Jacky Blot's Cabernet-Franc wines from his Domaine de la Butte in Bourgueil are among the best-valued reds of the Loire valley. Bourgueil is of course Cabernet-Franc country, and the region seems to suit this variety very well. With the mild weather and when possible the right terroir, it turns into very beautiful wines that can compete with the two more prestigious regions that are Burgundy and Bordeaux. Somehow Jacky Blot succeeded in keeping reasonable wine prices in spite of a vineyard farming which is conducted quite as meticulously as the one of Grands Crus of Bordeaux or Burgundy. Back in 2004 when we visited Jacky Blot, we only saw shortly the Domaine de la Taille aux Loups in Montlouis where the whites are made, the two estates (la Taille aux Loups & Domaine de la Butte) being about 70 kilometers apart from each other. As I wrote in this 2004 visit report, Jacky Blot was initially in the wine trade, he was a wine broker in Tours. He decided at sme point to make wine himself and bought 8 hectares of old vineyards in Montlouis, a Loire Appellation which was at the time (some 22 years ago) shadowed by the better-known Vouvray. His low yields, short pruning and minimal-amount of sulphur at the fermentation changed the reputation of the Montlouis wines for the best and he can be credited for giving this white-wine Appellation a much higher status.
The Domaine de la Butte is (on the picture above) the group of vineyards around and above the house in the far, at the end of this bucolic road passing along this generous cherry tree. It's maybe only a couple of kilometers from the first houses of Bourgueil but once there it looks like being very remote.
They purchased the estate in time for the havest of 2002. In terms of vineyard surface, they didn't change it, it's still 15 hectares of reds today. Most vines are old, but what made this estate great was the quality of its terroir : 15 hectares in one block on a unique situation : on slopes with probably the best undersoil. He says that nobody around has the chance to have such a cumulative situation. If there are some vineyard on slopes in Bourgueil (60%), in Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil (this later Appellation starts very close from Domaine de la Butte) most vineyards are in the plain and only 10% on slopes. The general public doesn't know these difference but the keen wine amateur knows that the great terroirs are on Bourgueil, that's also where good vignerons are, the ones in the St-Nicolas de Bourgueil area being more of the mass-bottler style selling to the supermarkets.
We walk up the dirt path behind the old house and winery toward the upper slopes. From up there we can see far away, Restigné on the left, and the Loire valley with Chinon and its Nuclear power plant of which we spot the fumes. We're on the right bank of the Loire, and the valley is wide, we can't really see the river.
Asked about the good quality/value ratio of his wines, something that took my attention long time ago and that Eric Asimov also noticed in his recent piece about Wine bargains of the Loire [a 16 $ bottle from La Butte was rated 1st by the NY Times panel on a list of 10 Loire reds], Jacky Blot says that in spite of a rigorous work in the vineyard comparable to what is done in the best Crus of Burgundy or Bordeaux, he feels like a man of the Loire, a region where vignerons keep a lower profile and don't live a flashy and glitzy life, and that's how he can keep his wines affordable in regard of the quality. He says that if you consider the real cost price for him of a bottle of wine, it's basically very close from the Grands Chateaux of Bordeaux, but here, there's no flashy real estate and way of life to entertain, no helicopters and the likes, and it makes a difference.
I notice several missing vines, there's some esca loss here and there. He replants with massal selections (picture on right), not their own (they do their own in Montlouis for the Chenin) but they are made by someone in the Appellation who has been doing a very good job in that regard. It allowed him to spare time and begin replant quicker (it take a few years to make the right selection before the final result and the replantings).
The vineyard of Domaine de la Butte is farmed without pesticides and insecticides, including the organic ones that Jacky Blot considers as also endangering the insect balance. He prefers the pheromons. Three workers work on the vineyard side year around, for the pruning, the plowing and so on. The early care of the vine is very important, to make the right pruning and de-budding because he considers the adjustment with green harvest wrong : the vine had worked for nothing and what went (the sap and energy) into these prematurely-picked grapes is lost. We chat a few minutes with 2 workers who work on mi-pente. Right now, this is the season of three tasks : ebassillage, ébourgeonage (debudding) and épamprage (taking off the leaves growing on the foot). The density is 5000 vines hectares here. He says that it's not bad for this Appellation, it's well sized for their type of tractors and tools. For their whites they have a 6600 vines/hectare density. Here on their reds they still have low yields like 30 hectoliter/hectares in general.
They have some large animals like roe deers and wild boars coming here at times and eating the grapes. Jacky Blot didn't put an electrified wire around the vineyard, but a simple red-and-white tape and it works more or less to limit the damage. One thing they noticed once, it is that wild boars came to their Perrières plot (second picture above, behind the white van) and played with the earth and mud like they like to, but they didn't touch the vineyard on the left which is conventionally farmed (you can see on the picture by the color that the vineyard and its ground are very different) because the ground is dead and stone hard. We walk to Les Perrières, it's very different from the other plots, no stones, clayish soil. The vineyards are maybe 40 years old or more.
At the end of the long chai with the vats on both sides, you arrive above the casks cellar which is composed of several communicating rooms. You must walk down steep cement stairs to reach the bottom level. Everything goes by gravity here, and the cask room being way below the vats, the wine flows easily from the chai to the cask cellar (see also last pic on bottom-left). The first casks down there are the 2009, the Haut de la Butte and the Mi Pente. The Pied de la Butte is already bottled and its élevage was made in stainless-steel vats (the ones you see in one of the pictures above).
