Champ-sur-Layon, Anjou (Loire)
I met Damien Bureau here and there, tasting his wines on wine fairs, the lastes occurence being at the pet'nat sparkling fair in Montrichard.
Anjou is an area where you may find affordable vineyards but finding a roof for your chai and cellar may be more tricky because of the real estate pressure, and Damien has been sharing a building with Kenji Hodgson, whom I visited a few years ago now. I won't say I found my way immediately (these winding side roads of Anjou are not the easiest to navigate through) but once arrived I was in familiar territory. When you arrive at the intersection pictured on right (vineyards in the background not belonging to any grower I know) outside of Champ-sur-Layon, just follow the small blue sign (on left)...
Damien Bureau began to make wine in 2006 after Babass from les Griottes let him a parcel to work on, he made his first barrel from which he'd do his sparkling Saperlipopet. Before that he had been working for different domaines including in Burgundy. He then rented his first parcel (it was Chenin, 0,5 hectare) in 2008, keeping making his sparkling. In 2010 he bought a 70-are parcel of old vines with Pineau d'Aunis and Chenin, this parcel being previously owned by les Griottes. With then a 1,25-hectare surface he was beginning to have more raw material to make wine and he made his first red, a Pineau d'Aunis named la Poivrotte. Next to this Aunis there was 45 ares of Chenin with which he could begin make dry Chenin. All the while beginning his wine farm he kept working for other vignerons, in 2009 he began working for the Clos de L'Elu not far from here, staying there until 2013. He kept increasing his own surface and When he stopped working for this domaine they helped him find additional parcels so that since 2013 he works on 3 hectares, the majority being planted with Chenin (he also has some Grolleau). This is the right surface he says when you want to do everything by yourself, the pruning, the plowing and so on.
Damien and Kenji, who both are part of the natural-wine group En Joue Connexion, share the space in this building, they're not short of presses as they have 4 of them (vertical presses), which is not too much considering they each have small parcels that need to be picked in their time. Damien has 3 hectares, Kenji 4,5 hectares and this still makes a lot of individual parcels to be picked and eventually pressed, especially that pressing a batch can take 24 hours everything included with the cleaning.
Kenji Hodgson whom I visited a few years ago was present during that visit, you'll see him on several pictures. I was offered to taste Damien's wines along with trying a few gorgeous cheeses that Damien had selected at Bocahut, a fromager based in the region. I had to drink more wine to rinse down all these treats...
__ La Poivrotte, vin de France (table wine) 2010, Pineau d'Aunis. at least 80-year-old vines in a 25-are parcel, lots of missing vines which he replaced but these new vines will need time to produce their share.
Whole-clustered grapes like all of his fruit, put straight into a fermenter, the fermentation taking off with a pied de cuve, in the matter, a few liters of Grolleau juice having the wild yeast starting to develop in advance a few days before the main picking. The whole-clustered grapes remain about 15 days in the fermenter (a fiber-resin vat), without pigeage and without pumping over, he just leaves things unfold and with the grape mass shrinking the juice ends up reaching almost the top of the grapes. The label says 10,5 % in alcohol but it's rather like 10 % in reality he says. The aromas are what you expect from Aunis, exciting et all, and the mouth is in line with this juicy and fresh feel. I love these light Pineau d'Aunis wines, often so light and delicious... Volume for the cuvée : 10 hectoliters, professional price (without tax) : 7 €. The wine is in high demand and he gives allotment to each buyer or importer. He may replant some more but being in the table-wine status he thinks it will be hard to get the planting authorizations from the wine administration.
Right now Damien uses "normal" fiber vats/fermenters but he'll switch more and more to the type of fermenter on the right on this picture : because it stands on legs and it has a special opening in its lower part it's easier to work with and to empty, plus, you can also move it easily when empty.
After the end of the carbonic maceration he takes the grapes out and leaves the fermentations (including the malolactic) finish in a vat. He never uses wood for this wine because it's his base cuvée, a thirst wine making 10 % or 10,5 % alcohol (on "bad" years it may be only 9 %, he grins), so barrels wouldn't be appropriate.
