Saint-Aubin-de-Luigné, Anjou (Loire)
First vintage of the Domaine de la Petite Soeur
Adrien de Mello learnt to make wine very far from Anjou, he started making wine in Quebec in 2003, a domaine located on an island near Quebec city, the Domaine de L'Ile Ronde, a very nice place although the viticulture/winemaking was conventional. He didn't know anything about wine when he first walked in the domaine, he worked there until 2006, on both the farming and the cellar side. Then he came back to France in 2006 and enrolled in the wine school in Beaune, Burgundy.
From there, thanks to the wine school he spent two months as a trainee in a domaine in South Africa where he learnt all the things you must never do, this was a 1300-hectare mega-domaine in the Stellenbosch area, he was trained to re-acidify the wines, add lab yeast, then add ammonia in the juice (to kickstart the fermentation because the grapes are so hot that the yeast don't start to work...), they'd add sulfur on the incoming grapes, add liquid tannin on the reds from the very beginning and other awful stuff. All the vineyards there were on drip irrigation, and the thing is, the terroir, the soil was excellent, there was a potential to do terrific things in particular with chenin, but this was wasted by the commercial viticulture & cellar practices.
He then went to the U.S. at the First Colony Winery in Virginia, this was also very conventional, the 3,5-hectare domaine was followed by a French enologist then, who was telling him to use enological charcoal on the whites, not really the thing he liked, and also, Virginia is very humid and Adrien would have liked to vinify the Chardonnay at 11,5 %, they were healthy at that stage, but just to wait more for 13,5 % he lost much of the grapes because of rot. This was enough for him, he quit and went back to Quebec in 2007 where he was appointed as winemaker at the Domaine de L'Ile Ronde. He stayed there until 2010, they started to farm on biodynamics and on this same year (2007) he began to vinify his first natural wines there, with a cuvée named Globule.
Back in France in 2010, Adrien found a job in the Rhone, in a Chateauneuf-du-Pape biodynamic domaine, Domaine Duseigneur, this was early 2011 and he stayed there 5 years for 4 vinifications. And ultimately he got notice of 3,5 hectares of vines made available by the Clos de L'Elu here in Anjou and that was the start of his own domaine. Adrien is a breton originally and he was looking for vines as close as possiblr from Brittany, that's why Anjou was a prime search area for him. He thought initially to look in the Muscadet because you find cheap surface there, but he's more experienced with reds than whites, so Anjou felt like a better alternative, especially that there's a stronger artisan/natural-wine community in Anjou compared to Muscadet.
The good thing also was that these 3,5 hectares he had the opportunity to manage were already farmed organic, so you didn't have to wait for the conversion and face all the related problems. The selling domaine wanted to get rid of those parcels to get cash (they had a total surface of 25 hectares). Another grower bought parcels there, this was Damien Bureau. As soon as he got these 3,5 hectares which were in one block, he decided to farm on biodynamy and take a draft horse. Here the vineyard surface is much cheaper than in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape where he was working before, it was 30 000 €/hectare compared to 10 000 € here in Anjou (even less). In Quebec it's nothing, but you don't find with vineyards, you have to plant yourself, and the land costs nothing.
Adrien found a place for his facility, namely that's in the outbuildings of a chateau (Château de la Genaiserie, pictured on top, right and left) outside of the village of Saint-Aubin-de-Luigné (church pictured on right), quite a princely surrounding for you first facility. This tower which hints of more glamorous times in this chateau is where Adrien stores his phytosanitary
products for the vineyard, I guess the copper mix and the sulfur.
His first vintage was 2015, the gamay and chenin were bottled last april, and the pet-nat was finished last july. He's looking for customers, travelling to Paris, visiting places, sending samples to Quebec. His wine can already be found at La robe et le Palais, Coinstot Vino, Cave de L'Insolite and Frenchie, quite good wine venues indeed.
Asked about the difference about setting up a winery-related business in France compared to Quebec or North America, he says it's a nightmare in France for the administrative procedures, between the Direction Départemental du Territoire (known as DDT), the Douanes, the Chambre d'Agriculture, all these administrations slopw the process, the DDT takes 4 months to give you the green light to start your farming business. He says that last year he harvested the 12th and he signed the contract for the vineyards on the 18th of the same month, in short he was working illegally, picking before having signed the contract, and that was all the fault of this slow administration (he was obliged to push them to speed the whole thing). And take a seat : he had articles on local newspapers about his starting a winery and then had the Douanes (the French Customs who oversee all the regulation of the wine/alcohol sector) call him and asking him what was going on, as legally he was not established as a vigneron [at least they read newspapers, if they're slow to speed the business paperwork...], so he had to explain everything to them, that it was almost completed but for some administrative delay... He had been interviewed because he had bought his draft horse through crowdfunding (here is the crowdfunding page, he went over his target). In short it was a lot of stress. In Quebec it's much easier and you can plant whatever you want, you just need a license for making alcohol, you get it from the SAQ and the Chamber of Agriculture, and you get your license. And here the banks wouldn't finance him for the purchase of the 3,5 hectares, so he had to find an investor for that, and he rents them to these investors. The SAFER like the banks told him this was too small, saying they'd help if he wanted to buy 10 hectares, the reason is that the banks pay themselves back much better with 10 hectares if he goes bankrupt, including with the sequestration of the cellar tools and farming machines.
