Pouillé-sur-Cher, Touraine (Loire)
Winter is the healthy season when growers reconnect with their vineyards months after the harvest, the time when they patiently stop at each vine to make a pruning choice that will determine in a large part the next wine; winter work is not easy in the vineyard, it's bitterly cold in the parcels, maybe not nominally but with the humidity it feels painly so, but you'll hardly find an artisan grower who doesn't like this stage of the grower's life and they really mean it, I remember interviewing Fanny Sabre years ago in Burgundy (and Burgundy is really stone freezing cold in winter) and she genuinely told me how much she loved these moments in the light of winter, pruning alone in her parcels.
Whatever, that's the season I chose to go see Laurent Saillard, and he was expectedly busy pruning with Maïlys and a trainee (picture on left), this was in the large block of vineyards in the middle of the woods that belonged formerly to Clos Roche Blanche. And everyone around in the area was busy in their respective parcels, there was Ben Nerot whom I didn't see but he let me know later that he had spotted me with my blue Ami 8 as I was cruising along the muddy grass road on the plateau (these vintage, light Citroëns are the best all-terrain vehicules...), and there was further away along a small paved road the team of the Maisons Brulées (pictured here), namely Paul & Corinne Gillet and Aliénore (the young woman on the right), plus their lovely black dog.
Laurent began to prune his vineyards around mid december, he has now 6 hectares and when this visit took place there was something like 1,5 hectare done, with more pruning in february and march. He usually prunes with Maïlys but Florian, a trainee, joined them two weeks ago and for now he's helping them all the while learning the trade. Laurent says that he manages to do the pruning without getting the help of seasonal workers, 6 hectares being I guess almost the ceiling for that. This is Guyot pruning, he tries to keep in mind the objective of letting the sap flow fluid, keeping 7 or 8 eyes on a cane.
He got this parcel a year ago, it belonged to Catherine & Didier of Clos Roche Blanche before, these vines were for the Sauvignon #5 (for those familiar with CRB's cuvées). He'll put this into his Sauvignon that gets a longer élevage, there's no cuvée name yet, this is a whole new cuvée in his wine range.
Askedif he works the soil differently from Didier, he says Didier just used blades under the rows in general while he himself does a little mopre plowing, with first a buttage in autumn, pushing some earth up under the vines and bringing it back in the middle later in spring through a décavaillonnage. You don't see it well now because the grass is pretty high, giving the steady rains last june, making the tractor use almost impossible with the light slope. Samely he couldn't spray in time in 2016 on this parcel and he lost part of the fruit. For his other parcels he hadn't any mildew issue and the yields were quite good (35 hectoliters/hectare), especially in the whites (the reds suffered more from the sun grilling at the peak of summer, he got 25 ho/ha).
As we left the plateau for his new chai, we stopped along another parcel which had been recently uprooted, the vines were lying around and I asked if I could take one and try replant it to see if it would have another life. This Sauvignon from 1973 thus landed in the trunk of my Citroën Ami 8 [which is a bit older, 1971] and will hopefully be a living reminder of this defunct parcel. In the last years this parcel was the one behind Noëlla Morantin's cuvée Chez Charles. Watch the old vine in its new home (pic on left), that was not an easy task, digging the hole for these long roots. Thanks God, the roots weren't as deep as you'd have thought, the parcel was farmed conventionally in its early years so that the roots remained in the upper horizon. It was still a wide hole to dig, I just cut the extremity of the roots to let them grow anew more easily (I'm not sure but I remembered that was the thing to do when you replant a tree, for example). Now I'll have to prune the vine each winter, I've not yet determined what I'll do with the grapes...
Laurent also gave me a baby vine of Chardonnay which I'll also plant, but later when the deepest frost of winter is passed. Laurent replanted 450 such Chardonnay vines in an old parcel that had a few of them missing; the parcel which has a total surface of one hectare being overall still in good shape he says it was worth to keep it going with filling the blank spots. He did the same for a 60-are parcel of Sauvignon where there were a few missin vines.
I'm very happy to have thus another vine to take care of (I'll need to be careful and ask for guidance for the pruning here), who knows, I could be unwittingly in the first stage of setting up my domaine...
