Ampelidae is a relatively recent winery which is atypical in many regards. Let's look at the Haut Poitou first : this is a sub-region of the Loire, it lies on the southern flank of the Appellation (the dark-green patch on this interactive Loire map), it doesn't have its own AOC and it was instead labelled until recently as a Loire VDQS (the last step before the AOC). From a 30 000-hectare-peak around 1865, the vineyard surface of the region fell to around 700 or 800 hectares today, spread on 40 villages. The heavy weight of the region is the Cave du Haut Poitou, the local coop to which 280 growers (520 hectares) sell their grapes, and which is under the management of Georges Duboeuf since 1994 (as I understand).
Another player who has been growing in importance in the Haut Poitou is Frédéric Brochet : a native of the region, his winery grew from a mere 1,5 hectare to 75 hectares, and with a production spilt in three"brands" : Ampelidae, the upper cuvées, Marigny Neuf, the mainstream but constant-quality series, and Brochet, 3 cuvées meant to express the particular character of Sauvignon through particular batches. More than half of of the vineyard surface is planted with Sauvignon, including the rare Fié Gris which is a variant of Sauvignon.
Frédéric Brochet has family roots in this village, his father had retained a tiny surface of vineyard along with other family properties at la Mailletterie near Marigny-Brizay (picture of the village's church on left). Since his grand parents' time, the land including the vineyard was rented to a farmer (fermage) who in return gave them part of the harvested grapes. Frédéric's grand parents, who had a café in Poitiers, sold the wine from these two casks in their café, it was more for fun and tradition than a real business then. Frédéric Brochet was raised in this twice-yearly tradition in the improvised facility near the Mailleterie mansion : at the harvest they would all meet there, and same at easter, the family would gather there again for the bottling of the two casks and have lunch together...
As Jamie Goode notes in his Ampelidae report, Frédéric Brochet didn't take the winery trail immediately, and his early years, if connected with wine, were more on the scientific study and writing side of the trade.
[This Ampiledae visit was set up without notice because of my unplanned presence near there and Frédéric Brochet was alas not present at that time. This text is the result of a telephone interview]
Later in 1987, he bought Connaissance et Travail du Vin by Emile Peynaud, which is noticeable for a 15-year old. In 1989 was another turning point : he met the leading enologist Jacques Puisais, who advised him to make a prepa, then Agro and a specialization in Montpellier In 1990, between his Baccalauréat and his prépa, his father let him conduct the vinification of the family wines. He was not yet 18. He bought 2 new Seguin-Moreau casks and vinified there part of the family grapes, which had been destemmed that year (which they didn't use to do). 1990 was a very good vintage. He wrote the first fermentation data on a sheet, following the evolution from the juice to the wine. This all took place at la Mailleterie where his father was born, the small chateau (sold since) had beautiful outbuildings and underground cellars for this job.
[The cellar pictures on both sides were shot at the manoir Lavauguyot (the winery headquarters), but are of the same nature as the ones at la Mailleterie]
Whatever, he had brought a bottle of his family wine in Australia in 1993 and people there were genuinely interested in this wine and asked why he didn't engage more in this field. With his visit at the huge Penfolds facility near Adelaide in mind, he came back in France with the determination to try something big, qualitative and never tempted before in the Haut Poitou. This trip was an eye-opening experience which gave him confidence to materialize his project. Frédéric Brochet created his winery in october 1995 with a small starting sum, producing a mere 15-hectoliter volume of wine for that vintage, mostly from grapes that he bought to vignerons here and there who otherwise sold the rest of their grapes to the coop. During these years, he says, it was very easy to find some grapes, 1992 for example was the most productive year ever, and grapes were dumped in ditches or put to ferment in any available container, even when not suited for that. In 1995, he bought two Lejeune stainless-steel vats, a 15-hectoliter and a 18-hectoliter, Lejeune being the best-quality make around. Ampelidar was born. From then on, he kept growing, buying the Domaine de Lavauguyot in 1996, a 35-hectare property which had 8 hectares of planted vineyards (now 15).
Frédéric Brochet had started with making a couple of casks of some sort of garage wine, and along with the increasing surface of vineyards that he vinified, he created several brand-like wine lines : after the Ampelidae wines which remained the most advanced cuvées made from the oldest vines, he created two groups of wines, say brands, which are also part of Ampelidae (the estate) : Marigny-Neuf and Brochet, which acoount (especially the former) for the biggest volume at the winery.
Asked about the additives during the vinification, a use which is widespread around the world and mostly unknown by the consumer, Frédéric Brochet says that he never used the usual vinification additives, adding that he doesn't know exactly why he felt this defiance very early against these corrective substances. He says that it may be that he never found a wine made through these techniques as being an interesting wine : he also tasted the iconic wines of say, Burgundy or Bordeaux which are known for being made without additives [other than a bit of SO2], and he tasted other wines which he happened to know were made with adjustment additives and this was obvious to him : while the former were great, the latter were like a woman with a heavy makeup...
