There are places you're always happy to go back to, and this wine-centered venue in the middle of the Loire valley is certainly one of them. We spent a night in Le Café de la Promenade in Bourgueil on our way to the Cher valley and we enjoyed one more time great food and enjoyable wines. It may be fool to tell so prominently about the place and people in the know will hate me because we all may find it fully booked the next time we plan to go there, but along l'Ami Chenin near Saumur, this is a place not to miss if you're travelling through the region and I found it necessary to write more about it.
Imagine a nice building looking like an old inn, surrounded by a few trees and a laid back garden where you feel relieved by all this consumerist pressure emanating from the amenities and outlook of conventional hotels or even chambres d'hôte (bed & breakfast). The Café de la Promenade has a few rooms in the back and you feel more like being in your own country house than in a hotel (Ihope they invite me for a week for these words....).
The other particularity of the venue is that it is also a caviste, a wine bar (the wines being picked among the large, well-thought selection of the cellar) and a restaurant. You don't need being afraid of random breath checks on the roads in the evenings, you just stick there...
There's a good chance that Ludovic will offer you to taste one of his wine picks if he feels in you the excitement for real wines, here is a place where you order a bottle for your table and end up drinking several more glasses as a try (just a try !)... I hope he doesn't do that all the time if he wants to stay afloat but it's one more reasons why this inpredictable place is a must visit.
We had actually brought a bottle to share with him in case he'd be there (a good introduction, but choose your wine well...), it was a Muscadet Domaine de la Louvetterie Haute Tradition 2010, one of the upper cuvées of Jo Landron, a beautiful wine. He cooled the bottle in a bucket and we all enjoyed the wine, chatting about different things. Ludovic started his restaurateur activity in Strasbourg, managing a restaurant on a barge on Quai des Pêcheurs, but he is not fully happy of the experience and loved it when he settled here. Before we pulled out the Landron bottle he poured us a glass of Vouvray sparkling by François Pinon, a delicious bubbly as a welcome gesture.
Edit : I forgot to tell about one of the dishes you must try : the Hambourgueil, expect something quite tasty. Also, good music here, I remember Buena Vista Social Club (Rubén González), Pink Martini (a 12-member orchestra from Portland, Oregon), Dean Martin, Rita Mitsouko...
Ludovic recounts the epic couple of days when a TV team came here to shoot a short story for TF1's Jean-Pierre Pernaut TV news(watch the short story). He says that this was crazy, the whole shooting lasted 48 hours for a final 3 minutes and 40 seconds and a total of 40 bottles were downed in the way. This was 3 weeks before we dropped there and ludovic says that the bar has been full every day since. He adds that if the video story seems very suitable for all public, the real shooting was wild, which I can understand when I learnt that Pierre Breton had taken part. If you have never seen him during one of these wild parties, read Aaron's story about __precisely__ a memorable night in the Café de la Promenade where you can see Pierre indulging in one of his favorite buffooneries, like jumping on the tables....With a few of these magic bottles opened and Pierre Breton in good company, there's a chance that like Aaron writes, the evening descends into a pleasant anarchy...
I love Aaron's last words because I know that's exactly how it happens each time with this new breed of vignerons sharing their living wines : "We drank until the wine ran out, causing a momentarily lull while winemakers ran out to their cars to fetch more wine."
I wish all winemakers could turn so wildly happy by drinking their own wine but I doubt it's that common.
Speaking of Pierre Breton, we visited him the next day and you know what ? he told us that we should have called him to say that we were at the Café de la Promenade that evening, as he and Catherine had nothing particular to do that monday, they would have been happy to join us for a drink. I already envision the sort of simple drink we would have set off that night, and I hate myself for not having thought to dial his cell phone that evening...
Forget the missed opportunities, here is the second part of the story :
Pierre and Catherine Breton have moved the winery a few kilometers down the road from their previous location, where they still keep their living quarters, and I think I know one of the reasons. When the home and the workplace get too much intertwinned this is often a problem, you never know if you're at rest or working and if on top of that the professional quarters are too tight to work correctly you usually look for an available site.
So they did the move a year ago, after they found by chance an almost-brand new large warehouse-type building which was for sale in the business zone of the next village (Benais). They subsequently moved all their stuff there including the offices, the press, the vats and the storage stocks. There will be also room in the outside for the vineyard tools.
The building is far from having the charm of the previous chai but they were cramped to a point that ordinary tasks were a headache. They kept cellaring the casks in both the former winery and in the gorgeous cellar where they store most of the wines (the exact location being classified information)
__ Trinch 2012 from a vat, already very fruity and with a vibrant and translucent color. 2012 was a late vintage Pierre says but the end wine is fine, withits tannins, good to drink from this year to the next 2 or 3 years.
