Cravant-les-Coteaux (Chinon, Loire)
Domaine Bernard Baudry is today symbolic of quality and hard work for the Chinon wines. Chinon, apart from its beautiful Chateau (pic on right) and for being the home of the legendary bon-vivant [and wine lover] François Rabelais, has been known for its Cabernet Franc wines, but the region has often been associated with cab franc that was excessively herbaceous and harsh, the characteritics of the variety if the grapes are not properly ripe when picked, if yields are excessive and the élevage too short. Things have changed over the years and in great part because some growers didn't follow the mainstream ways of their time.
The domaine Bernard Baudry (to repeat what I wrote in an earlier story) is a living proof that you can manage a fairly good-size winery with almost 30 hectares of vineyards and still have an organic management and a vinification without the efficient enological tricks and additives that most wineries use in order to have a squarely-secure production in time, and without taking any risk.
When Bernard Baudry started his winery in 1975 it was with a mere 2,5 hectares and he was kind of looked upon by the established wineries of the region, viewed as an "original" (if not a fool) because from the start he worked his soils ans didn't use extensively the chemicals and the fertlizers. This was a time when there were few competitors apart Italy and Spain, and the French were drinking more wine that today.
We went to see a couple of parcels that we hadn't seen in a previous visit if I'm correct, first a parcel of Chenin just above the Chateau de Sonnay and its park. I understand that they rented this parcel (almost one hectare) to the owners of the chateau, it was a fallow field, they did the replanting 10 years ago using massal-selection wood from Domaine Huet because their chenin on the Croix Boissée is not old enough to take wood from it. Matthieu Baudry remembers that there were sheep there when he was a kid. There are documents proving that this very parcel was planted with vineyards back in 1760, a few years before the French revolution. There was an older chateau then because the present Chateau de Sonnay was built in 1840 (the previous one being possibly destroyed by the revolutionary mobs)).
The soil is sand, clay and limestone, the color is relatively clear. The vines are short pruned, which is traditional for the whites in Chinon because otherwise the yields would be too high. Around this block there is just the park and other wooded surface or fallow fields.
We then went to a pârcel named Les Balais (means sweeps, cadastral name I guess), this is Cabernet Franc on clay/flintstone (silex). This terroir is a bit humid, it's not the best terroir because of that, and they use the grapes to make rosé. They use two blocks of vineyard for their rosé (making respectively 0,3 and 0,5 hectare), this one here and another which is on the flatland below. This terroir here brings more tannin and minerality in the rosé and they blend the two. This is a rented parcel which was planted by Bernard Baudry 30 years ago. We walk along the rows, the soil look hard like cement but it is not clay, it is mostly silt, the sand being deeper and clay above it with silt at the surface. From the upper slope of the parcel you can see faraway to the Chateau of Chinon further west.
Asked about the issue of the Suzukii, this drosophilia which damaged much of the fruit across France at harvest time in 2014, Matthieu says that they got some too here but happily cabernet franc has thick skins which limited the damage overall.
There's a 4-row plot of conventional nearby this parcel but Matthieu says that they bought the woods along the plot just to be sure to keep the rest of the surrounding healthy. These few rows could be available some day but he'd have to go through the painstaking time of the conversion plus making more paperwork for the demand. Initially while working organic the domaine Baudry wasn't registered officially as such but they ended up joining a certification in 2013 because some customers were asking for it.
The picture on the left is if I'm correct the other parcel of cabernet franc which we went to see just after, and which located on the flat land.
Back at the domaine we tasted the Chinon Rosé 2014 which was bottled early april. Nice amber color. Fermentation in tank for 4 month, direct press, no saignée, the malolactic was completed this time, in other vintages it may not take place, they don't intervene. In general as they don't use lots of SO2 the malolactic comes by itself. Here they bottled this rosé with 2,4 grams of residual sugar and because of that they filtered the wine and it got 1 gram SO2. Tastes almost dry though in the mouth. 2013 was very mineral, Matthieu says that because of the colder weather the 2013 may be one of their best vintages for the rosé.
__ Walking in the vatroom we tasted from a cement tank the cuvée Les Granges 2014. They have been using these cement tanks for 10 years, before they use stainless steel. Now the stainless steel is used
only for the fermentation stage. Nice sip, a bit of reduction but promising wine. Les Granges is a parcel which we visited in a previous visit, a sandy parcel located between the slope and the river.
The soil is made of sand and alluvial deposits. Les Granges is a big-volume cuvée with two different bottlings (some in june and mainly september). Matthieu says that the 2014 should be easy drinking. 2013 was difficult for Les Granges and for Les Grezeaux because of the season was cold and wet. and there was no Les Grezeaux in 2013 because of the poor vintage, they still waited a year to be sure and then decided to blend Grezeaux with the cuvée domaine.
