At a short distance from Orléans along the Loire there is a discreet wine region which few people know, it's not Cheverny or Anjou, but the Orléanais. A century ago or more it was certainly providing lots of wine for Paris as with the straight road to Paris through the Beauce they didn't even need here to use barges on rivers and canals. The existence of the wines of Orléans is documented as far as in the 5th century with an apogy during the 12th and 13th century when they were poured at the court of the King (source). The total surface of the vineyards of the Orléanais is said to have been 30 000 hectares in the 17th century. With the mass production needed for Paris in the 19th century, the quality of the wine went down compared to a few centuries before, and at about that time, with the railroads making Languedoc wines easy to ship to Paris, the production and surface of the Orléans region dwindled, pushing the wines of the Orléanais into oblivion. But there's still a great potential to make excellent wine here, and even though the region today has only 200 hectares, you can find a couple of good producers here to prove that. Reynald Héaulé is one of them.
Reynald Héaulé started from scratch after studying accounting, a field which he didn't feel he'd really consider doing a career in, he worked at several wineries, first in Burgundy then here in the region, particularly at Claude Courtois where he still works part time.
His own domaine makes 2 hectares but with a quite high plantation density, like 12 500 vines per hectare; he grows 15 different varieties on this small surface and 2 years from now you'll find 20 varieties, 10 reds and 10 whites. This doesn't fit really what we call complantation (where vines are planted together randomly) because here he planted whole rows of a given variety (he planted his whole vineyard himself by the way). To tell a few varieties, he planted Pineau d'Aunis, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Gascon, some hybrids, Romorantin, Pinot Gris Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling (Chenin next year, he just gave the wood to a nursery) etc...
I ask Reynald with a smile if there's some kind of influence from Claude Courtois for that many varieties in his parcels, he recognizes his relation may have played a role but still he thinks that even without him he'd have loved experience with varieties. I ask if he has some Syrah, but he says no. His wines are all bottled as table wine (vin de France), even though there might be now a possibility to make cuvées with a small percentage of exogenous [regarding the AOC-authorized list] varieties.
Reynald began with a tiny surface of 30 ares (0,3 hectare) from 2000 to 2003 for his own use, then in 2004 he jumped to 70 ares, adding more vines and all the while he planted his own vines he dropped the ones he was renting, this was a long process. He works now on 2 hectares and for now it's fine for him, even though he's tempted to increase the surface because there's a shortage of his wine compared to the demand.
We visit a first parcel making 75 ares (0,75 hectare) in the vicinity of the village. The soil is thick with silica which is typical of the souther side of the Loire river, there is also an alluvium component because the river changed course along the ages. This earth is very poor on the whole with destructured silex and sand, it doesn't retain the water and during this dry summer it suffers.
Here in this parcel Reynald has a few rows of Gascon, then some Romorantin, some Menu Pineau, Chardonnay and Cabernet (6 to 8 rows each on average). He says there's a beginning of water stress with the drought. The vines look trimmed but it's just that the foliage didn't go up because of the weather conditions. Reynald says that he never saw that before, a drought that begins so early in this region and stays put for so long. Here almost all the vines have been cut just above the graft point so that they could start anew without needing regrafting, this was in 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 2012 with a winter frost of minus 20 ° C (minus 4 ° F) he lost one fifth of his vineyards.
We walk to another block of vineyard which he calls le potager [the vegetable garden] because he also tends vegetables there as well a fenced chicken coop (in the final stage, he'll put some Gauloise Dorée breed in there, an old gallic breed). His son Robin seems eager to go see the vegetables and taste what's ready, like the tomatoes. Reynald bought this parcel in 2010, there was an old vineyard there (which he uprooted in 2011 if I understand well) and the first thing he did was plant a hedge to bring some life, birds and diversity. He also fruit trees, 85 of them : quince, cherries, plum, peach, nectarine, apricot, pear, apple... His goal with the orchard and the vegetable garden is being autonomous on the food supply, and you never know, he adds with a smile, if war comes for example...
Speaking of the vineyard part here at this stage there are about 15 rows of producing vines, with also a few varieties : gascon, pineau meunier, gamay, hybrids... He's doing the plantings progressively. He plows every other row but he noticed that this year the grass is easier to control. He says something interesting, it's that on this type of silica soil which reverberates the heat much better than clay, the phenolic maturity is reached much faster, you don't need to make high alcohol to reach ripeness, here the grapes are ripe even when only at 11 or 11,5 %. I forgot the name of the variety for the few rows of new plantings, that might be riesling.