Pic on left : this strange instrument is a vintage corking tool he got from the Clos de L'Elu, and he uses it routinely for his bottlings. In the background : Over-riped sauvignon wine in the two demijohns, not ready yet.
Finding the facility was a big challenge, there's a shortage of available buildings in the area, even barns are hard to find, that's because of the real estate pressure, lots of people working in Angers wanting to get a house or building in the countryside to turn it as their main residence. He found this person who owned this chateau and had sold his vineyards in 2013, on the other hand this person didn't want to rent the building with the vatroom to anybody so he checked out who Adrien was and the fact that he had work in a nice place in Chateauneuf du Pape helped. He began to rent in august and had to hurry to find all the missing tools, a few vats, a press, which he received september 7, just in time to press a few days later on the 12th... He bought a Vaslin and he's not sure to fill it well this year because of the low volumes, but Yann, a friend who is a black-smith in the area will leave him use his basket press if necessary. He bought also a few vats to the owner of this place, plus others to a vigneron elsewhere. Also his former boss gave him a temperature-control system, and he found a good pump in Burgundy.
He learned to work with draft horses in Burgundyin 2006/2007 with Mr Zito who was working on Clos de Vougeot. Adrien was a student at the wine school in Beaune then, and he remembers when he was exercizing with a horse in a vineyard that there was an old man working on his Bobard straddle tractor not far from there, this man came to him and said he was pleased to hear a human voice in the vineyard (you always give a strong voice when you guide a draft horse). That's when he thought he'd buy a horse right away if he starts a domaine one day, because he felt that if he begins with a tractor, it'll be much more difficult to do the step to take a draft horse, you must do it on day one. Last year he plowed everything with the horse, this was nice especially that his vineyards are in one block, but this year (2016) he used the tractor for half of the surface because the commercial part of the job takes him too much time right now (travelling to Paris and other cities to show his wines). He also had a draft-horse training in Jura at the CERRTA with Jean-Louis Cannelle, a horse breeder dealing with Comtois horses, he loved it. That's where he bought the horse, he got the 6500 € with only 49 days on the crowdfunding site, and he pays the people back with bottles. That's indeeca nice way to finance one's self, the banks may be on the loosing side on this one. Having had more money from this operation, he could also buy the harness and other horse accessories, he just has to pay back with bottles
He bought a couple of other tools including this accessoty on the left (the flat one, with a yellow handle), a rotary flail which is a very efficient accessory, you attach it at the back of the tractor and cut the grass short, he says last year he used the draft horse to plow without having mowed the grass and that was a difficult job. He also bought the spraying attachment. He also bought second-hand this décavailloneuse on the right, he found it near Toulouse for only 100 € ,the average prices he saw around here were more like 400 € for this kind of tool, on this one he had just a bit of welding to do and put some grease. This kind of tool is not manufactured anymore, the new models being hydraulic and they cots lots more money. This plowing tool looks old but it's from the 1980s' or the 1970s'. He says this tool makes a very good job with at the back of tractor, he says last year it was pretty tough to plow with the horse, and he lost a few vines because the handling of a walk plow behind a horse is tricky, you have to tilt the blade on the side before it hurts the rootstock, but the horse tends to walk powerfully and sometimes you're not quick enough to deflect the blade and it tears off the vine irremediably.
Because of the difficulty with the horse, he switched to this tractor-pulled tool in april for the rest of the work, especially for the décavaillonnage, he didn't want at this stage to risk more accidental uprooting. He also tried to borrow more modern tools like hydraulic-powered plows but they wouldn't do the job, sometimes the blade wouldn't swing correctly as expected, it was also tricky.
Babass who was present during this visit gives tips to Adrien on how give more power and traction to his tractor by filling the tubes in the back wheels with water. You first leave the air go then fills the tube as much as you can and then complete with air pressure, and you light tractor gains weight and traction. He says even already on the road you feel it much more stable, and of course on a slippery, muddy soil it makes a big difference.