There's only the question of added yeasts where he makes an exception to this no-additives rule : Frédéric Brochet says that Sauvignon fares very well with a type of lab yeast that he selected and for this variety he does add external yeasts because he likes the result in the wines. While in Bordeaux, he worked with Dubourdieu on a program studying yeast selections which yielded an interesting result : two of the studied yeast strains had the particularity to produce a beautiful reproductible style in his Sauvignons. So, for the Sauvignon wines here, he uses two yeasts strain selected by Isabelle Masneuf-Pomarède (a Bordeaux researcher who co-authored this book) and he is very happy of the result. He says that Sauvignon gets its best expression with the right yeasts. For the other varieties, he lets the indigenous yeasts do their job. He regrets that selected yeasts have a bad press, adding that among the very different types of wild yeasts competing in the juice, one only will take over at the end anyway.
About the SO2 use, he says that a Sauvignon vinified without any SO2 doesnt taste like Sauvignon, and he prefers his Sauvignon to taste like Sauvignon rather than like Ugni Blanc. A Sauvignon with 40 mg of total SO2 yields beautiful results.
For the rest, he disregards the use of additives, and he he had to make a list of the worst additives used elsewhere routinely, they are Tartric acid, sugar, arabic gum and meta-tartric acid. Speaking of arabic gum, he says that to his knowledge 75 % of French wines got this additive. While a natural product in its origin, when you begin to use this type of product, your wines looses its terroir expression. On the yeast front, there's a debate, he says, but on the scale of his estate, he can't take the risk to loose 300 or 400 hectoliters of Sauvignon.
Asked about the eventual acidity deficit in 2009 that some winemakers "correct" through re-acidification, he says that if they didn't get enough acidity it's because they didn't do the right job in the vineyard. Now, he also has the advantage of a large vineyard with different plots : if he did harvest some grapes with very high ph in 2009 or in 2003, but thanks to the blending with the rest which was correct, he had very correct wines in that regard without resorting to re-acidification.
About the Appellation question and the INAO, he says that the full responsability of a lagging-behind wine region doesn't lie on the INAO or other regulatory body, but it lies on the vignerons of the regions who didn't take on themselves to move forward and ameliorate their wines. He says that the Appellations which go up are the ones where the vignerons are very active in the quality-improvement progress, both in the vineyard and in the chai. He adds that if the right move had been done in the region, the Haut-Poitou wines would have jumped from the lesser-qualitative VDQS label to their own AOC Appellation since the 1980s' like other qualitative regions did at that time, Corbières for example. The reason Haut-Poitou didn't follow this path is that no firm direction and regional style of wine was chosen, everyone keeping making many different wines, from rosés to sparkling, plus still reds and whites from many mainstream varieties. Whith the new Appellation system, the VDQS (vin de qualité supérieure) has disppeared and will be replaced with another labelling : the AOP [the new incarnation of AOC] in a first move, and later in IGP [the new incarnation of Vins de Pays]for the wines that don't fit the Appelation. But he adds that anyway, at Ampelidae, he resolutely decided long ago to make wine out of the Appellation system, his wines being still recently (under the now-defunct Appellaion system) labbelled Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France. He decided not to try the higher status label in Poitou because he didn't feel a share will around for serious quality and progress. He tries to highlight the roots of his wines, that is the fact that they come from the Loire region, and from Haut-Poitou precisely. Also, the grape variety is clearly indicated on the bottles, as well as the vintage, and his customers have learned to appreciate Ampelidae's wines (including the three brands : Ampelidae, Marigny Neuf and Brochet) and became loyal. The other thing is that among his many vineyards, some would be entitled to go under the Appellation's umbrella while other vineyards wouldn't because of their location, which would make the management of the thing very complicated for him. That's another reason why he prefers to stay out. The weird thing is that the soil studies prove that there are very good and not-so-good terroirs on both the validated locations and the not-validated locations, so he considers this double standard not pertinent.
Then, Frédéric Brochet says that he gives plenty of informations on the labels to explain what they do at Ampelidae and how their wines are made. He adds that in the trade there's a tendency to keep informations under the lid, especially in the conventional winemaking, and he considers this lack of transparency in the grape-growing and the winemaking practices as unhealthy.
Asked if he felt rejected by his peers in the Haut-Poitou region for making briskly and succesfully his own way out of the local Appellation, Frédéric Brochet says that he has not particular problem with anyone around. Of course, he adds, when you grow from an initial half-hectare, making 3000 bottles as a student first job, to heading the largest estate of the region 15 years later, with also the most expensive wines of the region [the Ampelidae brand], you don't always reap only admiration. But he feels that beyond the initial surprise, he begins to be aknowledged as a local vigneron (he insists on the fact that he is a Poitou native with deep roots, not a newcomer) who did a lot for his region.
__the Turonian soils with deep-entranched limestones, which are related with the soils of Saumur-Champigny or Sancerre (the Sauvignon is very nice on those soils, same for Pinot Noir & Cabernet Franc), this Turonian soil being very obvious on the lower slopes.