The wine is not filtered, got no SO2 adding and is totally natural and free of additives. Because of that as it is often the case for natural wines, Damien bottles only under the table-wine status (vin de France). Asked when he bottles his wine, he says it depends, this one (La Poivrotte 2014) was almost ready when he brought it at the wine fair Les Vins Anonymes last february in Angers. Some other years it may be ready later. Speaking of bottling he and a small group of vignerons (Kenji & Mai, Jean-François Chéné and Babass) bought a bottling line through a CUMA so as to be able to bottle themselves without having to hire a bottling truck which may prove very costly when you only have to bottle small batches of wine.
__ Emile, Vin de France 2014, Grolleau. Made from the vineyard he bought back to his former employer Thomas Carsin of Le Clos de l'Elu. The domaine downsized a bit, keeping the vineyards that were the closest to the winery, and this was an opportunity for Damien to take over this parcel. Having worked on this terroir himself for 4 years when he was employed at the winery, he knows it well and appreciates its value. Most of what he bought there is Chenin but there was some Grolleau too, 40-year-old vines, and here is the resulting wine. He named the cuvée Emile as a tribute to his own gradfather who was making wine in the region but whom he didn't know (he died when Damien was very young I guess). The small parcel has some diversity as Damien also spotted 2 different types of Gamay vines here and there among the rows and for the Grolleau itself he also saw two types of Grolleau. And he adds with a smile that as there are a few missing vines in these rows he may replant a few vines of Pineau d'Aunis to add another layer of complexity to the Grolleau... And he has not to fear the appellation rules as this is for a table wine, both Pineau d'Aunis and Grolleau being undesired in an AOC Anjou, had he had the desire to make one. Damien's father who works at the Musée de la Vigne in Saint Lambert where they do regularly tastings of forgotten varieties, including the Pineau d'Aunis formerly known under the name of Chenin Noir (plack Chenin), and he says that the King François 1er who lived in the early 16th century used to drink Chenin Noir (aka Pineau d'Aunis) when he was having red wine, this was the regular red then.
This cuvée Emile is picked a bit more ripe, but the wine is still only 11 % in alcohol. His yields there are 60 hectliters/hectare although he prunes short. Damien vinifies it like the Pineau d'Aunis, whole-clustered, in neutral vats, no pigeage, no pumping over. This is his 1st vintage of this terroir and he decided to devat it after 3 weeks because he felt like it was already fine. What he likes with this Grolleau is that compared with the Aunis you get more substance all the while remaining on the lightness side and the easy-drinking, fruity side, that's what he likes. I myself find a nice concentration, also some powerful feel, but Damien tempers my remarks saying 2014 was a sunny vintage with several consecutive beautiful months before the harvest. Right now when this visit took place it was also dry for a long time too but rain was announced and I'm sure they got enough rain since.
This wine is again unfiltered, unfined and got zero SO2. I love that and you certainly feel the truth in the glass. There's no perly feel on the tongue either in spite of the no-sulfites thing, This said, I really don't mind if it had some.
We then taste from a 400-liter barrel. Here Damien is filling a glass handed by his father.
__ Mille Sabords, Chenin 2014, relatively young vines (30 or 40 years) in Saint Aubin, from a parcel he purchased. Barrel made by Centre France, new barrel. Damien likes the new casks of this cooperage, there's a nice refineness here for new wood, he says. Not bottled yet, the bottle here is just an exemple of how it will look (just that this label is supposed to be for magnums).
A bit turbid. Acidulous feel in the mouth with something like a Berlingot candy. Damien says it still has a bit of residual sugar to work on, the last time he had it checked it had 2 grams. It's obviously very little now. This chenin wine is also free of added sulfites, I ask if it's more difficult, he says no, he never got oxidation problems even with the 4-spout gravity filler. Here the fermentation has been sluggish but it's nearly complete. He did some stirring some days ago. But he's happy because this is going to be his base cuvée of dry chenin.
Damien says that he will have another cuvée of Chenin. Initially the cuvée Mille Sabords was made from an old parcel located along the Pineau d'Aunis and he used to blend it with other juice and make the natural sparkling with the whole. But as he just purchased this vineyard of Chenin in Saint Aubin, from now on he'll use it for Mille Sabords, and he plans to use the old vines he got from Les Griottes for a separate cuvée. He says that it's exciting to make wine from Chenin aged from 80 to 90, so he'll probably make the cuvée either at the next harvest or in 2016.
