Oisly is a quiet village located in the Sologne, roughly at mid distance between Cheverny and Saint Aignan (see the mairie-école on the left and the church with its maison de curé on the right). The Coop of Oisly, named Confrérie des Vignerons de Oisly & Thésée is one of the many French coopératives that stand out of the flock. Don't be put off by its outside appearance, the coop of Oisly (let's call it this way) has been doing a good work along the years and was home to several of the region's artisan vignerons like for example Joël Courtault and Michel Augé. It was created in 1961 from two estates only (one from Oisly, one from Thésée), and as a shared commercialization tool only at the very beginning. It morthed rapidly into a full-blown coop with winemaking facility and bottling line as well as distribution network, gathering 55 participating estates at its peak in the 1990s' (with a surface of 550 hectares). From the start, the coop sold wine in bottles, and this, to individual buyers, cafés and restaurants, with many clients in the Paris area too. Since then, the surface and number of vignerons dwindled to 250 hectares (vines being aged 25 years on average today) and 21 participating vignerons, for reasons like young heirs taking over their parents' estates after enology studies and deciding to bottle their wines and market them themselves.
From the start, the Coop was very active on the Sauvignon production and on the sale in bottles, while in the early 1960s' most coops would still sell most of their wine in bulk.
Very quickly in the early years, the coop was used as a prime partner by the ITV (a French State research body -- Institut Technique de la Vigne) in Tours (now the IFV). The people of the ITV were looking at the time for a chai where they could conduct real-size trials on vinification, especially for the selection of adequate fermentation yeasts. Agnès Bardet says that the concern at the time was the unfinished fermentations, and the malolactic fermentation wasn't very well understood then. So the ITV technicians they came here regularly to work and make experiments, bringing their analysis tools and helping the coop master their fermentations. This was somewhere in the early 1970s', and most of the experiments were centered on the Sauvignon, at least in the beginning. Before the, the coop would use indigenous yeasts like many vignerons at that time. The Sauvignon yeasts developped by the ITV research lab were selections taken from these very indigenous yeasts and found on the grapes in the close area.
Compared to these 1970s' years, the type of Sauvignon wine that the people like to drink has changed, Agnès Bardet says, and the temperature setting along with the selected yeasts are central to adapt to the market trend. On the vineyard side, yields have dramatically fallen since these times, she says, the INAO Appellation rules heping giving directions in that regard. But anyway, one of the reasons that made this Oisly coop stand out already then is that it never paid the contributing vignerons on the degré-hecto measure, which basically encouraged growers to maximize their yields (and is widely used in the coops of the south of France). At the Oisly coop, growers were paid for the quality of their harvest. Some vignerons would vinify their wines in their own chai, and the coop enologist would drive there after then and decide if he would, or would not, buy the wine. For the others, the coop would buy the grapes and vinify them in the facility, but the rates weren't set by volumes.
Another important thing at this coop is that some terroirs or even some participating estates get their wines vinified and bottled under a separate cuvée, case by case depending of the quality. And these wines are being spotted blind in the international competitions : the Oisly-coop wines get regularly some recognition every year, but recently two of the single-estate Sauvignons of the coop got a gold medal at the Concours Mondial du Sauvignon 2010 in Bordeaux, where Sauvignons fromm all over the world competed. These wines, the Château de Vallagon and the Domaine de la Gitonnière in spite of being labelled under their respective estate names, are both Oisly coop wines. At 5,2 € only at the winery when I visited (the other wine was probably sold out and was not listed), the Vallangon Sauvignon is a also very good value for its price. I'm sipping a few glasses as I finish this story and it's quite an easy and pleasurable drink, a fresh wine, well balanced with some minerality and a light bitterness at the end. The vineyards are on clay-limestone soils (tuff, sometimes very close to the surface) along the Cher river near Montrichard. 12,5 ° in alcohol. They made 500 hectoliters of this wine, the whole of what Vallagon could offer because they have lots of demand for this wine. The owner of this estate is Philippe Potin, who is also the president of the coop.
Two of the contributing vignerons are from the nearby Cheverny area, so the coop also makes some Cheverny wines with their grapes.