Inside the building he has already all you need to make wine including a forklift which is very useful because he does all the handling by himself. Some tasks take time but he can do everything alone. He had the Vaslin press heightened so that he could slip bins below, he drags the pomace in these bins and can deliver the crushed grapes to the distillery as requested by the administration, and this without undue manpower.
Some of the vats were already in the facility, and he found a few others (stainless-stee vats made by Anjou Inox) here and there.
He bought these barrels second-hand he had his chenin wine ferment in there, as well as the sauvignon. There were more casks but the wine was bottled.
__ Les Gâts vin de France (table wine) 2015. Named from the parcel or cadastral name (but he'll change the cuvée name for the next vintage). There's a bit of CO2 in the wine (lightly perly as it is vinified without SO2, there was only 1 gram at bottling, which didn't make a difference), he says this is a mistake
he did early april, he had these 4 barrels, he racked them all in march and bottled the wine in april, actually he should have racked & bottled 2 casks only and leave the other until july, there wouldn't be any perly thing in the 2nd batch. This is the chenin which had a mousy character in april, but right now there's no trace of that, it fares pretty well, and for me the perly feel is very light, not really a problem here.
On the back label Adrien thanks the 130 people who helped him buy the draft horse and who will be paid with the shipping of a certain amount of bottles of wine by the way.
Speaking of the vin de France status here (table wine when this Chenin could be granted the AOC), Adrien says that he'll not ask for the AOC for most of his cuvées because they will make a small volume (plus you have to pay each time), he plans in the future to have a couple cuvée with the AOC and the rest labelled as vin de France
__ Globule Rouge, Cabernet Franc (70 %) & Cabernet Sauvignon (30%), vinified in stainless-steel vats only. This is a cuvée name he already used in Quebec when he was making wine there. Last year the cabernet sauvignon had no problem ripening, this year we'll see, he says. Here there hasn't been any SO2 added, he says that for the chenin he regrets to have added this single gram at bottling, but it was his first vintage here and he felt like doing the adding. Retrospectively especially after speaking to several fellow vintners of the area like Jean-François Chéné he understand he shouldn't have, but it probably didn't harm the wine anyway.
Here there was 18 days of maceration (whole-clustered grapes) for the cabernet sauvignon and 22 days for the cabernet franc. His policy is to devat the grapes as soon as the juice turns into wine, and press the grapes, he doesn't wait the end of the sugar so technically you can say it's not a carbonic maceration although it's still one.
__Cabernet Sauvignon from a barrel. Adrien didn't want more than 30 % of Cabernet Sauvignon in his Globule Rouge, so he put the rest in barrels, here is the wine, he plans to have it wait and have a longer élevage here, but we taste it nonetheless. The barrels were used for whites before this wine and when he put the cabernet sauvingon in there after the harvest the juice/wine took immediately some wood flavors, so he wants to wait as much time is needed to have it go away, he plans no less than 2 years of élevage. He got the barrels second-hand from Damien Laureau. I happen to have opened recently a bottle od Chenin by Damien Laureau while in the Loire (le Bel Ouvrage 2006) and it was indeed more oaky than my norm. No filtration here yet of course.
There's a beautiful place in the building upstairs where he's setting up his office, but as it's an outbuilding of the chateau nearby, it's listed as historic building as well and he can't for now pass a stove pipe outside (it'd be a great place to heat with a stove) for the heating. This part of the building is just so nice, with a period staircase and this room that perspires the way of life of these past centuries. Its long window overlooks the courtyard and the tower (see 3rd pic from top), the courtyard could be cleaned and ordered a bit I guess to make it more welcoming.
We drove to Adrien's vineyards, all the parcels make indeed a single block cut in two by a small road (66 ares on one side and 2,8 hectares on the other side). This whole block was farmed organic before and adrien added biodynamics in the vineyard management, but the good thing is he had not to convert them from conventional.
The terroir is in places thick with shist, with lots of packed rocks surfacing here and there. The 33 ares of sauvignon on this shist soil is ripening beautifully, that from this part of the pacel that he made his over-ripe sauvignon try (the 2 demijohns in his vatroom). There are a few dead vines with esca, and on those showing the early symptoms of esca he cut the top of the vine to try reboot the sap flow on its tracks, it's a trial, he'll see next year how they fare.
Adrien says that on this particular spot the grapes are beautiful, with small-sized berries but well aerated bunches while further down on the block the sauvignon grapes are more compacted, less interesting. The Layon river is just down the slope, 200 meters away.
He's beginning to know his vineyard better already, but he says that if he made a production of 8300 bottles from the vintage 2015, he'd have made 10 000 instead if he just had known his vineyards a year earlier, because he would not have de-budded the way he did it and other things like that. He says that anyway he's very lucky to have started with 2015 because the 3 previous vintages were pretty miserable in volumes and same for 2016, at least his starting year was beautiful in quality and in volume as well.