__At the top of the hills, it's another type of soil, with Cenomanian clay deposits on the topsoil, these clays being super-compact which is interesting, and limestone laying underneath. This soil is also very good to grow Sauvignon, as well as to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
__The third type of soil is blown sand which came here during the last ice age, it is intermingled with flint stone (silex) and the whole thing is laying atop the clays. This is another ideal soil for Sauvignon. He says that while the reds require some hydric stress, the whites need a moderate water stress, and this clay helps retain the water ans smoothen the stress.
The plowing and tilling is very important at Ampelidae, each season is a challenge to handle this large surface, and doing things at the right time is crucial. Several people work in the vineyards year around at Ampelidae, the estate having a total staff of slightly more than 10 people (including the acountin and secretary jobs). But he adds that there is a quasi-mathematical relation between a relentless work of the soil, the related improvement of its life on one side, and the expression of the soil's identity in the wines.
Speaking about the yields, he likes to say a sentence uttered by Michel Roland in mondovino : he sais something like the best recipe is no recipe at all... He adapts and changes his growing and management practices along the years. For example, to grow the Marigny's Sauvignons, he says that it's not a problem if the yields go up to 60 or 70 hectoliters/hectare on young, well-tended vines. But that thinking would be wrong on Pinot Noir, definitely. Pinot needs a maximum of 40 ho/ha. He thinks that there's a balance to find, including on the foliage height and the pruning, and they've been changing things on this regard with pretty good results.
First, in the Ampelidae cuvées (and some Brochet wines), he doesn't use the press juice. Another important thing is that in general, he doesn't rack the must much on the grands vins, the whites, that is. The upper cuvées are stored in smaller vats for a longer time, and are more stirred, among important differences. The other difference is of course the origin of the grapes, the age of the vines and the soils, the terroirs.
Brochet is a different concept, it's a decision that he makes for such or such batch, not to blend it with the rest but to make a separate wine of it because there's an interesting feel when tasted. So every year brings different Brochet wines. The 3 Brochet cuvées are not directly linked to such or such terroirs, but they express different and interesting particularities of Sauvignon.
Frédéric Brochet explains how the upper-cuvées wines need a long time in the winery's cellar before expressing themselves, when the younger-vines wines like Marigny Neuf are very quickly enjoyable and pleasnt. But when at last he bottles these Ampelidae, then they show off their minerality and their superior nature. The challenge for these Ampelidae wines is to convince the buyers to spend a price that they accept to pay for a Sancerre but may be reluctant to for a Poitou wine.
I tasted several wines in the tasting room of the Manoir de Lavauguyot.
__First, some of the Marigny-Neuf wines which are neat, enjoyable wines. The Marigny wines are the ones which are exported in the US as I understand. The Pinot Noir 2009 is a pleasant wine with fruit and a nose of ripe cherry, and a frank mouth. It's not often that you find a valuable Pinot Noir in the Loire, I feel. I also liked the Fié Gris (Brochet series) 2008 and its honeyish mouth with wheat notes. It's a more expensive wine compared to tha Marigny-Neuf series, at about 11 €.
__The Ampelidae cuvées are obviously a few notches above the rest. The Ampelidae "S" (for Sauvignon) 2005 is very refined. There's a light woody feel, a ripe-grapes aroma with a cooked-fruits side. Richness, beautiful feel down the throat. They use few new casks at Ampelidae (5 %), the rest being 2 or 3 years old.
__The Ampelidae PN 1328 (Pinot Noir), vintage 2008 was another nice wine. This is the jewel of the estate, a low-volume wine. Nose with blueberry and sof spices. Woody feel too. On the second mouth, the wood feels well integrated. this is still a young wine, this cuvée is tailored to age much more.
__I also liked particularly the Ampelidae "K" (for Cabernet) 2005. There's a bit more Cabernet Sauvignon here (compared with Cabernet Franc). Nice underwoods nose, mushrooms. Very ripe fruits, wood is well integrated. 14 °. Blind, it would pass for a Bordeaux.
Ampelidae, Marigny Neuf & Brochet wines are sold to restaurants (Ledoyen, Alain Passard, Rebuchon), cavistes (Caves de Clichy, Chai 33, Fauchon) , and also to the French organic food chain Biocoop.
Exports make 40 % of the sales : US (Petit Pois Corp, Moore Brothers), Japan (Vinorum), Germany (Peter Riegel Weinimport), Singapore, Sweden, Holland (Pallas Wines), Belgium (Bleuze Wines and Jacques Thienpont who is also _owner of Le Pin), Canada (SAQ, LCBO) among other countries.
At one point on this video, I come across two friendly (and starved) sheeps who haven't any grass left to eat. One of them almost rips my hand...
These troglodytic or semi-troglodytic houses are often quite cheap to purchase, as you can see on this semi-trogolodytic real-estate page. There's even one that is for sale at a mere 13 000 € here (actually, it's more a cave/cellar than a house), there's also this one with a good potential but a bit pricey at 43 000 €. With the modern materials and building techniques, you can have today pretty suitable living conditions in homes which were originally reserved to the poor.
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