__ Cuvée Domaine, the plateau part, on sandy soil, also from a cement tank. More reduction on the nose, this is intentional because they chose not to rack the wine and leave it on its lees. The wine has time as it will bottled only around march 2016. The wine got its usual 2 grams of SO2 on the incoming grapes but after the malolactic only 1,5 grams. Matthieu says that they're thinking about reducing more the SO2 addings.
The cement tanks on the upper level don't have the large chimney because you have a normal opening on the top, the design of the chimney is meant to allow stacking vats atop of each other and still be able to fill the one below with grapes to the top. Two different taps height at the bottom left allow to work with different types of lees and let them aside when racking.
It is strange but Italians have been making good cement vats for a long time, I remember that I heard from Marc Ollivier (La Pépière) that a few decades ago in the Muscadet Italian mansons would go from winery to winery and build these interred vats. Nico Velo is imported by DV Tec in France and judging by the pictures and video they have lots of innovative designs for their cement tanks, some looking like amphorae some like eggs and some almost like tronconic vats.
We reached one of the barrel rooms then which is actually a deep cellar cave or former quarry dug into the cliff behind the house. with a guaranteed cold temperature year around.
__ Les Grezeaux 2014, from a (3-year old) barrel in this long corridor lined with vessels. Will be bottled in march 2016. I notice that the barrel comes from a cooperage named Boutes, Matthieu says that this company is located in the Bordeaux region, it is not well known for the general public but they work with high-end Chateaux of Bordeaux. They buy these casks second hand (they never buy new oak), usually when they went through two wines. The wine is very fresh, I mean not cold because of the cellar but it has this nice fresh feel. Matthieu says that Grézeaux likes seasons like the one of 2014 with a sunny late season. Almost ready to drink but it'll be better when bottled march 2016.
__ Clos Guillot 2014, from a barrel again. Except on the incoming grapes, no added SO2 on the Clos Guillot including after the malolactic. They've been doing trials for a while and since 2012 that's the way they work, diminishing the added SO2 especially along the élevage, there will be only an adding at bottling. The first try was in 2010 and by accident, then they finetuned the process and fixed it in 2013. They just top up the barrels (and not so much actually because the cellar is very humid). He has many winegrowers-friends who ask him why he doesn't drop the SO2 altogether but he says that he wants his wine to keep the mineral precision and not veer somewhere else. Clos Guillot will be bottled in december 2016 and the barrels are 5 or 6 years old. The wine is indeed very refined, tastes very well already but the sleeping beauty will have to wait another year and a half in her quiet cellar before going out. Matthiey says that Clos Guillot may look less rich than les Grézeaux but there's a special energy, it is vibrant.
__ La Croix Boissée 2014, malolactic not made yet, Matthiey says it should come some day with the warmer temperatures. Thanks to the malolactic there will be some CO2 produced which will protect the wine. In 2012 they had this problem with the malolactic that wouldn't start, so his father Bernard said they could make a try with adding some SO2, 1 gram first, then 2 grams in another barrel while keeping the rest of the barrels without SO2 : the difference in taste was enormous, incredible, Matthieu says. They first thought that with time along a 2-year élevage the difference will attenuate, but now way, after two years the difference was still there, with the no-SO2 barrels so much more expressive in the fruit feel. The wine has some asdtringency on the sides of the mouth with almost a chalky grip, it is recurrent with this limestone terroir but it softens after the élevage. Almost 14 % alcohom but still fresh.
__ Right at the door of the cellar (it feels suddenly much warmer being outside) we have a glass of the cuvée "domaine" 2013, from a bottle Matthieu opened before us. Clear color. 2013 as said is a lighter vintage compared to a normal year. The grapes were bigger at harvest season because of the rain and the dilution, that year, but there was not rot. This was bottled in february 2014. Matthieu likes it like that, the weather is different year after year and it is right that the wine reflects this, even "smaller" vintages have something to say.
This wine is light but it is very digestible and easy drinking, and it sports only 11,5 % in alcohol (they printed 12 % but it is actually 11,5 %). I guess many mainstream wineries with a commercial mindset would have chaptalized a bit here, and tried in some way to extract color as well. It is a light wine that tastes almost like a gamay, Matthieu says. He adds that in spite of the unpleasant season in 2013 it's like if the vineyard, after years of careful and respective management and plowing, was paying back with managing as a reward to still produce something fine. True, no spit.
__ We hop back at the vatroom then to taste the Clos Guillot 2013. Delicious. Notes outside the vat read 0,5 gr when racked from the barrels last december (2014) and another 0,5 gr in late january 2015, in order to add a gram very softly. The 2013 will have a shorter élevage with one year in wood only but another year in tank. The wine will be neither filtered or fined that's why it's important to still get some élevage time.
