This is a beautiful story at the crossroads of British Columbia (Canada), Japan and Anjou in the Loire, which brought Kenji and Mai in this beautiful village of Anjou (As I didn't think to take pics in Rablay, here are nice shots from Google Street View) to grow vines and make wine on the most natural way.
Let's rewind to the beginning : Kenji who is from British Columbia on the Pacific side of Canada went to the B.C. University in Vancouver to study mechanical engineering, and he realized after a couple of internships that he didn't want to follow this path. Meanwile, he was beginning to enjoy wine thanks to a friend/wine writer named James, and was interested in writing about wine. There was not much to read about wine in Vancouver, and he began to read books and magazines, but ultimately he wanted to know better how wine was made, in order to write better about it. Plus, he wanted to travel back to Japan, where he hadn't been for a while (his mother is a third-generation Japanese Canadian), and he had this great opportunity to have an internship in a winery in Japan, so he grabbed the chance to fulfill these two apparently contradictory wishes. Although he didn't know it yet, he was already halfway to Anjou.
The pic above was shot in the first 1-hectare block that they purchased near Rablay, about 60-year-old Cab-Franc vines, which have been farmed organic before they took control of it.
The picture on left was shot right outside of Rablay, this is a very old fortified farm in the middle of the woods with a small bridge on a stream. Pic on right : vineyards on slopes near Rablay-sur-Layon (not their vineyards).
The picture above shows another vineyard of theirs, planted with Chenin, which was previously farmed conventionally (whth chemicals) and that they're carefully bringing back to life at both the surface and the undersoil. You can see all their different vineyards on this page, quite a nice range of mature vines on interesting climats, some of them still recovering from long-time neglect.
__ Mai et Kenji Hodgson, Chenin 2011, from a barrel. Nice color, a bit turbid, still fermenting but almost finished, Kenji says. The first vintage for the Chenin, as they only got the vineyard in 2011. Almost dry wine, will be finished in spring. But Kenji says that with Chenin has to wait more before being ready, at least until the harvest. He won't look for an appellation, the wine will be bottled as table wine (vin de France). The wine has no SO2 at any time yet. THere will probably be a bit of it at bottling. Kenji sent a few bottles to a Calgary wine shop, Richard Harvey's Metrovino, and he put a bit of it for the long trip, same for Japan where they'll ship some wine too (François Dumas, Le Vin Nature). For their first year they'll be careful for their export shippings. This cuvée has no name yet. May be bottled single or blended with Chenin from other vineyards.
__ Mai et Kenji Hodgson, Chenin, different vineyard. First press of old vines, maybe 80 or 90 years old, with very low yields. Clos de Vignou. Very nice nose, aromatic and inspiring. More complexity, minerality and length. 2 casks for 40 ares only. But they made a first sorting from this vineyard for a sparkling wine (pet' nat). Most has been reserved for Alberta and Japan already, they made only 600 bottles and it sells very easily. Japan in particumlar, Mai says, loves Pet' Nat sparklings. They've not set their price for the Chenin, but it should be more expensive than the reds.
__ Mai et Kenji Hodgson, Cabernet Franc. From the first vineyard we visited (second picture from top). A traditional vinification here, with a different wine in mind. Very nice substance, balanced wine, with gentle tannins.
__ Mai et Kenji Hodgson, Ô Galarneau, a Cabernet Franc from another vineyard with lighter, sandy/gravel soils, on a terroir named Les Rouliers, which is located near this nice old fortified farm pictured on the side above, and also near one of Benoit Courault vineyards, a young vigneron of the area (scroll to 7th picture on this story). Intense and aromatic nose. Name of the cuvée : Ô Galarneau, a Quebec word for sun. This Cabernet Franc should cost 8 € retail at the winery. Good value too.
__ Mai et Kenji Hodgson, Grolleau 2011. Dark wine with magenta ring, very aromatic. Already attractive. They will make 6 cuvées in all this year, two whites, a sparkling and the reds. They're trying to limit the number the cuvées and blend as much as possible. Tannins very easy on this Grolleau. They extracted through cap-punching (pigeage on the whole-clustered grapes during 10 days for a quick extraction and toward the end of the fermentation they stopped the punching, in a way to get the extraction of the best quality. This wine tastes good, it's hard to understand why the appellation keeps this variety out, may be because Grolleau was in the past a high-yield variety. This cuvée will cost 7 € retail at the winery.
Mai tells me about Cyril Le Moing who makes artisanal wine from super-low yields near Martigné Briand. He is known for his Grolleau wine which he vinifies in casks and she and Kenji love it.
__ Mai et Kenji Hodgson Cabernet Franc 2010, from a bottle opened 5 days ago. Made from the old vineyard we saw first, with many missing vines. Fruit, not oxydized at all. It was bottled last december, and they say it shows off already much better than right after bottling. THe wine got 2 grams of SO2 at bottling. They try to add as little as possible but they do it according to the Ph, and the Ph of the Cabernet was very high, so they prefered to protect a bit the wine. They're very interested in the sulfur-free thing, but they considered that for their first vintages they were going to be careful even if with only minimal doses. They need to be more comfortable before going full-blown SO2 free. They know friends who started with the will to be SO2-free from scratch and then veered to a classical vinification with sulfur addings because they made mistakes, and Mai & Kenji don't want to do the same.
__ Mai et Kenji Hodgson, Grolleau Noir 2010 (La Grande Pièce - bottle) got 1,5 gram per hectoliter. What a nose, cooked cherries, clafoutis. A bit of caramel or English candy at the end. They have one cask only of it. There are only 40 bottles left of this wine. Costs 7 €. In 2010, because the vineyard was in such a bad shape (it was almost abandonned before), they pruned very short to invigorate the vines which turned into very low yields. That the same overall on their vineyard and in 2010 they produced roughly 1500 bottles when this year they should have 6000 bottles, part of the increase being because they took more land. They could reach 10 000 bottles in 2012 as the vines recover.
Kenji & Mai's wines are currently exported to Canada (Calgary/Alberta, Metrovino) and to Japan (Le Vin Nature).