__ old vine Chenin 2014. This is the wine he may botle separately as early as this year. He hasn't found the name of this future cuvée yet. As said, vines aged from 80 to 90, previously owned by les Griottes. Damien says that at this stage there's still redidual sugar and the yeast still have some work ahead. Damien is happy with these new barrels by Atelier Centre France, he says the wine is in the front seat, not the wood. From what he remembers they have their own work protocol, like giving the curved shape to the staves using hot water, little details that make a difference. Also for the toasting of the barrel they don't use a chronometer for a standard time, each barrel being different because of the intrinsic nature of the wood, they modulate the time by estimation, by the nose. Each time he tasted Chenin elsewhere with new barrels from this small cooperage, at Jo Pithon or Richard Leroy, he samely noticed that the wine came first, not the wood. At racking the wood may resurface in the tasting during the 3 first weeks but then it recedes.
Nice golden color with green reflexions. The residual sugar doesn't strike me, in the mouth the wine is more serious with a sharp minerality (schist terroir). He has only 2 400-liter barrels of these old vines (he estimates the yields at under 20 hectoliters/hectare).
Asked if sharing the chai with Kenji Hodgson generates exchanges, he says yes, both have different winemaking styles and having someone working differently close to you is informative, even if both of them keep loyal to their own style. Kenji says that on his side he began in 2013 to make wines without any added sulfites at all, something he didn't dare to do before (his addings were small though, 1 or 2 grams). Kenji says that he lifted his cautionary approach after seeing people like Damien and also Babass and Jean-François Chéné make their wines year after year without SO2 and doing fine. So in 2013 he switched overnight to sulfur free. Damien agrees and says that when the dose is minimal like 1 gram per hectoliter, it's so negligible that you might as well to add anything. Kenji says that the so2 may be useful against the goût de souris (mouse taste) but he noticed with tasting his mate's wines that if sometimes a particular batch is bottled with this faulty taste, it actually vanishes away after a while, you just need to wait a bit. This said, in my opinion, most of us consumers are not really bothered by these faults.
Asked about the damages by the Suzukii drosophilia in 2014, Damien says that he is used to have a bit of grape worms every year and in 2014 the rot turned acetic rot very quickly in the matter of a week because of the drosophilia. Anyway the parcel which is affected by the drosophilia is the first to be picked and this way his pickers can learn how to sort the grapes properly, he wasn't too much bothered as a result because he still picked the healthy grapes, just that the yields were smaller. This year it's been so dry so far that the eggs of this pest won't grow and they may be fine this year [it rained since this visit took place but the weather is now back on the dry].
__ Damien had us poured some of his natural sparkling (pet'nat) after Kenji (who has a good expertise on the handling) disgorged a bottle outside (sorry, I missed the split second moment with the lees bursting out
of the bottle neck.
The bottle was not at the right temperature but man this tastes so good, with vinous aromas making you ask for a refill. Damien says there is probably a bit of residual sugar to eat for the yeast. The bottles are still sur lattes right now and he's going to put them on their way to the disgorgement, after harvest time. Last time he had it checked for the sugar it had 11,88 % alcohol and had 8 gr of residual sugar, meaning that if all the sugar is converted it could make 12,5 %, but it will probably stop before that. The previous vintage made only 11,5 % on the label (pic on right), really an easy drinking sparkling.
Damien bottles usually when the wine has still 20 to 24 grams of sugar, that's the way usually to have a sparkling that gets no residual sugar at the end, but for the last 3 years with his terroir the sugar is never totally converted (before that, from 2006 to 2011 it finished its sugar without problem). I asked if he changed his cellar in 2011/2012 and he says yes, so this could have to do with the ambient yeast cloud in the chai.
I ask a few questions about their vintage vertical presses, they have 4 of them which Damien and Kenji found here and there, mainly through the french classified website le Bon Coin. I can't believe how cheap they were : the one on the left cost Damien 50 € and the other pictured on top 250 €. The wood staves were like here, he didn't have even to change them. But he says you have to be reactive, he the thing on the Internet and found immediately a truck to go take it. He found these two presses near here in Vendée, the one pictured on the top of the page and on left had already this stainless base which is a very convenient modification, and 250 € was indeed also very cheap. It is a large vertical press, able to hold 2,5 cubic meters. Much of the winery tools here, vats and presses are owned collectively by Damien and Kenji.