We drove a few kilometers, 3 maybe to the new facility where Laurent makes his wine. I actually knew a little bit this wine farm as it is the one belonging to Japanese winemaker and importer Junko Arai about whom I wrote a story years ago [man, i've been running this thing for a while...]. By the way, back then, this was to be my first encounter with Noëlla Morantin who was unknown then and was working both in the vineyard and in the cellar for Junko. She was to set up her own domaine a few years later, that's where I'd meet also a certain ex-New Yorker named Laurent Saillard who was in turn to make a name for himself on the winemaking scene here (that's a small world...).
What happened is that Junko Arai downsized her domaine here (she's doing plenty of other things including from what I heard wine in other regions and natural sake in Japan, also starting a political career in Japan). She didn't need the buildings, she still has a one-hectare surface, split between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, all young vines, Laurent being in charge of the tractor work by the way (plowings and spraying) and Michel Augé helping for the hand work (pruning, foliage management and debudding I guess). The building being too large for her downsized surface, she rents it to Laurent, who was looking for a farm with room and easy access from his parcels.
The thing is, Laurent is very lucky because Junko Arai like many Japanese is a perfectionist and her facility, while sitting in an old farm probably built around 1900, had already everything a demanding winemaker needed, a clean cement slab for hygiene, room, good functional ergonomy, and excellent fermenters and tools including the press, plus, good insulation and air conditioning if needed. Laurent bought back to her all the tools she didn't need, all these vats including the small narrow tractor. He also had his own tools and vats from before, including a good old tractor he's familiar with, and so he's in the process of selling the modern one, prefering to keep working with the one he knows better.
As I walk in the chai I vaguely recognize everything even if things have changed on the surface from my visits with Junko and Noella. There's a door on the right opening on a smaller room, this is the barrel cellar.
I learn a sad news during this visit, Panache is gone, the nice, lovely dog (see this pic) that was always discreet, never agressive or barking, it was wonderful to see how a dog who spent much of its life in a big city like New York could adapt so well to the country life. In the vineyards when Laurent was working in the rows he'd be running around smelling who-knows-what, you'd see it pop up suddenly and it'd disappear again. It was kind of sick for a while last year, Laurent showed me the grassy ground under a big tree where he put it.
Laurent also bought a few vats to Clos Roche Blanche, he had already a barrel cellar elsewhere, in the village of Pouillé itself (the one you see in this story). That's a nice cellar too, albeit with just a small "chai" room in the front, he brought the casks from there, this other cellar will be his private cellar from now. He hasn't many barrels because he tends to go toward larger-capacity vessels like foudres.
It is not very difficult actually to find cellars or old farms in this part of the Loire. For the Touraine part near the big cities like Blois or Tours is another story, because people working in or near Tours for example buy houses (even old ones which they renovate) in neighboring villages, I'd say as far as 30 km away, and this has dried up the real estate pool in the area, driving the prices sharply up (plus, they clog the roads in the morning and late afternoon turning a formerly-quiet countryside into a suburb with a traffic stress. There's no big city or any major industry in this part of the Cher valley (apart from the Beauval Zoo which is said to be one of the best in Europe) and the result is quiet villages and peaceful side roads.
The other great thing with this new chai is that Laurent knows it already well as he had been helping Junko Arai for her cellar work also during the time she's away in Tokyo, he'll not have to go through an adaptation stage. Among the tools he bought from Junko there's the Pera press, a high-quality press yopu don't see much in the small wineries. It's made near Montpellier, this model is not big, with only 30-hectoliter capacity but for his needs it's perfect. The small basket press in the front belongs to Julien & Juliette (who bought the other half of Clos-Roche-Blanche vineyards) , he uses it sometimes for small batches.
This are new amphoras he brought in to make a test with élevage in clay, the oner one the left is empty (never been used yet) and the one on the right already shows signs of the wine perspiring out. This shows the exchange with the outside is more active than with a barrel, in spite of the common narrative, here you visually see the wine reaching the outside surface. It's hand made by Vin d'Amphore in the south of France. These ones are made for the juice or wine but they also make amphoras with larger openings that are suited for skin maceration (he'll also buy some later). Here the wine on the right is a tries he makes with Maïlys, Chardonnay with Folle Blanche, the 2-month maceration on destemmed grapes took place in another vat and after pressing with the small basket press that put the juice in there as well as in a couple of demijohns.
