Les Montils (Loire)
The weekend was gorgeously sunny and not too warm, the early mornings being as well very mild, not cold at all, something which would have been welcome for all these vignerons for the last few weeks, when a devastating frost took place in several wine regions of France including the Loire.
B. and I spent a few days in the Loire to enjoy at least this fair weather and nice temperature, I was supposed to visit a vigneron but didn't hear from him so I thought visiting the Puzelat/Bonhomme open doors might be a good alternative, there's nothing better than these small gatherings of natural-wine vintners to boost your morale even higher, I was to check it again.
Mainstream wineries also do open doors now and then (usually once a year) but they usually don't open their premises to competitors and in this regard there's definitely something different going on with the artisan, natural-wine movement, it's all about sharing. During two consecutive days, these vignerons would pour wine for the visitors, sell cases and see each other at the same time, beginning with the happy lunches and dinners on the long table in the courtyard.
The tasting event was free of charge and open to everybody, thanks to which you had both a crowd of longtime amateurs of natural wine (some of them professionals) and locals or people who spend their weekends in their country house. As stated on the leaflet on the right, the event was organized by three vintners : the Puzelat brothers, Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme and Hervé Villemade, and the other vintners were Catherine & Pierre Breton, Pascal Potaire (Les Capriades), Philippe Chevarin, Jean-François Nick (les Foulards Rouges), Agnès & Jean Foillard, Potron Minet, Agnés & René Mosse, Frantz Saumon, Nicolas (alias Kikro) Vauthier, and Yoyo.
No need to present Thierry & Jean-Marie Puzelat who run one of the most vibrant domaines in the Loire, in addition to helping foreign artisan producers
through his import wing (in particular Georgian wines)
and giving a hand at the opening of wine bars (le Bec à Vins in Orléans and les 400 Coups in Blois). Until recently he also run a négoce with Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme but he let the operation to Pierre-Olivier.
When I arrived at around 2:30 pm on saturday most vintners were still at the long lunch table outside, this was the first day of the event which had officially started at 11 am and we'll not blame them for taking extra time for this warmful reunion. But Thierry and Jean-Marie were already busy doing the pouring or fixing stuff and I jumped at the opportunity to taste their wines. Thierry was doing the tasting on a beautifully-carved barrel, this is the work of this Japanese artist who is touring the artisan domaines and carves a barrel for each vigneron, I believe.
__ Vin Rouge, red Vin de France (table wine) 2015, made from generic Gamay purchased in the Cher valley. The only non-terroir cuvée, with the one named Vin Rosé which is also made from purchased grapes, but what a pleasure to drink ! It's fruity, gentle and onctuous with this nice acidity, and it costs only 7,5 € public price here at the domaine, a terrific deal. 10-12-day carbonic maceration, short élevage in tronconic vat, unfiltered and no SO2 added at bottling (10 mg total SO2 at analysis). Thierry says he make about 80-100 hectoliters of it every year.
__ La Butte 2015, parcellaire Gamay from 68-year-old vineyards they've been vinifying for 15 years, actually Bruno Allion is managing the vineyards (and owns the parcel) as they're located in his village of Thésée. Darker wine, richer, an onctuous wine that glides gently on the palate. Limestone slope, yields more minerality and depth but needs more time to express itself. Semi-carbonic maceration, there's some pigeage here.
__ Cheverny Rouillon 2015. Gamay-Pinot Noir. Stil a bit austere in the mouth.
__ la Gravotte 2015, Pinot Noir (vines aged 40). Clear robe. Nice bitterness in the mouth with tannin grip.
Philippe chevarin was presenting his very first wines at this event, this was his first vintage and he makes wine in the western Loire in the Muscadet region after training with Jacques Carroget at Domaine de la Paonnerie. All his wines are labelled as table wine but if he asked for the AOC it'd be Muscadet-Coteaux-de-la-Loire, a little-known AOC anyway, and with which he'd not be allowed to have reds. Philippe farms 4 hectares, all rentals from what I understand. Except for one of his two whites (which alas I didn't taste becauser I wanted to stay on reds) there no added SO2 at all in his wines, and no need to say they are all vinified on indigenous yeast without any additives like everyone in this tasting event. In 2014, before he began to make wine himself, he sold his grapes to René Mosse and to Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme.
__ La Goulée, a rosé made with gamay, has this lovely milky turbidity (unintended, he says, some lees sneaked in at bottling). The wine is lovely, a great thirst wine with supern drinkability, makes 11 % in alcohol. He says his highest alcohol is 11,5 % in 2015. This bottle costs 8 € tax included, very good value.
