It's as if the lightly-turbid Pineau D'Aunis was still in my mouth, I had to visit Olivier Lemasson to see who made this enjoyable and fresh wine. There may be a comeback underway in the Loire region for Pineau D'aunis, we still don't stumble upon the peppery wine very often. The picture on left shows the particularly-exciting color of the cuvée Poivre et Sel 2009, a vintage which was particularly pleasant and that we drank at home a few weeks after having tasted the 2011 (I think I bought it at Le Verre Volé in Paris). This is labelled as a table wine as the appellation authority discarded the grape variety years ago from the list of allowed varieties deemed good enough for the region's standing.
Olivier Lemasson has been running a small négoce in the Loire since 2002 named Les Vins Contés. When you hear négoce, you may think about a buy-and-sell business, but here it's about buying grapes from friends and neighbors farming organicly and making otherwise the wine from A to Z. Olivier Lemasson began his wine adventure on the caviste side, as he worked a few years for a wine shop in Rennes, which led him progressively to the source and ultimately on the winemaker side. He set up shop in 2002 in association with Hervé Villemade, managing together a négoce working from grape purchases. They later parted and Olivier continued on his own, the négoce working today from a surface of contracted vineyards (with a small surface in full ownership) totalling 11 hectares. He makes some 12 different cuvées, sometimes up to 14 (see picture on right at the winery) in both white and red, many featuring now-non-conventional grape varieties that were commonly planted and vinified long time ago around here.
Fougères-sur-Bièvre, on the outskirsts of which the facility sits, is conveniently located in the southern tip of the Cheverny/cour-Cheverny Appellation area, close to the Touraine. Olivier is thus close to people like Michel Quenioux, Hervé Villemade, Claude Courtois or the Puzelat brothers, and also not far from Clos Roche Blanche, Noella Morantin and many other good artisan-minded growers. Good place to emulate and get support.
I visted the room next to the chai, with a few cement vats which he still uses, and the bottling and labelling line. A few wrapped pallets bound for export were waiting for the delivery truck (picture on right, behind Jean raising his glass) : two for Australia (Eurocentric), 4 pallets for Japan (Cosmojun), more pallets for Joe Dressner's affilates (Farm Wine CA and Chicago).
Olivier shows me on the picture on right how he does his débourbage, the settling of the thick lees, after the pressing. He can use the big tap to let the thickest lees go out, and stops when what remains inside seems fine to him.
__ Aligotest, white vin de France (table wine). Beautiful aromas, close to some candy in the mouth. the nose itself bends on dry fruits, particularly dry apricot. Very pleasant wine to drink. Made from Aligoté, a variety which is not commonly known as a Loire one. But Olivier Lemasson says that there were a few parcels (5 or 6) planted experimentally in the 1960s' in Mareuil near Saint-Aignan on the other side of the Cher. This particular parcel which makes 22 ares belongs to a grower in Mareuil he's been buying the grapes of for 10 years now : one day he saw this guy beginning to uproot a parcel, which the grower said was Aligoté, so Olivier said stop, I'll buy you these grapes. Thanks to well-controlled yields he could get a nice Aligoté wine, when a conventional vigneron would let the vine piss high volumes of wine, like we say in France (pisser le vin). Plus, being planted in 1962, the vines were beginning to moderate their yields, which helped. The owner/grower who is in his 50s never really made wine has always been farming his vineyard naturally, selling part of his grapes to the coop. He is quite old school and was still using a horse maybe 15 years ago. Olivier buys also from him old Grolleau, old Pineau D'Aunis, Menu Pineau, very old Côt (100 years +)
Yields were 38 hectoliters/hectare for this vintage (2011). 13 ° in alcohol, without any chaptalization of course, and fermented on the wild yeasts. Costs 10 € tax included at the winery (the highest price at Les Vins Contés), very few bottles left, most is bound for Japan, plus a few cases for Quebec. Usually people don't taste this wine, too little of it...It was bottled the previous friday may 25. This wine was pressed (non-pneumatic) after a sorting in the vineyard 40 km away (it can ripe very fast in the last days), had a débourbagein a metal vat (pictured upper right) where they can let the thick part go away, then it was fermented & raised 100 % in casks (topping up every week), with one racking after the alcohol/malolactic fermentations. It had no sulfur added even at bottling. Fermentation can sometimes last a year but in 2011 it was all over by november.
This is a table wine, but until 2006, his wines were labelled under an Appellation, be it Touraine or Vin de Pays du Loir et Cher. the thing is, in 2006 the appellation authorities downgraded 300 hectoliters of his wine to vin de table, the motives in the 3 successive agreement commissions being atypique (doesn't need a traduction I guess), then atypique trouble (the latter meaning turbid), then again atypique trouble. He sent a letter asking how exactly atypique his wine was, but he had no answer. At the time he was a bit afraid because he was already exporting to the U.S. and he wondered if loosing the appellation wouldn't jeopardize the sales. But the sales kept going smooth and so he decided from then on not to present these wines to the agreement commission again.
