Faverolles-sur-Cher, Touraine (Loire)
The Domaine des Capriades which was founded by Pascal Potaire is particular in the sense that it makes only natural sparkling, its entire production is centered on these bubblies where, unlike for Champagne, nothing has been added to make the wine fizzy, no sugar, no dosage and no so2 (all the wines here have no added sulfites). The natural sparkling, dubbed Pet'Nat or Pet-Nat in the wine milieu in France has become over the years of the natural-wine version of a bubbly, some sort of light-hearted counterbalance of Champagne which even if it is regarded as a more respectable bubbly is much less natural beginning its widespread farming management. Like said before, natural sparkling has actually deeper roots than Champagne historically, as it could be compared to the older Blanquette de Limoux, which was made in the early 1500s'.
The domaine's facility sits in a wine farm at the foot of the hill along the Cher river, with the ubiquitous cellar dug into the hillside. Faverolles is one of these winegrower villages along the Cher, like Mareuil or Pouillé a few kilometers east where Clos Roche Blanche and Noëlla Morantin are based. Every single house in this street was long time ago making wine in its respective cellar under the hill, the parcels and fields being conveniently atop of the hill. The area of Touraine is still very affordable for a young vigneron who would be looking for parcels to purchase or to rent, and the region is thus a magnet for artisan winemakers wanting to start a domaine.
I reached the domaine on a beautiful summer day in august (perfect motorbike weather), Pascal Potaire was on his way and Moses Gadouche (his associate) began to show me the old facility, which beyond the house and the courtyard has 3 deep cellars. Originally two winegrowers shared these cellars and they could merge the two, the neighboring house not using these cellars anymore.
There are a few vinification tanks in the domaine, most of them being outside for now, the first cellar being mostly filled with bottles either lying (sur lattes or standing upside down in the waiting for the disgorgement.
Moses Gadouche joined the domaine a few years ago and both of them created a négoce in order to buy organic grapes around and make wine from them. Initially Pascal Potaire had only about 3 hectares of vineyards and the demand for his sparklings exceeded available supply. They buy grapes for example to Mickael Bouges (who has a similar facility a couple hundred meters away on the same side of the street), to Olivier Bellanger, now to a young couple who are beginning to grow grapes organicly in Monthou-sur-Cher on 10 hectares, Estelle Maitre and François Saint-Leger. They also buy to Sylvain Leest, another young grower who settled in Faverolles-en-Berry, 30 km from here, this is also a way to support newcomers who decided to grow organic and don't have the resources to make and sell their own wines yet.
Speaking of the yields made by the growers on their vineyard, we're dealing here with much smaller volumes, the average yields being from 30 hectoliters/hectare to 40 ho/ha, sometimes up to 50 ho/ha, which is much lower than what is done in Champagne : according to this page the maximum yields allowed in Champagne (and be sure that in Champagne the commercial wineries always stick to the maximum) was 12 500 kg/hectare in 2012 or the equivalent of 100 ho/ha if I'm right.
I notice they have special ways in Champagne which allow to get part of the yields get unreported, for example when in this page refering to the authorized yields in 2014 they tell about the volume tirable-commercialisable (10 500 kg/hectare) they mean the volume of grapes they can use right away, but they don't count the extra allowance in terms of fruit load that they're permitted to grow and vinify on the side for the following vintages in case they're short of reaching exactly the maximum ceiling... This is something you must keep in mind when drinking pet'nat wines, not only it is organic but the yields are much lower (and naturally-obtained) than what you see routinely in Champagne, a region nevertheless associated with luxury on the world market.
Altogether with Pascal Potaire own parcels (3 hectares) and the purchased grapes, they vinify the equivalent of 10 to 11 hectares. they only buy fruit form organic vineyards.