Reynald also has a parcel north of the Loire river, on the other side from Clery Saint André, he says that back in the 15th and 16th century the qualitative vineyards were all north of the Loire. The terroir is different over there with the clayish soil, making wines thare are more powerful while here with the silica it's more sharp. He has chardonnay, pinot noir and pineau meunier over there, making the cuvée Rive Droite [means right bank].
We drive back to the wine farm in the outskirts of Clery Saint André, it's really a farm complete with the courtyard and surface cellar, not really big but with Reynald's tiny surface it's still manageable. Right behind the large wooden door we stumble on winery tools like a few vertical presses and this Solo Rider 437 which seems very versatile and light, here is another machine I'm not familiar with. Reynald says it's very convenient to spray, and I guess that the parcels being very close to here it's not a problem to drive this tiny thing on the side roads.
He does have an horizontal press in the farm but he never used it, he used only these artisanal vertical presses which you can find everywhere in the backyard of farms and cellars of retired winegrowers. Claude Courtois has recovered many of them here and there (scroll down 7th pic on this story), disused and abandoned in barns, but all you need is change the wood parts that are rotten and repaint the metal, and the thing can press again like new. These small presses are ideal for his small batches of grapes I guess, as Reynal vinifies separately his many varieties (which often reach maturity at different times by the way) and blends them along when he feels it's the right time to do it.
In the courtyard we pass a door and walk into the cellar. It's a surface cellar and even though the walls are thick the temperature was 22 ° C (71 ° F) when we were there. There are mostly demi-muids in there, big-volume barrels, these ones make 600 to 650 liters each. Reynald takes a wine thief to have a sample of wine, first a white :
__ Blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, Romorantin, Pinot Gris, it's part of the cuvée Silice 2014, at the end the Menu Pineau plus more Chardonnay will be blended to this. THe multi-varietal wine brings complexity, it's a gastronomy wine to go with good food.
Reynald makes very long élevages on his wines, 2.5 years, sometimes 3.5 years, and what we're tasting is at the very beginning of its cellar life (still 2 more years at least). Nice golden/green color. Delicious. Reynald asks his son who came along what the glass smells like, he says pear. Looks like he is in the good tracks, he was allowed a couple of drops on the first 2 barrels but only his nose judgement was right on target.
In the mouth there's a good volume and ampleness, Reynald says that we're tasting it a bit too warm, not the ideal temperature for drinking a white and it shoud taste more mineral, but my first impression is very good, and when you still like a wine at a warm temperature it's always a good omen.
Reynald says that 2014 will be great on the whites, it reminds him 2004 when the wines were ready to drink very early, especially compared to the vintage 2006 when 5 years were needed before the wine tasted well. He still maintains the long élevage here because this brings stability in time, and he's not afraid either of the high (22 ° C) temperature of the cellar in summer, as long as there's no oxygen in the wine it's fine. Asked about the malolactic he says it's done
__ Another barrel, 2/3 menu Pineau 1/3 same blend previously tasted. 5 varieties here, the whole thing will be blended with the previous barrel. His demi-muids are from the tonnellerie Billon in Burgundy but he buys them used from other winegrowers, he's not looking for new wood aromas.
The wine here looks sharper, more mineral
__ Chardonnay (100 %), the wine in this other big-volume barrel is from grapes grown on the northern side of the Loire river, with a clayish soil, the area Reynald says was in high favor for quality wine in the 15th and 16th century. In the mouth my first sip makes me think the is still "working", like if it was a bit perly, but repeated sips don't replicate this impression. This said, Reynald says that it's not uncommon that at this stage (it's a 2014) the wine "works" again at this time of the year.
__ Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier 2014, grapes grown on the norther side of the Loire (right bank), will go into the cuvée Rive Droite red. Samely, from a large demi-muids barrel. Light color, short maceration, like a few days, Reynald says he's not looking for color or extraction but for refineness. Delicious wine, fruity and exciting. Knowing Reynald works with Claude Courtois I ask him about Nacarat, this iconic cuvée of light red he used to make for summer. He says he stopped doing it alas [I suspect Claude Courtois keeps doing it, but for himself, as he now works on a very small surface of his own, his son having now taken over the largest share of the surface].