__ Les Sentinelles, red table wine made from Gamay (roughly the same parcels than the rosé). Vinified whole-clustered in resin vats with a bit of pigeage, he says with a smile that actually the vat was just short for the intended volume of grapes and the pigeage was in order to have them all fit in... He used the resulting juice to soften the cap on the top, but at the end it's a mix of a carbonic maceration and a non-carbo. The fruit has fruit and freshness, my stomach makes this noise when it recognizes the right stuff.... 11,5 % alcohol, costs 10 € public price.
__ L'Oubli, means "the oblivion" because it is made from Grolleau and this varietal has been "forgotten" [certainly voluntarily] by the AOC rules in this part of Muscadet (in the coteaux d'Ancenis), Grolleau is deemed alien in this region even though Anjou is not far away. I love this wine, just lovely with this onctuosity and this light sugary edge, very good value at 12 € tax included.
Philippe says that around his place people are not familiar at all with natural wines and when they tasted his wines they said the rosé had a problem, same for his reds, there's only the whites which they considered OK...
__ Coup de Pouce, red natural sparkling (pet-nat) made from Cabernet Sauvignon on shist soil. Quite dark wine, he says because it had 2 days of vatting as he was not yet decided if he'd make a sparkling or a still wine. Very aromatic, the bubbles are rare and thin (in part because the bottle has been open for a while), not forward. Costs 12 € tax included.
I asked Philippe if he had suffered from the recent frost and he said he lost almost nothing while at the Domaine de la Paonnerie lost about 50 % of the future fruit. Jeremy Quastana who was also tasting at his stand and makes wine not far from the Puzelats (he was just visiting the event, not presenting his wines) says he lost 70 % of his potential grapes in his total 2-hectare surface, he is insured since 2012 (when he lost lots of grapes too) because at the time he thought he's not be able to face another such catastrophic year. the insurance doesn't replace the wine but at least it allows to keep paying to do the vineyard management costs and wait for the next year. There may be an administrative authorization given to the domaines to buy frapes to partly replace their missing fruit load but as everybody had some frost there's little chance to find grapes to buy.
Wise importers know that these events are a good way to stumble upon new names or even new cuvées, and I shot this picture of California-based importer Cory Cartwright (Selection Massale) as he was precisely tasting the first vintages of Philippe Chevarin. Cory was the writer of Saignée, a must-read blog on which he stopped publishing because of lack of time with the time-consuming importer work.
Cory had arrived the previous tuesday and was to stay about 2 weeks, first travelling through the Loire visiting producers, then the Beaujolais, Jura and Savoie. His business partner was travelling to Germany where they have 4 or 5 producers in the south-west of the country. Asked if this kind of trip was to possibly add a few more wines in his portfolio, he said yes. The demand being high for natural wines in France as well as abroad, I guess it's important to be among the first to spot a new cuvée or even a new vigneron to secure an allotment and build loyalties and ties in the long term.
Nicolas Vauthier of Vini Viti Vinci is making wine in an off-centered Burgundy wine region, Avallon, which is located in the Yonne dpartement in northern Burgundy, not far from fellow natural-wine producer François Ecot and they're both proof that you can make gems in these lesser-known corners of Burgundy. When I shot this picture François Morel just joined to taste the wines, he is the chied editor at the wine magazine Le Rouge et le Blanc, an independant publication (no sponsoring through ads by the wine industry) dealing with artisan and real wines.
__ Grôle tête, Bourgogne Coulanges-la-Vineuse 2015 (vat sample, no label yet), bottled 10 days before. It's a try, the wine (100 % Pinot Noir) had a short élevage in vat only,
Nicolas used the parcels that are the most "tender" in his Coulanges vineyards, no necessarily the youngest, it has to do with the clayish soil which yield wines that are tender and consensual with a fruit-forward mouth. He says that the wine is a bit more angular because it saw no casks but otherwise the cuvée got no SO2 addition whatsoever (vinification or bottling). With the bottling only 10 days before it behaves well. Should cost 13 € public price when available.
__ Bourgogne Epineuil 2014, 100 % Pinot Noir of course, bottle end of january 2015. Vinified in tronconic vat and then in old barrels which are already 5-wine old when he buys them from Claire Naudin and Philippe Pacalet. The appellation Epineuil sits west of Chablis, these are the northernmost vineyards for Burgundy pinot noir, something few people know I guess. Nicolas says that at the begiinning (he started in 2009) he tried to make wines like he learned in the Côte de Beaune (he trained at Philippe Pacalet) but here on Epineuil the climate is different and he's been diminishing the pigeage year after year, thus diminishing the extraction which on this latitude can yield angular wines. He also invested in temperature control and when he brings his whole-clustered grapes in the vatroom they get cooled at under 10 ° C (50 ° F) so that the fermentation starts al low temperature, after which the fermentation never gets above 24 ° C (75 ° F). He says the wine recoverd fairly well after 3 months in bottles. Sells for 16 or 17 € retail. For the SO2 here the wine got 1/2 g at racking and 1/2 again at bottling and the result is almost nothing in the wine after analysis.