Reaching the chai by gravity through the rock, the grapes go straight into the vats for the fermentation, the cement vats being for the lower-end cuvée and the Grenier wooden vats being for the upper cuvées.
__ Domaine de la Butte, Haut de la Butte 2009 (still in cask). Beautiful fruit on the nose. Cherry notes, a bit perly. Jacky Blot says that when it's ripe, its often on the cherry notes. They almost add no SO2, just a bit at the very beginning in the vat (2 grams), then only at bottling. After then, when the wine gets into the casks, there's a racking from time to time, the thickest part of the lees being removed. The mouth has a nice chew with lots of fruit.
__ Domaine de la Butte, Haut de la Butte 2009, other cask. I feel something more intense and complex on the nose. He hints that this particular cask is new, contrary to the previous (there are not many new casks in this cuvée). The nose was not woody, but the mouth has some wood notes indeed. It will be anyway be blended with the other casks, most of which are several wines old. There isn't much new wood in the haut de la butte, and the overall proportion of new casks in this cellar (the rest being Mi-Pente and Perrières) is 25%. The haut de la Butte stays one year in casks roughly, it's racked just before the harvest to make some room for the next wines. He says that they felt an important improvement in the quality of this cuvée since 2 or 3 years, which he credits to the fact that the vineyard's organic farming ended up its thorough transformation of the plants. He says that to get rid of the conventional-farming after-effects, it takes usually about 10 years to go round the corner, even if after already 5 years the first obvious results appear.
__ Domaine de la Butte Perrières 2009, other cask (new cask). Darker color, it seems to me. Very beautiful nose, intense, notes of very ripe fruits. On Perrières the proportion is roughly 25% new, one half one-year old and 25% two-year old. As said, on the whole of this cellar, he buys 30 new casks every year, so he spreads them among the three cuvées which are aged in wood, a tiny number of new casks going to the Haut de la Butte (sometimes just to soften away the new-wood feel of certain casks so that the casks can be fit for the other cuvées the following years) and the rest for the two upper cuvées.
__ Domaine de la Butte Mi Pente 2009. Cask made with oak from Allier forest. Very nice legs on the glass. He has about 50 casks for the Mi Pente in 2009. Very beautiful wine, concentrated and oddly no noticeable woody side in spite of the new oak, for me at least. There's some astringency on the side of the mouth with the tannins, this wine is really in its infancy. He says that the discretion of the wood is the priviledge of this climat which can handle new oak without translating in a woody mouth. Technical detail : the grapes are destemmed in the Domaine de la Butte. The mi-Pente for example has its fermentation done in the Grenier open wooden vats for 10 to 15 days, then after it has another 15 days of maceration, making a total of a month in these vats. They usually don't regulate the temperature in these vats but keep the option if necessary. On the filtration/fining front, thre isn't any for these reds, except the Bas de la Butte. Now, he says that he is thinking about a possible change in that regard. The 2005 wines for example got a lot of deposits in the bottle, like several times more than, say, 2002. If the bottled is badly handled by a sommelier in a restaurant it may affect the enjoyment and the taste of the wine. So he is keeping options open on a possible light filtration )or maybe rather a light fining) in the future.
__ domaine de la Butte, Mi Pente 2009, other new cask, oak from the Tronçais forest. Obviously different mouth here, that I feel as expressing more freshness. All the casks will be blended at the end of course, but that was interesting to feel how two different quality of oaks (both being in the upper range though) make a difference. If I try to choose the one I prefer between the two, that would be the latter, but again, these wines are still at a very early stage and not ready for the consumer table. It will be bottled in a year from now. He says that it will be ideal to drink it in about 5 or 7 years, but regarding the quality of the tannins which are soft and ripe, it will be also great to drink earlier. This upper cuvée will be sold at 18 € public price at the winery which I think is a great value indeed.
A few days after this visit we had a dinner in Paris where we brought a bottle of Mi Pente 2002 that B. had bought during our 2004 visit. This was indeed a great pleasure, the wine was complex, smooth, suave and deep. Other people in our party who weren't particularly expert in wine noticed that this wine was outstanding. there was a bit of deposit in the last glass but it didn't affect the wine as far as I felt it.
The main export market is the UK. Asked if the financial meltdown had an impact on his sales, especially in the UK, he says that he didn't experience a downfall during this crisis, adding that since the beginning of 2010 the orders to the UK were 6 times higher compared to the same time last year. He thinks that the crisis was oddly a reward for his export sales because the consumer found extremely-good values in his Chenins from la Taille aux Loups or his Cabernet Francs from la Butte. A sommelier in London told him that for example a Remus (which cost 12 € public price at the winery) costs 60 € over there in a restaurant and is much better positionned than a Premier Cru of Puligny or Chassagne-Montrachet which are billed 120 or 150 €. Same for his Mi-Pente which is billed some 60 € in a London restaurant.
The wines are sold at the estate and to the caviste and restaurants (upper-tier restaurants). 20 % of the wines are exported.
Uk : Justerini & Brooks, Fields, Morris & Verdin.
United States : Adventures in Wine (CA), VOS Selections (NY), Vin de Garde Wines (OR), Country Vintner.
Canada : SAQ and LCBO.
Japan : Le Petit Tonneau Wine.
Belgium : Vine Devos NV, Terre & Vin.
Holland : Vinities BV, Wijnimport Van Broekhuizen, Noordman Wijnimport.
Switzerland : La Couleur du Vin, Caveau de Bacchus (Genève).