There's only a barrel of the wine we taste here.
__ L'Insoumis, a red made with 10 grape varieties with a base of Cabernet Franc, plus pineau d'aunis, gamay, côt... All grown on this side (left bank) of the Loire. Also from a barrel. The color is darker here. Reynald says that the 10 varieties bring more substance and structure than the former, it's less critalline and refined but more appropriate for long cellaring. About the stems he says it's usually destemmed but it's not a rule, he may keep the stems for certain varieties and on certain years, depends of the condition at harvest. Here is goal is to get the refiness with a black-fruit type of aroma while for the previous red it was more like raspberry, acidic cherry. Tastes already very well but he'll still keep it on its planned élevage
We leave the cellar and walk into a large room, certainly the age-old kitchen of the farm, there's still the simple sink along the window, the whole room feels like untouched and retaining its original charm and peasant life. I always wonder why winegrowers sometimes spend a fortune to "renovate" [read : destruct] part of their wine farms to set up a shiny,
immaculate [and boring] tasting room, when the original room was like the wine they make, no makeup,no polishing, real and authentic...
This room is the perfect place to taste a few bottles of Reynald's wines, including from vintages now sold out.
__ L'insoumis 2011, the red made with 10 different grapes. 2010 is sold out. Generous aromas of cherries
He says the ideal for this wine tastes even better a couple years after bottling, and he manages to release the wine after somme bottle time. This is not common because you need to live during the first years, when you just keep the wines and thus make no sales. The fact hor worked all these years in the vineyards of Claude Courtois helped. He used to work 3 days a week there, then switched to 2 days a week and this year (2015) is the first year he didn't work there in spring/summer, he'll resume next fall.
__ Rive Droite 2011 (pinot noir / pinot meunier, a bit turbid, it was the bottom of the blending vat, he says, he kept these bottles for himself because of that even if the turbidity is very light. He doesn't filter the wines and bottles by gravity, with a 14-spout filler. He says that the tricky stage for a wine is more the racking than the bottling because there are the pumps in between. He usually racks the wine between september and january, and the bottling always takes place in march.
The wine is chewy with a light sugary feel at the end, which is not sugar he says, but the lees veil that the mouth interprets as sweetness, that's one of the reasons he kept these turbid bottles for himself.
__ Atypique, A 2014 summer thirst wine made with cab franc, pineau d'aunis, gamay, pineau meunier, pinot gris. This is a wine that comes very close from Courtois' cuvée Nacarat, but made very differently Reynald says : The cuvée was unplanned initially (it was to be L'Insoumis) but he was forced to by the grapes conditions, after 60 mm of rain fell on the vineyard shortly before the end of the harvest, yielding rot and diluting down the potential from 11/11.5 % to 10/10.5 % . These are very short macerations with low temperature in order not to have extraction, there's also a small sharee here that was direct-pressed and which he blended with the short-maceration wine, there's remaining CO2, he made this for summer, the wine is not very deep but now he knows that even on difficult vintages he can resort to making this kind of wine. At first he just sorted the rotten grapes but after a while, realizing that even this rot was actually tasting good, he decided to pick the whole thing and vinify the grapes this way, for a summer thirst wine (more than half of these grapes were picked as is, without sorting). Good intuition, the result is good and my guess is that he'll have more demands for it in 2015 even though the same weather conditions may not repeat.
Asked if he put some SO2 on the incoming grapes he says yes, he put a bit, but the lab analysis of the finished wine (he needs it to export to Japan) shows only 5 mg total SO2, which means he can skip printing "contains sulfites"). He says wines found in the supermarkets [including respectable AOC wines] are routinely at 100 mg/liter, and atop of this you have the sterile filtration... For his other cuvées the so2 level is around 20 mg/liter. He made 8 hectoliters of this and he had many orders at La Dive, including for export (particularly Belgium, Sweden).
Exiting nose. Gets swallowed easily, very enjoyable thirst wine.
__ Silice 2011, the white made with the 5 white varieties, which we tasted earlier in the large barrels. Some saline notes on the nose, complexity. Reynald says this cuvée has typically saline, butter and caramel notes. Nice maturity in the mouth, there's also a sharpness I thought the Romorantin could be credited for, but Reynald says this is more because of the silica/flintstone soil.
