Saint-Lambert-Du-Lattay, Anjou, Loire.
May 7. A welcome rain fell over France and the Loire and softened the dry earth, just enough to allow an easier plowing between the rows. The Mosses were in the vineyard when I visited, busy doing what is called "decavaillonnage" in french, that is, de-earthing and plowing near-and-under the vines to pull up the weeds and prevent the vines to grow surface roots.
Well, in fact that very morning an important part of machinery, a metal shaft or handle at the back of the tractor had broken at a weld point. René Mosse just arrived straight from the vineyard with the faulty piece as I parked my motorbike at the winery, and we both drove in his van to the farm-equipment repairshop a couple of kilometers away.
Wine leads to many roads. You go for a visit at a winery and end up in a welding workshop... The guy there is already quite busy but he interrupts his current task and quickly fixes the handle/shaft in a few minutes.
I had met the Mosses on multiple occasions in wine tasting events and liked their patiently-vinified wines, particularly their rich and smooth dry Chenins, and also their unmistakable sense of humor.
Domaine mosse, with its 16-hectare vineyard surface (12 in production), lies in the middle of the Coteaux du Layon Appellation, an area of the Loire known for its sweet Chenin wines, but most of Mosse wines being dry, they're labelled under the Anjou Appellation. Their vineyard management embraces both organic and biodynamic principles, coupled with a rustic type of vinification, in a chai/cellar which is not even air-conditioned. But the result are here in the wine, which transformed from juice to wine all quietly by itself in casks.
After putting the metal piece back in place behind the tractor, they carefully plow under the vines, in a block with several rows of recently replanted Chenin Blanc. There's usually only one guy walking behind the tractor to hold the handles, but this time with these very small vines, two is safer. Looking as they work row after row, you better understand how it works : a curved metal stick guides the blade away from the vine each time it comes across one, then lets the blade glide further out in-between, where it pulls the weeds that survived the normal plow. Walking behind and all the while holding the handle tight helps accompany the movement and make sure that the plow doesn't accidentally cut off the young vine. See on the picture (left, click to enlarge), between the two wooden vine-sticks there's a fixed blade on the left, and the mobile blade on the right, which has just gone round a stick and its very young vine. Since they regularly do such a decavaillonnage under the rows, they felt that the tannins were subsequently more supple in the wine.
After the decavaillonnage, another tractor, pulling a cover crop roller, passes between the rows to harmonize the surface
The Mosses were managing a wine bar/wine shop in Tours, a major city in the Loire until they decided to change their life while keeping the wine line and opted for the country life of vignerons. They bought the estate in 1999, it was a property with everything coming with it, the house, the chai and the vineyards. The sale was due to a retirement with no heirs. The vineyard was very diverse and they had to replant (and they still do today) many vineyard blocks. They used organic farming from the beginning and added the biodynamic principles from 2001 (not certified). René's main drive when he started the winery was the passion that he learned from friends/vignerons in Burgundy, people like Dominique Derain, Thierry Guyot and Fred Cossard. Both of them followed an enology training in Amboise nearby and that was it.
After his enology training, René Mosse worked two years in Touraine and one year and a half in Burgundy with Hubert de Montille. For their replantings they use massal selections, like for these very young-looking Chenin vines (actually 3-year old, but they grow at their own pace, without fertilizers) on the picture above with Agnès. The original shoots came from Marc Angeli's vineyard and were grown at a nursery owned by Guy Bossard, a vigneron in the Muscadet region. The goal is to add diversity. At the opposite of clones, a massal-selection-originated plantation allows a better resistance to disease, because the vines don't have the same genetic tree. Bertrand, who overlooks the biodynamic elements in the farming, says that the work on the earth (biodynamicly, that is) is more difficult than the one on the foliage (with the energized sprayings), with results that seem to surface either on the vines or in the wine. They use certain recipes like the ones explained by Maria Thun, a german biodynamic gardener, to inject energy in the earth with, among other things, cow horns and manure disposed at certain places and time. It is usually done in winter, when the earth and under soil is most receptive. Bertrand says that there are many things to explore in biodynamy and he tries to find his own way listening to what other people do in the field. The cow horns on the left spent months from september to Easter, buried in a vineyard block. Bertrand also learned with Derain and Cossard in Burgundy, but also from a friend who is water diviner in the Vosges mountains and who "feels" the earth and water forces.
René let me taste several wines from the casks :
__1 Chardonnay 2006 (cask). 35-year old vines. Fermentation and elevage in old casks (varying, like 1999 or 2002). The last density check for this wine was in october : 1028. Nice feel in the mouth, richness. Very light fizziness. René says that compared with his previous tasting, this Chardonnay is getting more refined.
__2 Chenin Blanc 2006. Cask. From the Rouchefer plot. Last density in january : 1003 . There's been small SO2 addings in the cask stage, but there will not be any at bottling, which will take place late august/early september. This Chenin was the result of a first picking (they harvested this plot in two runs) and the two resulting wines will be later blended.
__3 Chenin 2006. Cask. The other picking. Some gas and lees aromas ar first, and after whirling the glass a minute, nice white flesh fruits notes. Also rich and smooth. Some turbidity.
__4 Chenin Blanc 2006. Bonnes Blanches. 10-year old casks. Ananas notes. Tropical fruits. Sugary. René says that as soon as temperatures significantly rise again in early june, the wine yeasts will "eat" the sugar and keep evolving till early september. The wines here have typically a 16-18 month elevage before bottling.
__5 Chenin Blanc 2006. Same juice than the former, but in a new cask. Surprising : not woody actually. He says that the new oak brought light, making it a very clean, chiseled wine.
__6 Chenin Blanc 2006. Cask. another part of the Bonnes Blanches cuvée. Bonnes Blanches is a 30-hectare climat and they own 3 hectare of it. Superb feeling in the mouth. Very nice wine. This wine, from a group of 5 casks (about 1500 bottles), will not be blended and will make a separate cuvée.
__7 A red : Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. Cask. Some reduction on the nose. Nice balance with the tannins. Vinified in oval open-top tronconic, 51-hectoliter wooden vats. Destemmed or not, sometimes partly destemmed, depending of the year. René is happy because sometime ago there was still lots of sugar in this Cab.
__8 Cabernet Franc 2006. From a 7-year old cask. Nose : Nice complexity. Tastes like a clafoutis made with acidic morello cherries. Beautiful. He says that the 2006 reds should be quite good. He makes about 110 hectoliters of red wine out of a 4-hectare surface.
__9 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc 2006. New cask. This is 2/3 Cab. Sauvignon (destemmed) with 1/3 Cab Franc (whole clusters). Very nice nose. Close, he says, to a Saint Emilion. Tannic. Lightly woody. In the Anjou Appellation, it is possible either to blend the two Cabernets, or have them bottled alone, or with Pineau D'Aunis.
I haven't said a lot about Toby Bainbridge. He is british and has been working here for a few years now, after other farming experiences abroad, notably in America. His wife is american and both of them seem to have found a new life here in Anjou. Listen to a short interview of him on my podcast...
Domaine Mosse's wines are sold both in France and abroad (1/3 is exported). Belgium, Danmark, Switzerland, the U.S. (Dressner Selections), Quebec and Japan (Oeno-Connexion, see website in japanese).
Agnès and René Mosse have three children.