__ Back in the first barrel cellar : La Croix Boissée 2013, with its limestone soil. Lower volume of grapes and they had some hail damage on this. Tastes well, but shorter mouth than usual, Matthieu says, and the wine has 6 more months to find its place. Alcohol : 11,8 %.
__ We taste the Cuvée Domaine 2012 (from a bottle, in the tasting room). A low-volume vintage, because of the flowering problem, but all the cuvées are great in 2012, possibly because of these low yields he says. Alcohol at 12 % or 12,5 % here. This was a cold year too, and in the past dozen years only 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2013 were kind of cool years, the rest (xcept 2014 which was in between) were warmer years. Notes of macerated cherries, great drinkability.
__ Les Grezeaux 2012 (bottled march 2014), aged in old oak and vineyard on gravel (pebbles) soil with clay. Delicious, round, if with a tannin grip, needs food to go with. Matthieu says the gravel explains this, hecompares it to the Gravel Bordeaux wines (Medoc or Pessac), the gravel brings a masculine, serious touch which you don't find on the Saint-Emilion wines which are more easily approachable.
__ Le Clos Guillot 2012, bottled in february 2015. Soil : clay/limestone on the Chinon slopes. Also notes of macerated fruits, with fresh feel, less sweeter than the previous one, more acidity. They did the full lab analysis for some of their export markets and this wine has no remaing free SO2. They had added 2 grams on incoming grapes at the chai, then after 2 years they added 0,5 gram at racking, this is interesting to know that with low addings sulfites end up vanishing.
__ Les Granges 2013 (bottle). Beautiful, exciting nose. The wine is sold out, Matthieu says he hasn't tasting it for 6 months. Tastes very good now indeed. Matthieu says that at the beginning this wine was a bit tight, not so open and pleasant. The substance is not that rich but nice wine. 11,5% in alcohol, they chaptalized for 0,5 % because it was a bit to low otherwise (2013 was a cold year). Very easy drinking as is.
We then walked the the other cellar which is 2 minutes away by foot, behind Bernard Baudry's home. Bernard Baudry joined us when we went there. In this 2nd cellar also the rooms and galleries goes deep into the cliff, with different interconnected tunnels.
__ Sonnay 2014, Chenin. A bit turbid because the wine is still fermenting, they didn't rack it or move it in any way (no stirring). From a 500-liter barrel. Perly feel on the tongue at this stage. This will stay on its lees, the fermentation is almost done and they wait for the settling of the cloudy lees, after which they'll bottle in june (this visit took place mid april). Delicious wine. Matthieyu says that these are the best grapes this parcel ever gave them, because on the previous vintages they had problems with voracious roe deers, hail, frost and flowering, and today also the vines begin to reach the right age. The wine is saline and mineral, with a suave edge. After a few minutes sipping our glass the perly feel (the CO2) has vanished. Asked if they'll filter or not, Bernard says it depends of the remaining sugar at the end (they haven't made an analysis yet), if it's less than 1,7 gram they'll not filter.
Most of these large-volume barrels in this part of the cellar are made by Stockinger but Matthieu says that they have not been very happy with the last shipment (a single barrel they got in 2014) and Bernard thinks he'll not order again. They got this unusual buttery, vanilla or caramel aroma which they never had before with this company (they have been working with Stockinger for 10 years). We chat about it and wonder if because of the high demand worldwide the cooperage may have altered its original process or changed the quality of wood. This is only one barrel and it will be blended in the mass but they'll check how this particular barrel behaves next year.
__ La Croix Boissée Blanc 2014, Chenin wine, from a 500-liter new barrel made by Centre France, a small cooperage based in the Massif Central mountains and Bernard and Matthieu are very appreciative of their work. The company was started by young guys who worked previously for Berthomieu. It's not the first time I hear winemakers praise this small cooperage.
Nice energy coming from the color (ripe wheat) and the light turbidity, bernard agrees like me that you have the exciting feel that you'll be nourished when drinking this wine. While flowerd, hawthorn flowers. Blind, you'd not guess it's new oak, Bernard says. No perly feel here, although the malolactic is not completed yet, probably.
Same wine but from an older barrel and which has its malolactic completed. Color, much clearer, no lees hanging around. For this barrel, Bernard says, the first fermentation started quickly and the malolactic took off while the first was going on and this wen fine through. Very lively feel here, with fruit too, very enjoyable and round. Coats beautifully the sides of the mouth, nice wine indeed. Bernard says that if the malolactic takes away the sharpness of a wine, it brings complexity on the other hand.
At the end they'll blend all these casks, whether the malolactic is done or not, and they'll probably filter.
Francois Rabelais who was born in 1494 a mere 4 kilometers from Chinon as the crow flies, wrote these enlightened words in the 16th century in his novel Gargantua , this was in 1542 (spotted this poster at Baudry):