We drove to a couple parcel in the vicinity, with me following them (Damien and his father) on my motorbike. We passed through exquisite landscapes typical of the Anjou and Vendée : small winding roads going through a hilly mix of woods, small fields bordered by thick hedges, that's what we call in French the bocage, it's a landscape shaped for ages by small farmers. That's a terrain that proved deadly to the revolutionary militias sent by Paris 3 centuries ago to exterminate the villagers here, resistance was fierce and you can imagine it better when driving through the area, as the region seems to have retained the traditional bocage more than many other French regions.
This is a parcel of old Pineau d'Aunis with also some Chenin on the side, we're in the vicinity of Saint Lambert du Lattay. the cadastral lieu-dit has not a very fancy name, this is "la Croix du Sac" so he opted for another name for the cuvée. These are the old vines which Damien got from the domaine des Griottes. Damien tastes a few grapes here and there, looking satisfied. The Pineau d'Aunis has tightly-packed grapes in the clusters, that may prove harmful when rot settles in, or when grape worms find their way inside the pack. The ground is plowed, no grass left.
On the pic on right you can see some grapes remained green, shey should get their veraison later.
Driving further we reach another parcel in the vicinity of Saint-Aubin-de-Luigné, this is the Chenin behind the cuvée Mille Sabords, that's what he purchased last year from his former employer at the Clos de L'Elu. The parcel is facing the Quarts de Chaume appellation. The shoots seem to grow up unrestricted but Damien says he already trimmed the rows some time ago. He is working to reshape the vines on this parcel, it was pruned in Cordon and he says that with Cordon the sap is obliged to go at each of the two ends with nothing in-between, which is not balanced. He checks the clusters here and there, noticing a few leavs with oidium but nothing to really worry about, especially that he sprayed the week before just in case.
This 75-are parcel is less than 40 years old probably, exposed on north. He noticed that when he made liquoreux wine from this parcel (in 2010 and 2011 for example) it works ver well, possibly because of this exposition.
On the other side of the dirt road there's his parcel of old Grolleau, exposed on the west. There are about 35 ares with vines well covered with grapes in spite of the age of the parcel,
usually about 10 clusters paer vine in
spite of the short pruning he does in winter. With the dry weather the ground is stone hard, it's very clayish here.
He is not really sure of the age of the vines, the full info is not always available when you buy a parcel, especially when it's been planted long time ago.
He tastes a few grapes, tastes good he says. Further down the row he checks a few grapes that are not ripe enough, but on the whole it's well on its way. Walking back to the first grapes he tasted, he realizes this is actually a vine of Gamay which for some unknown reason was lost among the Grolleau, possibly a mixup at the nursery back then. I think that's the secret of these old parcels, you get some od varieties mixed up in the whole thing and bringing a few drops of complexity to the wine... No kidding, I think modern plantings should voluntarily emulate these laid back inaccuracies, if of course the AOC administration sanctions it, which is far from guaranteed considering their mindset.
Here is the gamay on the left (even though he explains me, I marvel at how these growers can recognize different varieties planted randomly in a given parcel) and on the right you can see that the Grolleau has longer clusters..
I end up tasting this Grolleau, not bad but table grapes are more easy to eat. Damien says that he has two types of Grolleau in this parcel, one which is typical of the area with well ventilated grapes in the cluster, and another with tightly-packed grapes like you find on the Pineau d'Aunis, it was the 1st time he saw this type of Grolleau. At the beginning he was upset by these unexpected intruders but now he thinks it's fine and to replace the missing vines he will even add another layer of complexity with a few replantings of Pineau d'Aunis...
Damien Bureau exports 70 to 80 % of his wine, his volumes are small and he has to kind of select his buyers. He sells to Japan (oeno Connexion), Australia (Charlie Simpson), Denmark (Lieu-Dit), Belgium (Roland Fort), Italy (Jardin du Vin), Switzerlan (through Stéphane Planche), soon the United Kingdom (Isabelle Legeron).