In the coop system, the member-vigneron is paid monthly, starting for example from april 2011 for the 2010 vintage. With every vintage being paid fully between april and march of the following year, there's no discontinuity in the revenues, every vintage following each other. It's only on the first year when the vigneron joins the coop that he has to be financially able to wait for the following april that the money comes in.
Some of the coop wines are blends made with different wines while some of the wines are single vineyards, and maybe labelled as such under the owner's estate's name. Another interesting thing to note is that since 1995, the coop makes part of its wine from organicly-grown grapes : two of the members/vignerons, Joël Courtault and Alain Courtault farm organicly (conrolled by Ecocert), each managing his own separate vineyard, and their wines are bottled separately in the coop. These wines (three labels) made from organicly-farmed grapes are mostly exported by the way (90 %). Speaking of the rates at which they're paid for their grapes, they get 25% to 30% more than the conventional for a similar quality of harvest.
While they don't communicate on this low use of additives with the general public and consumers who could be unsettled by a topic that they don't suspect exist most of the times, the cavistes and proffessional buyers are well aware of their restrained use of additives. She says that additives (intrants in French) cost money and that the coop lowered its expenses on this category in the last 15 years.
The coop makes mostly Sauvignon (80 %), the rest being split between Gamay (the second biggest volume, 15 %, with 1500 hectoliters a year), Cabernet Franc, Pineau d'Aunis, Pinot Noir, Côt and Chardonnay. There used to be more Pineau d'Aunis in the area, she says, but alas much of it has been uprooted in the last 20 years, she says. 3 vignerons of the coop still grow Pineau d'Aunis for a total surface of 5 hectares : Jean-Max Pinard in Choussy, Patrice Abert in Thésée and Pierre Angier in Pouillé (on the other side of the Cher). They make rosé with it, not red, either in direct press or with a light maceration several hours in the press. There used to be some Chenin and Arbois but it almost disappeared.
Asked about her own curriculum, Agnès Bardet says that she was trained initially in the plant pathology field, where she learnt about the vine (she's not from a vineyard-growing region) and then she went to Bordeaux for a viticulture/enology degree, after which she worked in Limoux, then here at the Confrérie des Vignerons de Oisy et Thésée.
Here are a few public prices for the coop wines at the coop's shop :
__ Sauvignon Excellence 2007 4,5 €
__ Sauvignon Chateau de Vallagon 2009 5,2 €
__ Sauvignon Domaine du Grand Cerf 2009 4,4 €
__ Sauvignon Vallée des Rois 2009 4,25 €
__ Touraine Blanc Baronie d'Aignan 2004 3 €
__ Cheverny Blanc 2009 4,1 €
__ Pineau d'Aunis Gris [rosé] 2009 4,1 €
__ Gamay 2008 4 €
__ Pinot Noir 2008 4,1 €
__ Touraine Rouge [red] Chateau de Vallagon (Côt, Cabernet Franc, Gamay) 4,3 €
__ Côt Vallée des Rois 2008 4 €
__ Cheverny Rouge [red] 2008 4 €
__ L'Oiseau Rare Rosé Mousseux Brut [sparkling] 4,5 €
__ Crémant de Loire Baronnie d'Aignan Brut 2006 6,4 €
__ Sauvignon bib 10 liters : 30 € - 5 liters : 16,5 € (about the same price for rosé, Gamay and red blend bibs).
Apart from the Sauvignon Chateau de Vallagon, I tasted the Sauvignon Domaine du Grand Cerf 2009 of which they made 300 hectoliters, a nice fresh Sauvignon. I also tasted the Cheverny red which was rather disappointing. I liked the Pineau d'Aunis although it's a bit ripe and may lack acidity (this is the vintage 2009 I think) and sports 13 ° in alcohol, definitely different from many rosé wines, it has this light bitterness and peppery or spicy notes that can go well alone or with some food. They made 200 hectoliters of this Pineau d'Aunis only.
I have several more bottles to taste and I will add the notes later.
P.S. I liked very much the Vallée des Rois, Touraine Côt Malbec [as written on the label] 2008. Very nice drinkability and balance, with a pleasant structure and thin tannicity. Definitely worth hoping at the coop too. A great value at 4,3 €.