Bourgogne Irancy les Beaux Monts 2014. The mouth is harder here, with more alcohol also it seems to me. He says the wine is in a closing cycle at this stage.
__ Le Rougeot, Vin de France (table wine) 2014, with a rooster on the label. Made with old Gamay Teinturier (90) from Irancy and young Pinot Noir from Tonnerre. Gamay Teinturier is a strain of gamay used in the past (a century ago) to bring darker color in Burgundy wines [this was before the conventional wineries discovered in the late 20th century the "modern" techniques of heating the juice for color extraction or the other additives that can add color]. Can't be labelled under an AOC because of the gamay-teinturier part [in spite of the fact this color varietal has a long record in the region]. Makes 11,5 % in alcohol. Neat wine, with a light sugary edge. Sells for 12 €, he made 2 barrels of this.
I had also the rare chance to have my glass filled by Eric Pfifferling who was taking part to the event with his wife Marie. Eric had brought only two cuvées, the rest being certainly already alloted to buyers in France and abroad.ggg
_ L'Anglore, Sels d'Argent, Vin de France (table wine) 2014. Grenache Blanc, Eric says that this is a cuvée which didn't finish its sugar so they had it get a much longer élevage. It was blended last november 2015 and bottled february 2016. Freshness and nice substance in the mouth. Sells for 15 € retail.
__ Terre d'Ombre, Grenache Rouge 2015, the first to be bottled from this vintage (bottled april 29). Eric says he often uses several casks of this Grenache to make the Primeur wine at autumn, but last november, given the terrorist attacks in Paris they didn't come to Paris for the usual primeur day. The wine is very clear, tastes very ripe with flower and spicy aromas, the latter being rare but 2015 is special. Eric says it has a very good phenolic maturity without having a big substance. The wine is very surprising in the mouth with something like an acidulous candy, you must try that. 12 € retail.
Here is the Domaine Potron Minet, headed by Jean-Sébastien Gioan who was a messenger in Paris in his former life and who discovered natural wine through visits at Le Baratin and Le Verre Volé and later trained at Puzelat before starting his own thing in the Languedoc near Perpignan.
__ Potron Minet Roulé Boulé, vin de France 2015, Syrah 80 %, Grenache 20 %. Sells for 9 € public price.
__ Potron Minet, Pari Trouillas Rouge, vin de France 2014, 70 % Carignan, 30 % Grenache. Vinified more or less like the first wine : hand picked & carbonic maceration, the only addition being a bit of SO2 before bottling (at the racking of the casks). The nose is very appealing. Very nice wine indeed with a bright acidity, I love that ! Costs 8 € public price only.
__ Potron Minet Querida, vin de France 2014. Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre, 1/3 of each. Beautiful nose too, and nice chew, costs 10 €.
__ Potron Minet la Berlue, vin de France 2014. 80 % Grenache & 20 % Mourvèdre. Relatively light in color in spite of the Mourvèdre, he says this is a carbonic maceration made in wide fermenters thanks to which the grapes aren't crushed under their own weight, there's almost no juice released before the pressing. Nice tannic chew with freshness. Costs 10 € retail at the domaine (or here at the event of course).
Here is another visitor who came from his Vendômois region, American-born Brendan Tracey who is both a musician and a winemaker years after having befriended the Puzelat brothers through the music scene of Blois in the 1980s'.
Brendan also lost some potential grapes with the recent frost, including the ones he was supposed to buy, like this young grower who just lost 90 % of his fruit, it was the 2nd year he was to buy fruit from him, the first one being 2015. He still has this 2015 wine in 2 demi-muids (large-capacity casks) and he says they taste beautifully, he invites me to stop for a visit and tasting, I might do that one day on my way to the Cher valley. He sys that for sure 2015 is the best vintage he ever saw, everything is great. 2014 was also good and 2013 was the worse of all his winemaking years, but I tell him that whatever the weather conditions they [natural winemakers] manage to do beautiful wines anyway. He says that indeed the wines, even if different, taste interesting, like his Capitalisme Rouge & his white Rue de la Soif, there was a iodine mouthfeel in the wines in 2013, like if the vinification had got a direct exposure to sea winds or something.