__ Cour Cheverny 2011. Romorantin grape variety (white again). Pleasant nose with hard to describe aromas, maybe green-tea notes, Olivier says. The mouth is gourmande, appealingly enjoyable. Good length with aromas close to liquorice or similar candy.lGrapes purchased to Philippe Tessier. This is the only wine he has with an appellation, because Philippe Tessier wanted him to at least try, to help the Cour-Cheverny appellation, sort of. And he got it. But the appellation guys came recently to grab a sample and he's afraid that this green tea thing gets him down. Good length, for sure. No sulfur at all here also. Costs 9 € a bottle.
__ Bois sans Soif, Menu Pineau 2011, Vin de France (table wine). Bottled end of april. Very ripe aromas on the nose. Also élevage/fermentation in cask, no SO2 added. The racking 3 weeks before bottling brought a light oxydative note but it comes back well in place now. Yields were 40 ho/ha, and the vines are 60 years old.
Le Puits, Vin de France (table wine) 2011. Sauvignon, bottled the previous friday (may 25). Olivier says that he added SO2 here for a change, even during the vinification, because after stopping fermenting at around 10 grams of sugar, it began having important volatile in 3 days (from 0,30 to 0,90). He ended up adding a total of 3,5 grams of SO2, but it was a volume of 100 hectoliters and it had to be done. He also had a sterile filtration at the end, as there are 4 grams of residual sugar. The grapes come from Bruno Allion in Thésée, plus his own rows of Sauvignon. He had this problem only with the Sauvignon this year. The nose is very different from the usual Sauvignon wine, no cat pee here, but ripe aromas. The mouth is bright and ample, powerful too. Nice wine. 13 ° in alcohol (a bit more actually). Costs 6,5 € a bottle. Very good value.
__ Le Ptit Rouquin, table wine 2011. Gamay, 30-year old vines. Maceration of 10 days, no cap punching, no pumping over, just CO2 saturation for 2 days on the top until fermentation starts. Everyday from then on, they smell the cap to see if everything is fine; that's when the lid is very convenient, he got it with Junko's open fermenter. The wine had a short élevage in wood, the first bottling took place end of december and the 2nd early march. No notes, sorry, but I helped myself several times, this is a thirst wine on the fruit which is quite enjoyable. It's a Marcel-Lapierre style wine, he says, actually Olivier worked at Lapierre for 4 harvests (ans also at Christophe Pacalet) and 18 months full time at Marcel Lapierre, both in the vineyard and in the chai/cellar. At the time (his first harvest at Lapierre was in 1997) he was working at the wine shop of Eric Macé in Rennes (la Cave du Sommelier) and he wanted to learn the trade. To rewind even earlier, Olivier was a sommelier and worked at Guy Savoy in Paris, but the natural wines weren't on the map there and it's only with Eric Macé that he discovered these exciting wines. He then worked at La Cave du Square Trousseau in Paris for a year and then started his négoce in the Loire with Villemade. In short, his only wine school was working at Lapierre (for the reds) and with Villemade and Puzelat (for the whites).
Le Ptit Rouquin costs 6 €. The first bottling in december had no SO2 at all while the 2nd (which is exported) got 1 gram per hectoliter, but it's so little that it's as there was none.
__ R 11. Red table wine (2011). Gamay (20 %), Grosleau (40 %) and Côt (40 %). The nose is full of ripe, black cherries (comes from the Grolleau, Olivier says), exciting wine. The Côt bring aromas of violet and other flowers. The mouth is ample and generous. 6000 bottles in all. Costs 7 € at the winery. The 3 varieties don't ripe together, so he used a technique he discovered through Isabelle Frère who works on the Côtes Catalanes : he first pîcks the Gamay, the whole clusters of which fill about 1/4 of the tronconic vat, and he waits for the next variety to be ripe, saturating the vat regularly with CO2 every day (and doing a small pumping over if necessary). Then the brings the Grolleau (a week later) which is the following variety to be ripe, which makes about 2/3 in all, and 3 days later comes the Côt. The other thing is that when the 3 layers/varieties are in the vat, he racks the free-run juice which he uses for his pet'nat rosé (no more to taste today alas). This is the 2nd such cuvée, with 3 layers coming after each other.
__ Poivre et Sel (2011), table wine. Pineau D'Aunis and a bit of Gamay (2 %). Really peppery on the nose. The mouth has this thin sand feel, with a refined tannin texture. Sold out, about 600 bottles were made of this. There's a high demand for Pineau D'Aunis but vineyards are hard to find. 100¨% carbonic maceration (12 days) which is not so common for Pineau D'Aunis, no punching no pumping over this year, and fermentation/élevage in wooden vats (not in casks). The Pineau D'Aunis (aged from 40 years to 90 years) comes from Bruno Lodi in Mareuil and Olivier Bellanger in Pouillé (southern bank of the Cher). The soil with clay and flint stones gives a more aerial wine.