Here in the
bottom of the cellar Moses shows me where
a couple of centuries ago the grapes were foot-crushed. You can see the low wall on which he's standing, this helped keep the juice when the grapes were crushed, the juice flowing then in a débourbage vat. Later, I'd say in the early 20th century when industrial production made the price of vertical presses more affordable for ordinary farmers, presses were set up at this very place in the middle of the crushing square, allowing a more efficient extraction of the juice. Efficiency was indeed the word even at these times as you can see they had dug a vertical chimney (closeup on right) above the crushing/pressing square so that the grapes could fall in there directly from the vineyards planted atop of the hill. I don't see a better design in terms of gravity nowadays....
The opening was closed since, possibly because the grower had other parcels that were not anymore located above the hill.
The horizontal fiber vats here are made by a company named Hervet if I remember, Moses says that they're very easy to move when empty, you can really do it without forklift, by yourself, by pulling the thing on the ground.
In the back behind the resin vats there are a couple of cement vats, which Pascal and Moses have never used but which were certainly active in the middle of the 20th century and earlier. To fill these volumes with wine the farmer had certainly already a sizeable surface but I guess he was still farming other crops and raising farm animals at the same time. He certainly sold the wine in bulk to the négoce back then.
The cement vat at the bottom is accessed from behind, from another cellar parrallel to this one. This again shows the deep resources of these old cellars, you could at the time build virtually-undestructible vessels and have fermentation conducted at moderate temperatures without our modern tools.Looking at the perspective from above that's really a beautiful thing, like a matrix embedded in the heart of the rock.
We walked into a third cellar, also shaped like a long tunnel, they are 20 meters long on average, that looks big but they are a bit short of room, especially that they do some long élevage of the wine sur lattes and that some of the space is taken by large cement vats which they don't use. Here in the bottom of the vat they blasted open the front of the cement vats to gain some room and store bottles. In this corner they also do some manual riddling of the bubbly using the traditional riddling tables. They do of course much riddling with gyropalette but there's always small volumes that don't fit on a pallet.
You see here only bottles of sparklings but they did a bit of still wine last year, about 4 hectoliters, but this is for their own consumption, not for sale...
The total volume of pet'nat at Les Capriades is roughly from 25 000 to 35 000 bottles a year, depending of the vintage.
For those who don't know about this winemaking protocol yet, the long laying down (meant by the words sur lattes) of the future sparkling wine yields sediments (dead yiest accumulating after the fermentation in the bottle) that need to be expelled (through the disgorgement), both to avoid an excessively-cloudy bubbly but also because this floating dust can impair the wine with dead-yeast aromas. You can see here the sediment coating a side of the bottle, plus some more in the bottle neck, the bottle being held half vertical on a riddling table. At the end of the process (the bottles are turned around and groght vertically on these tables along weeks) the sediment will be all regrouped in the bottle neck next to the crown cap, allowing an easier expelling before getting its final closure.
they don't have permanent staff except an occasional trainee, they do all the cellar work by themselves, they just hire people for the picking because if the grower is in charge of the organic farming (on Pascal's requirements), they take care of the hand picking.
You might think that the dead yeast sediment always the same way like a chalky dust, but every wine is different and sometimes the sediment agregates with tartar, making it harder to break down. They must adapt their procedures in order to be able to expell these lees as well, punching gently the long, solid block of tartar/lees to make it regroup near the crown cap. That's also a reason some of the riddling stage is done by hand, the gyropalette wouldn't handle that perfectly, and they take a lot of care here to have wines that are mostly limpid. For certain cuvées like the one pictured on the previous picture (a 2013), there is so much sediment that they do two consecutive disgorgement, with some riddling time in between on the pupitres. Typically, they turn the bottles 3 times a day, moving progressively the bottle to the fertical position, the whole thing taking maybe 3 weeks.
Elevage is generally long at the Capriades, with certain cuvées like Pépin La Bulle getting as much as 36-month bottle élevage minimum in the cellar, the whole élevage being of course with an exchange between the lees (the sediment) and the wine. Magnums get an even longer élevage. Moses says that before the disgorgement the élevage could be pushed to 10 or 15 years.
