When I first met Helda while visiting Bernard Baudry earlier this year, my first impression was that she was someone with a project. She was presented to me as a worker at Baudry but my intuition was telling me she wasn't only a part-time worker in a winery, and as we exchanged words I learnt that she was setting up her own winery near the village of Cravant-les-Coteaux (picture on left), working with selected purchases from the Chinon area. She's been making wine under her name since a year and from what I tasted she could be around for the long term. Her story reminds me the one of Julie Balagny in the Beaujolais; like Julie, Helda is originally from Paris and she is also showing lots of energy in her approach.
Helda Rabaut didn't take the shortest way to the life of winemaker, she was initially studying law in Paris and in parallel, in order to make some money and do something, she worked by chance in a wine bar near where she lived, le Baron Rouge. She began to appreciate wine there, because otherwines there wasn't a particular wine culture in her family. Two wines were a revelation for her in these years, a Saint-Aubin by Domaine Bachelet that her uncle poured her, and a Pommard Premier Cru. She doesnt remember the estate for this one, she had guests at home and just took randomly a bottle in her father's cellar and that was also such a great pick...
She worked 3 years at Le Baron Rouge until 2005 and she decided to drop the law school then. The only thing she knew then was that she wanted to work in this field, even though she admits that she didn't know anything about winemaking. As a first step, she thought that learning how to make wine would help her work in the commercial side of the trade or something like that, it was unclear at the time.
Picture on right : the town of Chinon and the Loire river
With the wine school she also had trainings now and then in different places, like in Provence in a research center working with the INRA : the Centre de Recherche et d'Expérimentation sur le Vin Rosé, which is the only research body in the world entirely focused on rosé. It was very interesting for her, she began to understand the complexity of the issues, including the technical ones.
She also spent time at Domaine Cauhapé, which was very interesting for the economy side of the trade.
Then her really formative training (but she says that she didn't realize it fully then) was at Domaine de la Grange Tiphaine. She says that the uncompromising commitment for quality with which Damien works at La grange Tiphaine had a lasting impact on her, and she understood that later. She also had a 6-month training at the Bourgueil Coop. There, she learnt about the sales to to supermarket sector, something she's not close to do now but with which she learnt the strict normative regulations enforced by this retail sector onto wineries.
Knowing that Helda routinely drives a tractor at Bernard Baudry, I asked her to pose for a second on this onesitting idle in the courtyard facing her chai. Visualizing all her new skills, I am amazed by her versatility and expertise, this is a long way from the law school... She began to work for the Baudrys when she looked for more empoyment time in winter, and they offered her to work for them, as they knew here through the Domaine de l'R (Frédéric Sigonneau and Mathieu baudry are childhood friends). Her first job there was tying the stem wood on Clos Guillot, not bad in your resumé...
So, her first vintage took place at Nicolas Grobois in 2011, and she made 2 cuvées (reds) then, and in 2012 there will be only one cuvée made, because the vintage was quite tricky and she prefered to blend the two wines.
__ Helda Rabaud Chinon Telle Quelle 2011, tastes very well, very open. Ripe nose with aromas of dark generous cherries, clafoutis. Bottled march 20 2012, a bit early because of economic reasons, so she filtered a bit (on earth) and lightly SO2-added at the end of the malo and at bottling. Now she thinks that she could have avoided the SO2 on malo but she learns. At bottling there was probably 22 of free SO2 left. In the future she hopes to release the wines later and not need to filter. Costs 4,5 € without tax and 7,5 € tax included for private buyers. She made 3600 bottles for this cuvée in all, plus 1200 bottles for the 2nd cuvée (Tangente).bottles
The wine is made from grapes purchased to Patrick Lambert (Pascal's brother). 2 parcels involved (25 " 45 years), both with a gravel and sand soil, in the plain. This vineyard has the same conditions and latitude than Les Grézeaux of Bernard Baudry, for those who are familiar with Baudry terroirs.
Like said above, this first vintage reflect the dual influence of Frédéric and Nicolas. Frédéric makes very light infusions, macerations on the light side, just one light pumping over per day, no crushing, pushing lightly the cap only. She had a 3- or 4-week maceration here. This wine was vinified in fiber vat at Nicolas but the 2012 is vinified and raised in a non-tiled cement vat like the one above.
She buys the grapes sur pied meaning that the grower (wo is farming organic and plows the soil) sells her the grapes still on the vine, ready for picking. It allows her to concentrate on the important picking stage, where sorting is sometimes vital.
Up to today, she makes wines from a total surface of 1,25 hectare, in two blocks. This wine makes 11,7 ° in alcohol, but it's fine, and she didn't chaptalize. She adds that there's something people begin to know, it's that the phenolic maturity and the alcholic maturity don't happen together, and it's not because the alcohol level is lower than aromas are not ripe.
She made 4800 bottles of this single 2012 cuvée. She didn't make a single cuvée because of smaller volumes but because of a substance she considered sub-standard.
Not having to work directly on the vineyards from which she makes her wine, she is more light hearted on this issue (she pays the grapes by the weight) and can concentrate on the winemaking of her service jobs for others.
