the mouth, this is because of the gravel soil, he says. Steady colour. The mark of the millesime 2005. Les Galichets is the vineyard plot around the farm, it has a 4 hectare surface.
__2 Clos Senechal 2005. Sample from a wooden foudre in the chai. Plot located on a slope some 300 meter away, on clay/limestone soil. 1,3 hectare surface [see picture below]. Very unctuous, complex. Lots of finesse too. Nice one. Still needs to spend time on its elevage, he says, because of its substance. Pierre says 2005 is the strongest millesime he had here. The wine will go into casks in about 3 weeks, and will stay there until 2007. Measured at 14,75.
We now walk to the cask cellar in the basement. The old wooden door to the cask-room shows on its inside beautiful moulds of different shades. About 45 casks in the cellar, most of them demi-muids (600 liter). He shows us a small cellar on the side with his own bottles where, in spite of the very low light, I manage to take a pic of the incredible thick mould covering the bottles [see picture on the right]. This is magic, I am sure the wine and the mould interact somehow for the best...
__3 Chinon "les Picasses" 2004. The wine is in the cask since november 2004. This is the last millesime he did on Picasses. He had the plot as a sharecropper and the owner took his vineyard back. Very nice, supple wine. B. feels tobacco leaves in there.
__4 Bourgueil les Perrières 2004. Stays in casks until january 2007, probably. Lots of structure and substance. Needs to wait, he says, and the Cabernet Franc asks for time of élevage. The vineyard (80 are surface) lies 3-4 km away near Bourgueil. Let this wine go through its elevage plus a few years in bottles and be ready for something, I would add...
He created his estate in 1982 (Catherine joined in 1989) and they made the conversion to organic viticulture in 1990-1993.
Catherine works personaly on her cuvée, La Dilettante, since 2002. This is presently a carbonic maceration wine, something that is not usually done in the Loire on Cabernet Franc. She does not use grapes of the same origin every year and she makes inovations, trying different things every year, white or red.
Their wines are exported, notably to Japan and the United States. The Bretons have two children, aged 11 and 13.
Pic on left : Clos Sénéchal - Pic on right : a beetle on the vines.