The élevage being pushed to the maximum in the context of each cuvée, they do the disgorgement only when they have to fulfill an order, leaving the rest of the cuvée laying down in the depths of the cellar and gaining more exchange time with the lees, so that the next client for that same cuvée will get an ever more achieved sparkling, something rounder, more refined. Elsewhere in commercial wineries doing Champagne-type wines the whole thing is usually done at once, especially that they hire a service company for the disgorgement and that it'd cost too much to do micro disgorgements. The sparkling can gain roundness also with a bottle élevage after disgorgement, but the benefits are more obvious with the lees still inside.
Some cuvées like the Pete Sec 2013 (the bottles with a yellow crown cap) had a longer élevage than its norm because the vintage was so acidic that the wine had to stay longer on lees to get rounder. Pete Sec is initially a cuvée designed to be a mid-term between Pépin La Bulle and Piège à Filles, they wanted to make a demi-sec.
Pascal Potaire arrived at the cellar then and began to prepare the disgorgement of a gyropalette load of Pet Sec 2014 (the bottles in the pallet on left), he'd do it all by hand like they always do here. You need to be skilled and experienced to do disgorgement by hand but Pascal has certainly hundreds of thousands of disgorgements behind him, especially that he also does it for winegrowers beginning this type of cuvée and not skilled enough to do it alone, like you can see on this story when Pascal spent several hours at Noella Morantin to disgorge her batch of natural sparkling. The preparation is pretty simple : bring the disgorgement protective box (avoids to have wine/sediment splash all around) and hose/clean the few tools/gloves used for the operation.
All the wines here get zero SO2 from A to Z. They print a dicreet "no added sulfites" (sans sulfites ajoutés) in French on the side. Once Pascal called the Douanes (the French Customs, which is the administration in charge of the enforcement of wine/alcohol regulations) to ask if he could print the exact amount of total so2 as found in the laboratory analysis and the maximum allowed nationally, but they said no, the obvious reason being that by doing this you'd be a threat to the wine industry and the conventional wineries (beginning with the ones in Champagne) who would be in big trouble if their customers began to ask tough questions about their own SO2 levels.... Just for the information, today on a wine that has less than 5 grams of residual sugar it is legal to have 160 mg so2, and at 15 grams of residual sugar you can have220 or 230 mg so2, he says. I understand too much information on these issues are not welcome...
Asked about his very beginning in this trade, Pascal Potaire says that he arrived in 1995 in Jasnières, working with winemaker Nicolas Renard until 1997, then he worked in Vouvray for Clos Baudouin until late 2001.
Then in 2002 he arrived in the Cher valley and he worked first for the Japanese natural-wine grower Junko Arai (Les Bois Lucas) near Pouillé, until the end of 2004 (he had just left the domaine when I wrote this story then); in parallel, he had found parcels in 2003 from Béatrice & Michel Augé and for 2 years he worked on them all the while working at Junko Arai. In 2005 he began to work full-time on his small domaine until 2011 when he set up a négoce with Moses in order to vinify a larger volume of wine.
Moses for his part didn't like wine in his former life, at least the wines he came across never excited him. Then in 2004 he met Noella Morantin in the market place in Saint-Aignan a saturday morning, he met Pascal too and slowly, bit by bit he began to taste their respective wines, appreciating them more and more. At the time Pascal had begun to make a natural sparkling which he loved, he began to help him for the bottlings and other cellar tasks after his regular job in a local industry. Once he was suggested by someone that if he loved this winery trade he should set up a négoce and vinify purchased grapes and he passed the idea along to Pascal who accepted to do something with him, and this project materialized in 2011, Pascal even offering him a 50 % partnership in the venture. What he liked in this community of natural wine was the spirit and collegial friendship between these winegrowers, and that's how he wanted to work.