__Then we tasted a Dilettante red (2012), the one they were racking after a fining when we arrived. The nose is exciting here. Fruity, smooth tannins. The wine will have a total of 15 mg total SO2 at bottling. They bottle themselves, they have a small bottling line which allow them to choose the right moon/flower/roots days for this important stage in a wine's life.
__ Chinon Beaumont 2012. Pierre says that in 2012 there will not be a St Louans cuvée, they blended the Saint-Louans juice with this Beaumont because first, it was lighter than it should be, and then they lost 40 % of the grapes with the hailstorm so it would have been a very tiny volume. This will be bottled in june or september. Tastes very good already but Pierre says it needs more time. He wants it also to sediment more as they don't filter the wines. Also, clearer wines give more refineness to the wine, not in the richness and the powerful side.
Clos Sénéchal 2012, taken from a wooded tronconic vat. Very nice nose. Very suave in the mouth, onctuous, lovely. The wine will go into barrels next month and stored in the cellars. This vintage is in the refineness side, Pierre says, not in the richness or in the powerful side. Will be bottled around march 2014. they'll taste the wine after several month and check that there's no too much wood imprint. He will use foudres as he bought a couple of them, a 20-ho and a 40-ho, and he wants to use more of them in the future. The barrels will be used for Saint Louans and Perrières.
We also tasted some bottles in the tasting room next to the vat room :
__ Rosé de pressée 2012, La Ritournelle. Color : onion peel. Malolactic fermentation completed, almost dry (less than 2 grams). Grapes coming from the Maine et Loire (49), so it's a rosé de Loire.
__ Ritournelle 2011 Rosé de Loire, Pet'Nat. Natural sparkling, absolutely dry, 11,8 ° in alcohol, feels like 11 °. Disgorged by pressure, not icing. They made it in 2011 (4000 bottles to sale) but they'll not do it again at this stage, because they don't have these vineyards anymore. They'll see, depending of the demand. At this stage he prefers to capitalize on still rosé.
__ La Dilettante 2012 Vouvray (white - Chenin), Catherine's vineyard. Delicious, very aromatic, even if the temperature of the wine is a bit too high. Reaching the market now. Bottled mid april.
__ Vouvray (Chenin) traditional-method sparkling. Blend of 2009 & 2010 (no vintage on the label).
__ Le Dilettante Moustillant 2011, Pétillant naturel (natural sparkling) (green label). Very nice. Quite a large range of sparklings.
__ Nuits D'Ivresse 2011, bottled one month ago. Nice color, vivid if a bit dark. Nose : black ripe fruits, dark cherries. No added SO2. Pierre Breton says that the important thing is have a fermentation unfold without SO2, and the goal is to keep the wine alive. He ads that he prefers to use the term of living wines, wines that are alive, than the generic name of natural wine. What he wants, he says, is to make wines that people enjoy and that don't make them sick.
__ Chinon St Louans 2010. Cab Franc of course. Nice nose with dust notes. Liquorice notes.
__ Bourgueuil Les Perrières 2010. He has magnums for the cuvées of St Louans, Les Perrières, Nuit d'Ivresse, Trinch & Galichets. He has also jeroboams (the huge 3-liter volume -- pic on right) for Nuit d'Ivresse cuvée. He got the idea from his son who studies in the viticulture school and who met Blandine Chauchat of Mas Foulaquier who happens to make 200 such jéroboam bottles every year. This sounds crazy but people ask for these sizes, for special occasions. You often need several regular-size bottles anyway, so here there's a plus with the size. He looked at all the issues, the package, the delivery, the price and when he began to talk to a few clients to see if they might be interested he found easily 3 people who ordered 20 of them, so they seem to sell quite quickly..
You can see here the list all the vignerons but here are a few of them : Catherine & Pierre Breton (of course), Sébastien David, Bernard & Mathieu Baudry, Pascal Lambert, Jérôme Lenoir, Lise & Bertrand Jousset, Frantz Saumon, Vincent Carême, François Pinon, Bruno Allion, Domaine de Montrieux, Les Capriades, Pascal Simonutti, Brendan Tracey, D. de la Chevalerie, Hervé Villemade, Sébastien Bobinet, Sébastien Dervieux, Clos Cristal, Benoit Courault, Agnès & René Mosse, Jo Pithon, Jérôme Saurigny....
These Bourgueil people are spoiled, I tell you...
Edit : a few pictures of the event by Jim.