Two things strike me with the Puzelat brothers' wines : the diversity of their cuvées, and the tenacious work with nearly-extinct grape varieties that were common in the Loire not so long ago, but were put aside by the Appellation entities for reasons having more to do with commercial simplification than quality and terroir. Oh, and I forgot the third and main reason : these wines are good and offer each a different facet of these Loire/Cheverny or Touraine region. B. and I tasted the Puzelat wines at the last Caves Augé tasting in Paris, and I can't remember of a single wine that was not enjoyable.
At about the time he began to work with his brother Jean-Marie on the family estate in 1994, Thierry Puzelat had the opportunity to meet (and taste the wines of) François Dutheil (Chateau Sainte-Anne, Bandol) and Marcel Lapierre and these beautiful wines vinified without any gimmick or additives convinced him immediately. But to be able to vinify this way, the vineyard and soils had to be well tended and free of conventional chemical products in the first place. That's where he and his brother were lucky : his father had always worked his "Clos du Tue Boeuf" with a very limited range of products. The soils were alive and he also had never machine-harvested his grapes or used industrial yeasts. He was also among the first around here to bottle his wines and not sell them in bulk to Coops or mass-bottlers. Thierry says that his brothers and sisters and himself (they were 7 children) were raised in this strong family bond, with every year plenty of people coming to help pick the grapes for the harvest. They were used since then to these happy evening dinners and the joyous crowd of pickers.
Another chance is that they're basically alone to have vineyards in the area of Clos du Tue Boeuf : the real estate prices is very low around here and when given the opportunity, they have bought additional woods or fallow lands to preserve the untouched ecosystem of this area and to have altogether woods, vineyards, bushes and fallow fields with high grass and wild weeds. This is utmost important to prevent the coming of pests (they love intensive mono-cropping agriculture).
An interesting story about Thierry's father is that he had always taken care of these minor Loire varieties like Pineau d'Aunis, Menu Pineau, Grosleau, that had always been grown in the region. These varieties, like Meslier and Romorantin, had always been grown in this region. Menu Pineau, which is also named Arbois, is a local Loire variety and has no relation with the Arbois Appellation in Jura (Arbois whites are made with Chardonnay & Savagnin). It is a variety close to Chenin Blanc (which is also called "Gros Pineau", gros meaning big in French, while Menu means small) and like Chenin Blanc, it is a late-maturity variety. If you consider the region beyond the Cheverny area, with Sologne and Touraine, there are maybe 10 vignerons who still grow Menu Pineau, people like Michel Quenioux, Claude Courtois, Pascal Potaire, Christophe Foucher, Christian Venier... Thierry says that it is a very interesting variety, not very aromatic bur with a sense of place, of terroir. Like Romorantin and Chenin, it has a late maturity, making tight wines in small millesimes, but with a long laying-down potential.
At Clos du Tue Boeuf, when a vine would die they would replant it the massal way, using the "marcotage" system like Thierry shows me on the pic on the right : marcotage means you let a shoot of the next vine grow during a couple of years and you put its end in the ground when it reaches the location where the died vine was. The shoot resurfaces but it will also make roots in the ground. When this new vine is strong enough, its link to the other vine is cut and you end up with a new vine. This was the traditionnal way to replace dead vines in the past, it did not cost anything and today it's a way to avoid the clones. You must know that when the Cheverny Appellation was created in 1993 and added to the Loire wines, the people in charge of the rules thought wiser to outlaw these minor varietals for an "easier visibility of the wines of the area". There had to be Sauvignon only for the whites ("otherwise the consumer could have been unsettled"...) . The people who made this choice were not only the AOC people at the national level, but the local vignerons who were mostly unaware of this precious, even if tiny, heritage. Makes me think to the seeds companies who along with the French Administration (and EC lawmakers) want to eradicate ancient vegetable species and allow only a limited list of species (see this page about the punitive fines inflicted recently by the French judges to a non-profit French group named Kokopeli selling ancient-varieties seeds in France). Whatever, while many vignerons decided to uproot these varieties that they considered now as useless, the Puzelat kept making wines with them because these wines had a definite identity and taste and because their customers had always been there to buy them (even before they took the natural-wine way). The only difference is that they were now labelled as table wine (Vin de Table) instead of Cheverny.
At one point, as we walk along a particular plot, I ask which variety it is planted with, and he says with a smile that he can't answer me here...We'll not elaborate...
Back to the vineyard management : the first plow (decavaillonage) of the year is made in march. The earth is very clayish here and the vineyard can be impracticable for the tractor after he rain. On the other hand, it dries very fast and the window of opportunity is narrow between mud and stone-hard earth. After the decavaillonage, they come now and then to cut the grass, but they don't see the grass and weeds as a menace.
For the whites : pressing, decanting of the juice and filling into the casks and it will stay there on its lees until the bottling without racking.