Asked about how he came to do only natural sparklings, Pascal Potaire says that it happened progressively. He began in 2003 with making a majority of still wines but he grew the share of bubblies over the years. He began to make white pet'nat and in 2006 he made also pet'nat rosé and the share kept growing. He says that these natural sparkling really appeared thanks to Christian Chaussard (who passed away a few years ago) who was then working in his domaine La Saboterie in Vouvray and sort of reinvented this ancestral method which had mostly vanished and had been replaced by the traditional method (the Champagne one, where you add sugar to get a finished wine referment in the bottle). Pascal met Chaussard in 1995 and was influenced by him in this regard. Chaussard was a pioneer in the Loire for natural wine making and as he was also teaching at the wine school in Amboise he had an impact on many future winemakers. He learned about natural sparkling with him in those years, and by the way made some while working at Clos Baudouin in 1998.
He says what he likes is the possibility to explore this sparkling method because outside of the natural-wine milieu there's no experiments about it, even in the regions where the ancestral method for sparkling has its oldest roots, like Limoux, Clairette de Die, Gaillac and Bugey-Cerdon (until may 2012 these were the only regions allowed to print méthode ancestrale on their sparkling labels).
Pascal says that disgorgement for them is an important stage, but he aknowledges that some vintners prefer not to disgorge their pet'nats, leaving a cloudy mist in the bottle. He says that Christian Chaussard who initiated the natural sparkling revival in the mid 1990s'didn't disgorge in the beginning, but with the leftover lees bringing faults in the wine, bitter notes and so on, he changed his mind and disgorged. Disgorged wines are purer, and Pascal takes care that the bubblies at Les Capriades don't have this cloud spoiling the experience.
They had a small batch of Pet Sec 2014 (made with Menu Pineau and a bit of Cabernet Franc) to prepare that day for an order, and I could witness the whole thing. He had brought this metal box near the gyropalette so that there's not wine and lees everywhere. It looks pretty simple, he grabs the bottle gently so that the lees don't mess around again, he turns it slowly and opens it at a certain angle so that the lees are expelled. Then he wipes the bottle top with a sponge and passes it to Moses refills with the same wine and puts the cork. Since last year they use Zork closures, they say it's really a plus and they can be re-used by the end consumer, for example if they don't finish the bottle right away. You just click on the top and the cork is resealed. Before that they used crown caps, and with the new regulation since may 2012 asthey're allowed to claim the Méthode Ancestrale status, they have to put better corks because the pressure is above 3 bars. The good thing also is that with this neutral closure the wine can age in bottle, when with a Champagne-type cork there are risks of faults and deterioration of the closure fabric.
From what I understand this is a parcel Pascal rents to Mickael Bouges, it's bordered by a fallow field which will stay this way in the foreseeable future, which is good on the organic diversity side. The vines are a bit more than 10 years old and they behave quite well. With these grapes he made a still red named Litron (a cuvée initiated in 2007), a blend of gamay and côt, but now it's going to go into the Piège à Filles rosé (and they don't
market still wines anymore anyway). The clusters of côt aren't tightly packed, the grapes are kind
of loose which is good to avoid rot. Asked if they had issues with the Suzukii drosophilia las year he says no, on the whole they weren't much affected on the parcels they're working on.
The soil here has different type of stones, including oval-shaped black stones people call couilles d'ânes here ("donkey balls"). It gives the wine a lovely mineral edge, I remember Mickael Bouges' cuvée couilles d'Ane, a terrific mineral red.
At one point we spoke of the négoce part vs the ownership part for the parcels, Pascal says that the respective growers work along his own philosophy, so there is basically no difference in the quality. The parcels of the growers like his own are organicly farmed. Pascal says that the partnership he and Moses have with the growers is a fair trade which helps growers taking the path of organic farming and rewards them with better rates for their grapes. He adds that this négoce thing is a way to revitalize the Cher valley because it's a guarantee for newcomers who grow grapes to find buyers who pay for their work before they're strong enough to begin make and sell wines themselves.
