The Coteaux du Loir region, which is France's northernmost Appellation area with neighboring Jasnières and Vendomois, is interesting for several reasons : First, it's largely under the radar of the international (and even national to some extent) markets, which makes them very affordable in spite of their quality. The other reason is that you find here two prized varieties, the Chenin Blanc and the Pineau d'Aunis, the latter having become quite rare as the Appellation system in the Loire at large favored what it deemed as more commercially-pertinent varieties. Before the Phyloxera, say, in the early 19th century, viticulture was very extended in the region, but as it happened elsewhere, the phyloxera and the railways turned this once-vibrant wine region into a sleepy one.
When Christian Chaussard settled here, he was looking for Chenin, but he learnt to love Pineau D'Aunis as well. Domaine Le Briseau, Christian & Nathalie Chaussard's estate, was founded less than 10 years ago, in 2002. With a previous experience in the Vouvray region, Christian Chaussard looked for available vineyards in different places and possibly with planted Chenin because he got addicted to working with this variety in the Vouvray area. He settled his choice on a few relatively old vineyards on this plateau near the Loir river. For beginners, the Loir river is a much smaller river than the mighty Loire, and it flows into the Sarthe river further, north of Angers.
[pic on right : the church at Marçon, with the monument to the sons of the village fallen during WWI]
The triggering factor in their choice was the Chenin vineyards that they found here. During his years in the Vouvray region, he had learnt to love this variety and here was this opportunity near Marçon, they decided that this was it. They settled first in Les Nérons (picture on left), a lieu dit a couple of kilometers uphill from the village, with a two-centuries old deep tuff cellar (part of these cellars date from the 18th century, says Christian) .
A few years back, Christian Chaussard and Nathalie Gaubicher created a négoce activity, Nanas, Vins & Compagnie, vinifying purchased grapes of selected plots from vignerons of the region. In some cases, they buy grapes from faraway growers in the south of France, have the raw material shipped here refrigerated and vinify it under the négoce label. While they take care to buy from growers who follow as much as possible reasonable farming practices, the négoce wines aren not certified. By comparison, the whole estate of Le Briseau is certified organic (Qualité France). Nanas, Vins & Cie remains a very small négoce in terms of volume, Christian says, and wether they vinify here or at the contracted-vigneron's facility, they respect the same additives-free and real-wine philosophy. Originally, they created this business a few years ago when climate accidents dwarfed their grape volume on consecutive years. To stay afloat, they needed to still make wine with purchased grapes, so they set up this négoce venture.
Like you may see on this picture, these old goblet-trained vines had been grown further up vertically so that to allow machine harvesting, and Christian had to let the vine-shoots go further up from the thick wood to get the right foliage surface and a balanced maturity. There's no combine used there now of course, everything is hand picked.
The earth/soil is visibly alive again, although I didn't see how it looked with the former grower (but I imagine easily the hard, arid and moss-covered surface that you see so commonly in the chemicals-saturated vineyards.
Prior to that, for the red grapes (including the Pineau d'Aunis) there has been a maceration stage in the white plastic vats in the next cellar tunnel (see one of the pictures above) : The whole clusters are poured from boxes into these moderately-sized vats, and all along this filling of the vats, two people will stand atop of the grapes in the vat, stomping them with the bare feet to have a sizeable liquid volume for this maceration stage. He doesn't make a carbonic maceration even though he may try one this year. And when the filling is completed, some CO2 is poured at the surface until fermentation begins by itself, and after then regular punching of the cap is done all along the maceration stage. Depending of what they want to obtain, depending of the red variety or the vineyard plot, this maceration may last 4 weeks. It's always whole-clustered grapes, except once in 2008 because the stems were'nt ripe and he didn't want to take the risk to keep them.
Now the bottle filler above has its own incredible story : As were were leaving the main room of the modern facility on the plateau, I spotted this strange machine behind a plastic vat and, recognizing a bottle filler (if with a strange shape), I asked if that's the way they filled their bottles. He answer no, they use a service company for the fillings, but he recounted to me the incredible history of this nice red tool :
One day Christian was chatting with Agnès Foillard somewhere in France, saying that he was looking for a simple bottle filler for their small bottlings, and she told him that she was pretty sure they had one such filler in their attic, that they didn't use anymore. Weeks later, he met Jean Foillard who handed him this bright-red filler which still worked perfectly in spite of its age (I would say it probably dates from the late 1940s'), and the best of this story is that this very bottle filler was owned previously by Jules Chauvet, a man who was the initiator of the sulfur-free wines in the Beaujolais and started unknowingly the natural-wine movement... Hadn't I asked about it and moved the (extremely heavy) metal filler for a picture, I would have just passed that gem of a filler....
__ Le Briseau 2009 (white). Chenin. Bottled very recently (with just 0,5 gram SO2 one day before bottling) after a light clay filtration. Powerful wine, with a neat mouth. Very nice.
In 2010, they had a tough season with the Chenin, there has been lots of rotten grapes and they had to knife-open each cluste to select the healthy grapes, the final yield being only about 5 hectoliter/hectare. They will make a single cuvée with what they picked in 2010.
__ Mortier 2009. 100 % Pineau d'Aunis. I'm surprised by the dark color, I'm accustomed to see light-colored, translucid Pineau d'Aunis. Aromas of cherry kernel, also ink I would say. Bottled a week ago. No SO2 at any stage. On the nose, some peppery notes. Good tannicity in the mouth, with also this ink feel. Very nice minerality here. Christian says that he filters his wines, albeit very moderately, with light clay. What he wants is avoid returns from the shops or restaurants because of excessive deposits in the bottle. Christian told me earlier as we were driving to the vineyards that this variety was looked upon as a minor variety and vinified like a rosé wine, but with this maceration that they do at Le Briseau, they make very different wines, more concentrated and with a structure. Not really made for immediate consumption but with lots of pleasure after they reach their time. Eric Nicolas was the pioneer in the region who began working this way with Pineau d'Aunis.
__ Mortier 2008. Very nice indeed, the tannins are toned down here and there's a real harmnony in the mouth, with substance and length. But Christian says that he thinks that the 2009 is much over this one, it's just a bit early to taste it. I think he's right, he knows how his wine evolve and mature, and the 2009 will certainly be a great drink in one or two years from now.
Here is an interesting page (in English) with extensive information on the Loir region (Coteaux du Vendomois, Coteaux du Loir, Jasnières)
The single-lane bridge, which may date from the early 20th century or late 19th, is also a cute piece of architecture, ideal to drop a fishing line and forget everything else.
If you follow the winding river to the upper right, you'll arrive soon after in the small town of La Chartre sur Loir, the major community in the Coteaux du Loir.