__ Gama Sutra, table wine 2011. From 100 year-old ungrafted Gamay vines. What a nose ! I read or heard that ungrafted vines yielded more aromatic richness in the grapes. Carbonic maceration, 22 days, fermented/élevage in demi-muids (500-liter casks). Beautiful. With the old age of the vines, it doesn't taste like regular Gamay. Bottled end of april. Will be better in 3-4 months, Olivier says. Costs 10 €.
Cheville de Fer, table wine 2011. From 80-year to 100-year old vines in Mareuil and also another parcel (50 years) in Couffi, both being on the southern bank of the Cher river. Carbonic maceration (10 days), which is not common on a Côt in the area (usually it's destemmed). Pressed and fermented/élevage in demi-muids(500-liter casks). It was bottled a week ago.
Jean by the way is also the new employee of Clos Roche Blanche. You may remember that Laurent Saillard who was working part-time for Didier and Catherine of Clos Roche Blanche, had to recenter on Noella Morantin's vineyard, as she recently purchased a few hectares from Junko Arai's Les Bois Lucas. Catherine and Didier were looking for a vineyard worker to replace Laurent and this will be Jean.
We drove with Olivier to one of the vineyards nearby, where Kevin and Olivier were busy replacing faulty poles and tensioning wires afterwards (pic on left). This is on the plateau of Monthou, near the vineyards of Christian Venier, Thierry Puzelat, Bonhomme, a place which is quite windy year around. Here on the picture Jean is planting a head pole at the end of the row (this particular pole is named amarre in French). This pole is very important as it makes sure that the whole row keeps still, and if they're not in perfect shape they can be broken by the tractor and plow when the do the décavaillonage. Olivier checks a vine of Gamay where the leaves are almost white, or light yellow. He says the soil has to do with this, his other vineyards don't have this problem which may hamper the photo-synthesis. Could be a lack of iron. But the hard frost may have accentuated the phenomenon. This Gamay often goes into Poivre et Sel.
Jean began to work for Olivier Lemasson on the harvest 2011 and then at Clos Roche Blanche in november 2011. He says that CRB has about 9 hectares of vineyards (I thougt it was 7,5), including the 7 hectare in one block, plus a couple more hectares along the Ténière facility and house where Noëlla and Laurent live. That's quite a surface. Like many young vineyard workers in France, he works for different growers, choosing freely with at estate he'll do the vineyard task. This gives lots of flexibility and freedom, even if it's challenging to do some tasks in different domaines, as the tim window is often the same. He also worked at Puzelat, at Jermemy Quastana, Chistophe Foucher and Philippe Texier. He likes working in different estates, because he learns different things each time. He's doing lots of marcottage in all of these wine farms, an age-old way to duplicate a vine by letting a branch grow long enough, bend it into the ground so as it grows its own roots. The growers in the past used to replace dead vines this way, and it's free. Also, a young marcottage vine bears fruit from the first year, because it is supported by the mother vine in addition to its own roots.
Jean is from Britanny originally where he got a BTS in agriculture, and he landed in Contres in the Sologne very close from here where he worked in a poultry farm (ducks) on the reproduction issue. His goal is to set up a poultry farm in parallel to growing grapes. He doesn't plan to make wine for now. He may have the opportunity to farm a couple of vineyards en fermage (a rent) next year.
Kevin's story is worth reporting too : he was hitchiking across the region a couple years ago when Olivier took him for a ride in Contres (in Sologne, near there), this was 5 years ago. He was somehow adrift at that time, having dropped a previous job and no particular plan. Olivier told him casually that if he wanted to work a bit, he could hire him for a while in the vineyard, giving him his business card. Kevin came back for the harvest and he came again the following year then again the following, after which Olivier proposed to hire him and he accepted. He also began to work at the Puzelats in parallel. He is beginning to learn the tractor work too. And next year he plans to take care for himself of two parcels Olivier plans to drop, so that he will be able to rent directly to the owner and sell the grapes to Olivier. That reminds me the early vineyard discovery of Derenoncourt when he arrived in the Bordeaux region years ago.
60 % of Les Vins Contés wines are exported. Olivier works with Hillebrand in Beaune, a specialized transport company which uses refrigerated containers.
The wine is exported to the United States (Louis Dressner and affiliates), Japan (Cosmojun), Denmark (Wine Trade), Sweden (Vin Nature) Holland (Vleck), Belgium (Flanders - Cuvée), Canada (Martin Labelle - Glou), the United Kingdom (Florian - 259 Hackney road), Australia (Eurocentric).
In Paris his wines can be found at Le Verre Volé, Versant Vins, Les Papilles, Caves Augé, Crus et Découvertes, L'ébauchoir, Siffleur de Ballons, le Chapeau Melon, Ô Divin, Que du Bon (all these places being good references for sourcing artisan wines)...