The harvest part is overlooked by Moses while Pascal is busy at the chai side checking the picking and the sorting if it's needed.
This other parcel is a bit older, around 15 years, it is planted- and farmed by Mickael Bouges and Pascal & Moses buy the grapes. It's a low pruning, a Guyot Double, which is very good in order not to reverse the sap flow in the vine. looking at the grapes Pascal says they'll probably pick in the first week of september. They usually pick a bit earlier than the other growers, what he wants to avoid is having issues with the acidity, to have enough of it and not be overwhelmed by alcohol. They're going to check the sugar in the grapes soon, then they look closer for the acidity levels before deciding the picking day.
This year they had a very low risk of disease, they had 2 sprayings this year and the last spraying was early july while another year it would have been typically 6 or 7, which is reasonable compared to the norm.
This goes into the Piège à Filles rosé.
We then drive a short distance to an old parcel of Menu Pineau, the oldest vines being 80 and the youngest 50. They all have strange shapes, some have been replaced, there's lots of marcottage (replanting method by putting the extremity of a branch from the next vine in the ground so that it grows roots). The Menu Pineau is a late ripening variety. This parcel is a fermage he's renting and farming himself. The yields are quite low. The foliage is modest in terms of volume, but he didn't trim it. The variety has a good resistance to disease, but there are many missing vines. These grapes will go into the cuvée Pépin la Bulle. A few years ago he picked some wood from these vines for Hervé Villemade who needed a massal selection for a replanting in his domaine, old vines like these being a very valuable capital to preserve. Here there was two sprayings too, sulfur and copper, plus biodynamic preparations he made in the biodynamic group at les Maisons Brülées with Paul Gillet.
Here in this short video Pascal Potaire explains about the only two sprayings this year because of the very healthy weather, as there was no oidium and mildew pressure. He tells about the biodynamic preparations and nettle tea he also makes in his group of fellow winegrowers. He is not officially certified at Demeter but he still believes in the benefit of this type of farming. There's a lot of replanting to do, even though I spot many marcotted vines.
There are a few vines of Chasselat in the parcel (pic on left), we checked to be sure by eating the grapes, this tastes very different and they are good table grapes. This was common long time ago to plant a few table-grape vines so that pickers could have something to bring back home or eat on the spot. That may have been also a mistake at the nursery.
Pascal Potaire says that the Cher valley in the Loire is among the cheapest areas in France to find vineyards, be it for rent or sale, which is ideal for young winegrowers looking for opportunities : Parcels cost 6000 to 7000 € per hectare, making the region as cheap as part of Anjou, the Languedoc, the Beaujolais for example. You can basically start something here with very little investment and finding an available cellar or building to vinify should be pretty easy and affordable too.
We sat in the courtyard to have a few glasses, a welcome respite in the summer heat.
I asked them about their star cuvée, if there is one in their range, is it Piège à Filles [the rosé one] ? They said yes, this sweet sparkling made from gamay, light in alcohol is indeed a successful cuvée. The names means "girls' trap", hinting that women love this sweet pink bubbly which goes down pretty well. The first vintage of it was 2006, this pink bubbly was designed by Moses and the name was found by a woman, actually a friend of Noëlla Morantin who had worked at La Cave du Sommelier in Cancale (in Brittany). The sweet side of this pet'nat was not an accident, Pascal Potaire says that from long time ago his reference in terms of sparkling was the Bugey-Cerdon of Bartucci, a pink bubbly which he remembers having discovered around 1996. Back then in 1996, tasting wines like these was an awakening experience, it had this light, vivid color, this low alcohol and sweet side, and he thought then that if one day hr'd make bubblies, it would be something like that (see Aurelia's video in Quebec where she drinks and tells about this wine).