Then I walked to the other vatroom where the rest of the vignerons were pouring their wines. Pascal Potaire and Moses Gadouche were alternatively pouring the wines of Les Capriades, the natural-wine domaine that vinifies only natural sparklings, from both estate and purchased fruit.
__ Piège à Filles 2015, méthode ancestrale (pet-nat) vin de France. As you certainly know, the
words ancestral method mean the sparkling is made without added sugar, unlike Champagne or Crémants which are actually finished still wines that got an addition of sugar and lab yeast for a 2nd fermentation in the bottle (that's the one that will trap bubbles in the wine).
This Piège à Filles is made with 50 % Gamay and the rest Cabernet Franc, a bit of Grolleau and Pineau d'Aunis. On the market since march 2016. Yields were not very high in 2015, they nedded 1,7 to 1,8 kg of grapes to make a bottle, but on the whole they got a good volume of grapes to work from.
Speaking of the frost they lost 80 % of the fruit on two parcels on the Faverolles/Saint Julien area along the Cher river, they were to buy this fruit from Mickael Bouges who owns them. It's still far from the harvest 2016 but Moses say they might have to source their purchased grapes in a faraway region (maybe in the south of France) because there will be more demand than available grapes around here in the Loire.
Their Piège à Filles is the iconic pet-nat of the domaine, it is a rosé with a gentle sweet feel and this year I noticed that it was more on the acidulous side than sweet candy, even if still sweet somehow. Moses says that his customers like it this way, it's easier to drink when a little drier. A bottle costs 10 € tax included.
__ BCF, pet-nat méthode ancestrale vin de France 2015, made from Gamay Teinturier, the color-enhancing gamay strain [look at this color !] used a century ago to darken the wines because they were so light in color with the high yields then. It's the 2nd year they make this almost-red sparkling, the first year they didn't disgorge the bottles and the wine was turbid. More residual sugar here, for those who long for the sweet version of the Piège à Filles, I would say, a bottle costs 11 € public price, there's more work to make it, Moses says. They're going to change the name of this cuvée soon.
Jean Foillard was also sharing a couple of cuvées with the visitors, and here he is chatting with wine critic and writer François Morel.
__ Foillard Côte de Py. More lightness and refineness, very nice wine, costs 15 € a bottle.
__ Foillard Eponym Morgon Les Charmes 2013. Clear redish color, almost milky. Classy wine with a nice length in the mouth, elegance. My stomach awakes again an regignizes a great wine... Certainly the one I liked the most on his table (cask). This cuvée was more on the fruity side earlier, then it closed somehow and now you get this, which I think is terrific. Costs 15 € public price, great value for sure.
Asked if he suffered from the frost Jean Foillard says no, there still remains risks like hail, flowering problems or other things like too much rain, too much sun...
I also chatted with a young American, Claire Hill, it seems she is getting into the wine trade and visiting artisan vignerons here and there, having spent 6 months recently at Erix Texier in the Côtes du Rhône and the day before she visited Laurent Saillard (pictured on right with Mailys and Nicolas vauthier) and Didier Barrouillet to speak about the soils and other issues.
Claire speaks an excellent French which makes her wine trip certainly more comfortable, and she had other winery experiences back in California during the past few years (at Rhys Vineyards), she says it's very different over there and she wanted to come in France to see from close how people were working. She says in California the lack of rain is getting frightening and heart of the wine region may move further north if this trend continues. Asked if she plans to work around here in a winery she says she can't for now because she's not French or European but she can do temporary training.
Anyway, watch out for this young American, she doesn't show it but she is learning from all these vignerons. Claire gave me also a few names of people to visit in Oregon & California when I'm visiting again, great tips, new names of artisan vintners !
I also met Fifi, the man who was behind Ten Bells and who now runs a wine import business appropriately named Fifi's Imports. He is in France these days to visit the vignerons he already imports and possibly find someone new or another cuvée. Two days before he was in the Beaujolais (Yvon, Metras, Karim Vionnet, Pierre Coton), the day before in the Jura (tasting a few artisan producers there).
Lastly I tasted a few wines of Les Foulards Rouges, the domaine of Jean-François Nick.
__ Foulards Rouges Les Vilains, cold vinification, grapes put from 6 to 12 hours at 5 ° C (41 F), carbonic maceration. Very nice, really the type of wine we all love, and this costs only 7 € public price...
__ Foulard Rouge, Grenache (written in arabic) 2015. Destemmed grapes. More extraction here, more alcohol too.
Again I couldn't taste all the vignerons, I had to be in the Cher valley because friends were visiting, sorry for Mosse, Bonhomme and Villemade...