For the reds : Whole clusters into open, tronconic wooden-vats with CO2 over it with punching of the cap after a week when the grapes begin to be altered, then into the casks after pressing with the same elevage conditions, the wine feeding quietly off its lees. In addition to the 40-hectoliter tronconic vats, he also uses what he calls the "yogurt pots" (pot de yayourt) which 30-hectoliter fiber-glass vats. He also has smaller volumes with a few old steel vats. The vat room is temperature-controlled at about 14° C, and it helps to have a vinification temp of 17-18° C. No coils in the vats, he says it is not necessary, but an important step is that the red grapes are cooled in refrigerated trucks before arriving at the winery. They stay a night in the truck at about 5° C, cooling down and it helps also shake the bacterias, sort of. We spot a cask of Pinot Noir with DRC written on it : Asked about what it means, he answers that it is a special orderd from one of his Japanese buyers : Pinot Noir raised in a Romanée-Conti cask. Thierry happens to buy regularly used casks from the Romanée Conti in Burgundy, and when the Japanese customer visited here, he chose the wine AND the cask... Japan as a whole btw buys a very large part of Puzelat wines and the distance and refrigerated freight costs doesn't shy them away.
A newly discovered wine is for me akin to a newly discovered song, and my discovery of this micro-cuvée of Pinot Meunier at the Caves-Augé tasting bears some similarity with what I feel when I listen to "Let's you and me go away to the Ice Hotel" by Stacey Kent, there's a magic in the lyrics and in the music I want to enjoy again, because it comes from a unique voice with a real story behind it. This small-batch wine was like a tune that you keep on a side of your mind because it is beautiful and was shared in good company...
I'll begin with the wines that we tasted at the Caves Augé tasting last june, a great tasting as usual.
__ Brin de Chèvre 2006. Menu Pineau. White variety close from Chenin. What a nose ! Spices, maybe balsamic notes.
__ Frileuse, Table Wine (2006 Sauvignon Rose, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Nice richness in the mouth. Really nice feel, a pleasure on the palate.
__ Le Petit Buisson 2006. Sauvignon base wine. This is a Touraine Appellation wine when it gets the agreement. Residual sugar. A good thing thierry says because the 2006 wines are high in alcohol.
The reds now :
__ Cheverny La Gravotte 2007. Mostly Pinot Noir. Just bottled (10 days ago - at the time of the tasting). Nose : what a nose (again) ! Beautiful balance and pleasure.
__ Touraine Pinot Noir 2007. Purchased grapes. No additional notes, I was busy chatting...
__ Le Rouge Est Mis, Vin de Pays de l'Orléanais. Menu Pinot micro-cuvée. Nose : peppery. Nice vivid color. Something particular comes out of this wine, or is it the magic of the previous wines that I just tasted ? I drink and I don't spit, I know I should'nt... This is the wine made out these collection of isolated rows belonging to farmers or old people in the vicinity of Orléans.
__ La Tésnière Touraine 2007. Pineau d'Aunis. 60 ares of surface only (0,6 hectare). Purchased grapes (he's been buying them since 1999)-.Peppery nose. Good tannicity. Pineau d'Aunis is some sort of red version of Chenin, Thierry says, with an angular side as a plus.
__ La Gravotte, Table Wine (2006). Pinot Noir. Beautiful Pinot Noir... Begin to feel good...
I'll post here soon the notes about the wines that we tasted at the Clos du Tue Boeuf, and will add a few prices that I omitted to note.
Read the beautiful tasting report of Brooklynguy about the Puzelat wines.
Thierry Puzelat's wines, the ones he makes with his brother Jean-Marie along with his Negoce (purchased grapes) wines, are exported to several European countries (like to UK, to Caves de Pyrene in London - Thanks to Jamie for pointing it), the US (Dressner Selections) and Japan (Racines).
A few prices (tax included) at the estate:
Vin de Pays Clos du Tue Boeuf Chardonnay 2007 : 9,5 Euro.
Vin de Pays Clos du Tue Boeuf Pinot Gris 2007, 11,3 Euro.
Touraine Sauvignon 2007, 6,4 Euro.
Touraine "Brin de Chèvre", Menu Pineau (Vieilles Vignes) 2007, 7,6 Euro.
Touraine "le Buisson Pouilleux" 2007, 10% Sauvignon Vieilles Vignes, 9,7 Euro.
Cheverny white, Clos du Tue Boeuf "Frileuse" 2007, 7,6 Euro.
Cheverny red, Clos du Tue Boeuf 2007, 6,3 Euro.
Cheverny red, Clos du tue Boeuf "Rouillon" 2007, 7 Euro.
Cheverny red, Clos du Tue Boeuf, "la Caillère" 2007, 9,7 Euro.
Cheverny red, Clos du Tue Boeuf "la Gravotte" 2007, 9,7 Euro.
Touraine Gamay 2007, 6 euro.
Touraine red "la Guerrerie" 2007 (Cot-Gamay), 8,7 Euro.
Plus several other highly interesting Negoce cuvées that I'll ask the prices of.