Now, there's another cuvée they cherish a lot and on which they've been working a lot, this is Pépin la Bulle, a long-élevage bubbly which should prove that pet'nat can be different from a thirst-quenching light wine. Right now they're beginning disgorge the 2012.
There's also Pet Sec, a cuvée which they wanted to be positionned in between the gently sweet Piège à Filles and the more serious Pépin la Bulle.
The Piège à Filles rosé is sold out by now, look if your caviste has some.
This is the wine we had here under the tree, a rare version of Piège à Filles, the white one, I'm sure many people even don't know it even exists...
__ Piège à Filles Blanc (white), made with Chardonnay, Meslier-Saint-François, a rare local variety close to Chenin, plus Sauvignon. 11 % alcohol on the label, more like 10 % or 10,5 % in reality, Pascal says. The residual sugar is between 10 and 15 grams they say, tastes like much less but there's a high acidity. very refreshing with nice energy in the mouth. Pascal says this wine is always late to become ready, it's often at the end of summer, it has something to do with his own terroirs, his own grapes, the fermentations (with wild yeast of course like all the cuvées) are sluggish year after year.
They make very small volumes of that because they're short of these grape varieties. Basically they propose it to only a couple of loyal customers.
I asked about the natural-sparkling wine fair in Montrichard, a wine event which they initiated last year and which will happen every year in july. They were eager to have such a salon happen because there was no such window for these wines. The first edition is actually the one in 2014 because last year it was more like a try wit a few friends (they were 24 vintners). Now in 2014 with about 55 vintners this is getting serious, and vignerons come from different regions including from abroad. There are conditions to take part, one of them being the maximum total SO2 at 50 mg, and a few producers could join because they were above that ceiling. Next year they'll probably have more participating vintners although they'll be careful not to grow too much in size. They'll keep havin the dîner de vignerons in the evening at La Chancellerie, a private historic building with rooms and space for rent, it's located right near where the event takes place. I didn't attend the dinner this year but I hope I'll be around next year to go there, you have a fixed fee for the dinner and an endless list of wines (bottles being brought by the vintners), I'll have to find a place to sleep in Montrichard if you see what I mean...
__ Pynoz 2014, this is the first vintage for this cuvée, it's made with Pineau d'Aunis & Pinot Noir 50 %. Grapes sourced at Sylvain Leest, they didn't have these varieties before, but from now they should make some every year. Pascal wants to experiment with Pineau d'Aunis, he says it's one of the rare varieties that can make dry rosés and age beautifully along time. They made 2500 bottles of this cuvée, and they also bottled magnums. They'll sell some of them this year but they'll keep some of the bottles to see how it behaves with more élevage time.
The wine sports 11 % of alcohol on the lable, could be less in reality. Beautiful peach aromas with a rejoicing sweetness, a very aerial wine, man, this gets swallowed very easily too. I had this bottle at home with B. while she was doing some cooking and we finished the bottle right away (Me having the most of it, I should be ashamed). For me that's another potential Piège à Filles rosé, from what I remember of the iconic cuvée, same color, same etheral sweetness.
The Domaine des Capriades exports 50 % of its production : Japan (VinsCoeur), the United States (Selection Massale), Canada (Quebec - Glou), Australia (Living Wines), Belgium (Rouge Passion), Holland (Vleck), Denmark (Lieu-Dit), Sweden (Vin & Natur), the United Kingdom (Gergovie Wines), Spain (Must of Wines), Switzerland, Germany (Vin Pur).
I found on the Internet that the prices for their wines aren't too high in Japan in spite of the distance : according to this Rakuten page you find a still white at 2700 Y tax included or 19.5 € (cuvée Vignnasou 2011, unheard of here), and the Piège à Filles rosé costs 3240 Y tax included or 23 €.
In France they take part to several salons, the one in Montrichard of course, plus Vini Circus, Les Vins du Coin, Les Pénitentes, Les Affranchis-Montpellier plus a few Open Doors (Puzelat, Tessier, Mosse...).