We cross the paved road to have a look at the second part of the block, we can guess in the far the small valley where the Layon river runs, heading to the bigger Mother Loire a few hundred meters further. On this 2,8-hectare block he has 0,5 hectare of chenin, the part that is closest to the river froze this spring while the upper part near the paved road went through unscathed. He also has 0,5 hectare of cabernet franc and 0,5 hectare of gamay and there's cabernet sauvignon too.
The medium age of the vines are 40 to 50, some of these vines are superb. The rootstocks here are 3309, Adrien says this is where he keeps working with the draft horse. It was all very dry when this visit took place, some rain must have come since then happily.
He has also a 4-row parcel of Gamay Freaux, a cépage teinturier or dyer grape variety (pic on left), this is a strain of gamay that is darker in color and was used in the past to get the wines darker [now commercial wineries use additives or flash pasteurization to extract more color]. Last year he vinified it separately but in 2016 as his other gamay (gamay à jus blanc) has very low volumes he'll blend the two for his Gamins cuvée.
Here and there we can see grilled grapes (pic on right), whole bunches of grapes that were right away burnt by the sun and the drought, you won't see that every year, especially in the Loire (and you don't irrigate here). Altogether this year has been pretty tough on volumes, with the fros, the rain in may/june, the mildew and now grapes drying up...
We all drove to the famous Auberge du Layon in Rablay-sur-Layon to have pizzas (great ones) and natural wine to go with it, as the restaurant in this quiet Anjou village serves only this type of wine, making it a dragnet for wine lovers in the area. With the pizzas we had Ca C'est Bon by Laurent Lebled (indeed excellent wine), whom I learnt is in the process of moving to Portugal where it's very easy to start a business and make wines, with lots less regulations and administrative costs. And Adrien openeda few bottled, having the manager of the restaurant taste them also, as he's regurlarly looking for new cuvées.
__ Globule Blanc, vin de France (table wine) Sauvignon 2015. From the parcel on shists. Vinified in old barrels, there were 17 grams of residual sugar in december, the wine started to ferment again in june, stalling again in july with the remaining 4 grams, with oxidation and volatile threatening, so he racked and bottled with some SO2. The oak is not forward here, it's well integrated, the 4 grams make the richness of the wine, makes 13,5 % in alcohol, that's a sauvignon to eat with, can be very good with Comté cheese for example.
__ Gamins, vin de France 2015, Gamay. 45-year-old vines. Carbonic maceration (15 days). Bottled unfiltered in april 2015, with 1 gram so2, it virtually vanished by now, and he did it because it was his 1st vintage but says that he shouldn't have added any. 11,5 % alcohol. there's a bit of co2, you can carafe if you want but it fares
very well for me. He says that he could have waited one more week before picking here, there was some rain threats during the harvest and because of rot menacing he opted to pick without waiting, but he saw later that the couple of rows that weren't pickedright away fared very well actually. Nice light gamay, very enjoyable. Adrien says that one point during the vinification it smelled acetate or nail polish and he was scared but Baptiste Cousin (the son of Olivier Cousin who takes the reins from his father) told him not to worry, that's the rule on gamay and it later goes back on track. That's the great thing in Anjou, you have al these experiences winemakers who have been making natural wine without any so2 and this is a comforting help to have their backing when something worrying happens.
When this visit took place Adrien sais you could find this wine at the Cave de L'Insolite (a restaurant where you can buy bottles to go) in the 11th in Paris (more places later I'm sure). The owner of the Auberge du Layon is going to have this wine also, after having tasted it. Proffessional price (without tax) is 5,5 €.
__ Globule Rouge, vin de France 2015. Majority cabernet franc, the rest (30 %) being cabernet sauvignon. 12% alcohol. No so2 at all here. Nice aroma filling the mouth, things like moka maybe, other say aniseed flavors, others rhum, it's certainly the ripeness effect. There's also a peppery feel here, I like that, also something akin to dust, tastes very well. Adrien says modestly that it's his first vintage and he learns all the way, he'll probably not add so2 for the next vinifications. Professional price is 7 €.
That's where we tasted the wines after we got the pizzas, Adrien brought the bottles at the counter of the Auberge du Layon so that Christophe (on left) the manager could see if he could add a cuvée to his wine list (which is already pretty terrific for a pizzeria, and in such a small village...), and a deal was concluded for the Gamay (cuvée Gamins), you should find it already in there....
Basically that the way he works in Paris too, visiting wine bars, bistrots and restaurants, showing his babies like I recounted in one of my stories when I went with two other Anjou vintners, Kenji Hodgson & Philippe Delmée as they were exploring new opportunities and clients for their wines...