__ Chinon Tangente 2011 (magnum bottle), made from vines sitting on a small clayish stripe in the 45-year-old parcel, these grapes being vinified separately. 8-week maceration. One year élevage in cask. Helda opened this magnum because the 75cl bottles are sold out. she was largely influenced by Nicolas Grobois when she made this wine (she vinified it at his facility) and she made a long maceration : 4 weeks fermentation plus 4 weeks on its pomace. She didn't want to put it in cask because in her mind wood must be used carefully but she had no place to put the wine, so she went to Bernard Baudry for some used casks and put her wine in there (the casks were 5 or 6 wines old). She also got a tonne (demi muids) from Nicolas. I feel more structure here i,ndeed, the soil makes indeed a difference. She sold 1200 bottles in 4 days to professionals during a trip in Paris, so she was wondering if her professional prices weren't a bit too low... She sold it at 6 € without tax to professional and 10 € tax included to indivuidual buyers.
We walked to the cask cellar a few steps down, it's a half-basement cellar, cool like a real cellar. She says that it made her sick to bottle and sell all her wines so she had decided to keep 2 casks full of Telle Quelle 2012, just to enjoy the feel to have wine in her cellar, and she offers to taste it. She'll bottle it later and will name it Telle Quelle +, to differentiate it. She will bottle it by hand like Tangente, using a 6-spout bottle filler lended by Bernard Baudry, it works by itself by gravity, and this wine will not be filtered. She will also use a small machine from the Baudrys to cork the bottles.
My own pic of the label been blurred, I borowed this one from Amicalement Vin.
__ Helda Rabaut Chinon "Telle Quelle +" 2012, from a cask. The wine is cold and needs to be warmed up in the glass. Seems less open now, compared to the one in bottle. We taste the 2nd cask. I like this 2nd cask better, it is straight forward, the tannins are more melted away in the end of the mouth. After a few minutes, with only a drop of the 2nd-cask wine in the bottom of the glass, I smell great aromas, very beautiful aromatic impression...
There are still a few (full) casks in the cellar belonging to the former vintner renting this place, some of these casks come from Chateau Sociando-Mallet, quite a reference. The guy wo worked here, Frédéric Hardouin, alas stopped his winemaking business. I remember having bought one of his wines at le Vin au Vert in Paris. I hope he will bounce back somewhere.
She explains how she vinifies also at Domaine de l'R, where's she's trusted to take things in her own hands. At Domaine Bernard Baudry, she is entrusted with the mission to take grape samples in the parcels for sugar, acidity and Ph levels. It's important that samples are taken along the same procedure and by the same person because it gives a regularity in the analysis year after year, making the data more reliable. She also knows where their many parcels (nearly 40 of them) are located, which is very important for this type of job.
We speak about the pressoir in the background, lended to her by Frédéric, it is an old 24-hectoliter Vaslin. She says that it's a very convenient and simple press. At first she was skeptical about it, all this wood and so on, but it makes a very good job. There's an inbuilt program but she (and Frédéric) never uses it, they just taste continuouisly the juice with a glass and stop pressing when she feels the juice turns less interesting. They just have to clean it thoroughly everyday when in use. She found another press for her so she'll not need this o,ne anymore, it's a smaller, 12-hectoliter press of the same type, exactly the volume she needs. It's even in a better shape than this one, and second-hand, it costs nothing.
This visit took place june 8 so in between the foliage have grown of course. As said above, she is doing also some plowings, and she learned to drive and manoeuver a tractor this year at Bernard Baudry, the nice thing being that they have different types of tractors, some being simple, older models like the one above, which are sometimes more fit that big modern tractors depending of the parcel.
Speaking about Esca which kills lots of vines here too, Helda shows me when we drove along La Croix Boissée (a parcel of Chenin belonging to Bernard Baudry) the ovegrafting she's been doing herself intensively for them. Overgrafting consists in cutting the dying vine under the ground level and grafting new wood over it. It is a new technique to counter the Esca disease which seems promising so far, and she's personnaly overgrafted many rootstocks for the Baudrys. This is also faster that just uprooting the vine and replanting. All the yellow-plastic protected baby vines we see here and there are actually overgrafts and Helda took away one of these plastic protections to show me the graft underground. The wood used for these overgrafts is wood from the year which has been taken from the healthy Chenin of the Baudrys and kept in a cool cellar. These wood stems have just been refreshed in water before the overgrafting. This technique has been intensified in Sancerre where the toll for the sauvignon is dramatic, and the technician (François Dal) wo trained them for 2 days to do these overgrafts came from Sancerre. They've overgrafted 250 rootstocks just in this parcel.
Read this article (in French) about the overgrafting technique against Esca.
Helda Rabaut sells her wine to good cavistes of the region like la Cave Voltaire (Chinon), Enfin du Vin (Candes Saint Martin), Café de la Promenade (Bourgueil), 1001 Vins (Tours), Ô Lieu Dit Vin (Tours). In Paris her wines can be found at La Cave de Tolbiac, at le Siffleur de Ballon, at la Fine Gueule, at la Cave d'Ivry, at Fine L'Epicerie and at Au Nouveau Nez.
Helda Baraut took part to Vertivinies in Nantes, a wine tasting event where visitors could buy wine too and which was devoted in its last issue to young wineries (younger than 5 years). Next year she may take part in Pierre & Catherine Breton's event in Bourgueil, Fête de la Nature. She worked there this year, but just to help Frédéric of the Domaine de l'R manage his stand. She says it's indeed a nice wine event.
This vineyard is located along the road east of the village of Bossée.
Satellite view of this small complanted parcel.