__ Rive Droite 2011, another white, 100 % chardonnay, the one from the northern side of the Loire. Sold out, one of the last bottles. Rounder wine, richness. With this Reynald would condiser scalops or veal, or even black trumpets (he dries them after picking them in the woods).
Speaking of wine pairing he says that he thinks his wines pair well with the Japanese cuisine, and that could explain why they love his wine over there.
Speaking of wine and food, his wines are now being served beginning in 2015 at Noma in Denmark(see prestgious wine list as of 2014), they started with Rive Droite white and Silice white.
we now are offered to taste a couple of natural sparklings, all bottled in neutral-glass bottles sealed with simple crown caps. I'm surprised he's doing pet'nats too as I didn't see him around at the natural sparkling gathering in Montrichard, he says he was asked to come but at the end decided not to. In 2013, a year which was otherwise catastrophic, he made 4 sparkling cuvées, about 1000 bottles each, and at the Dive wine fair he brought samples from the white and the rosé and it sold like crazy, 800 bottles ordered from each.
__ Silice en Bulles, dry white Pet'Nat made with his 5 white varities (no sugar addition, no dosage of course). Nose with berlingot notes. Mouth with nice dry-herbs notes which he says come undoubtly from the Romorantin which was the variety from which the sugar came [prise de mousse], as the other varieties' part was a finished wine. Reynald says there's lots of iode in there too, it's very saline, like if you had an oyster in the mouth. He makes this cuvée since 2013, apart from the one he made specially the year his son Robin was born, in 2009, 700 bottles which he says taste very well up to this day...
__ Silice en Bulles rosé. Natural sparkling again, made with with several red varieties, the prise de mousse being made with freshly-pressed Gascon. In these conditions when you use the sugar present in a single variety and you plan to blend it with a finished wine, you have to calculate precisely at which level of sugar in the particular variety you have to bottle the blend, because for a given bubble pressure you need to have a certain amount of residual sugar on the whole blend (18 to 24 grams) so that the adequate pressure mounts in the bottles. The interest of this protocol is that when you choose to use the residual sugar of a single variety intended to be blended with finished wine, it will have an influence on the character of the bubbly at the end, and choosing the Romorantin or the Gascon is not random. They have it much easier in Champagne, they need between 20 and 25 grams of sugar but they work with finished wines and just add sugar, while pet'nats are made without any sugar addition, just using the natural sugar of the grapes.
Asked about his relations with the other growers around, he says he has none. He was looked down and derided from the start by the conventional growers who couldn't understand someone who didn't follow their own chemical management. It's not even sure they know his wines sell for several times their own and can be found in restaurants where they'll never be able to sell. Reynald worked at the coop of Mareau aux Prés in 2000/2003 and he knows quite well the mindset of these growers, but he has good relations and understanding with the present administrator of the Coopérative, Laurent Rabier, who also manages a non-profit group helping tend organicly small parcels that otherwise could be uprooted and make wine from them (source). I think Puzelat made wine from these small parcels (see 3rd pic and story on this page).
The sad thing is that this coopérative is struggling to stay afloat while an artisanal operation doing natural wines like Reynald's thrives; if the whole system was based on a different mindset these doomed growers would have a future and their only worry would be about being able to meet the demand...
__ Reynald now puts on the table a bottle of something special, it's some sort of ratafia, it's another crazy blend but this time with marc, fine, many types of spirits. Tastes a bit like a type of ratafia named Michel which you find in the Loir-et-Cher, a blend of grape juice and marc, the latter freezing the fermentation of the former, it makes for a gently sweet, easy to swallow, but strong beverage. Aromas of plum and prune kernel. We like that very much indeed, it's all beautifully integrated. But Reynald says it's not easily marketable because considering the amount of wine and spirits you have here, he'd have to sell it minimum 16 € without tax, and that would basically only cover the costs. On the other hand he says from his own experience that you can keep the open bottled a year or two.
__ Another ratafia, but more redish. He says it's more on the prune kernel side compared to the 1st one. It has also more length.
Reynald Héaulé exports most of his wine (70 % to 80 %). To Japan (Vinscoeur - Hokkaido, Le Vin Nature), Belgium (Altro Vino), Holland (Bolomey) Sweden (Vin & Natur), the United Kingdom, Denmark.
I met Reynald Héaulé a few years back as he was taking part to the solidarity harvest for Nathalie, shortly after the passing away of Christian Chaussard.