There's another large room to which you access from the outside (it's next to the barrel room but without connecting door), it's some sort of uninsulated barn (with beautiful beams) in which Junko stored her tractors and tools, but Laurent will use it as a social room where people can be together, have a drink, eat in the shade. That's where he and the pickers eat at harvest time. Now he put a couple of vats back in, but when needed it's where a large froup of people can sit together, plus he brought his electric pizza oven in a corner, it's a professionnal oven he bought from a pizzeria that was closing down, the pickers loved the food, in the evening there was music, lighting, everything. He's still open on what to make out of this space, he could bring the press here or enlarge his chai, or store more stuff under the roof.
Asked about his number of cuvées today, Laurent says he has 5 cuvées, at least that was his range last year (from the harvest 2014) but in 2017 he'll have more because there'll be the maceration (the white in ampgora) plus an additional cuvée of Sauvignon, one that goes through a barrel élevage. There's no more 2015 for sale, it's all sold out. Laurent sells much of his wine himself directly to his New York customers, restaurants and wine bars there, he travels a few times a year there to see his two sons who are in school there, and also to visit his friends and customers on the restaurant scene (he brings samples each time).
Laurent fills a glass of white wine from a vat, Lucky You 2016. The two stainless-steel vats here are full with the same blend, Laurent got these vats from Clos Roche Blanche. He has basically sold out all the wine from 2015. He has virtually no bottles left from 2015, first because the volumes were low in 2015 and also back then he was making wine from 3 hectares only. He'll get more volumes for the 2016, having started making wine from his whole surface of 6 hectares, and he should be able to keep bottles on the side for himself and also for history samples to open later.
Laurent says that he is very happy with the vintage 2016, first there was no frost, and he likes the wines so far, they'reneat with a good acidity with also substance and power.
The wine here is a blend of Sauvignon & Chardonnay (20 %). The wine is still fermenting, it's turbidly yellowish with an acidulous nose, and sweet new-wine aromas. The malolactic is done but not the primary fermentation, there were still 7 or 8 grams of sugar when this visit took place. Laurent says that this year is different from the past vintages, the reds are all finished and dry with the malolactic not started yet, and for the the whites it's the opposite, they are dry with the malolactic completed. We tasted the 2nd vat, the wine is a bit sweeter there, otherwise same turbidity.
__ Old-vines Sauvignon. Laurent then walks the a tronconic wooden vat next to the door (a Grenier foudre he bought back from Clos Roche Blanche), this is the Sauvignon 2016 made from old vines, he never made this cuvée before, the parcel (which he now owns) was before 2016 rented by Noëlla Morantin to Clos Roche Blanche. Until now Laurent had just one white cuvée, Lucky You, which is made from younger vines, he'll keep making it, adding a bit of Chardonnay in it, and he'll make this other Sauvignon with the old vines, it'll have a longer élevage, and 100 % in wood. The cuvée has no name yet, but it'll be a table wine also (Vin de France), so no AOC.
Direct press, if the temperature of the grapes is too high on picking day he keeps the boxes one night in the chai with air-con to cool them down. After pressing, the juice is put to settle down for a night in a vat, then goes into tronconic vats and barrels (without pied de cuve). He didn't move it whatsoever, stayed on the lees and fermenting quietly. There's more sugar here he says, the grapes were picked a bit later. Nose pretty Sauvignon in style. Very enjoyable mouth, although I'm not an expert to judge a wine still fermenting with residual sugar, there's a nice palate touch, good vibes. He has no precise plans about how he'll work this wine, he tastes from time to time and will see later, he doesn't want to follow a fixed schedule or recipe, each vintage is different and he likes that, reinventing the wine each time. He's not worried of what looks like a longer fermentation, this will bring complexity, he made tests and the wine is fine with volatile in check. Regarding SO2 he has no fixed rules, last year his white Lucky You had no added sulfites at all because it tasted well; here there was none until here, he just put a bit on the Chardonnay part in the previous blend we just tasted, because the grapes were ripe with a rather low acidity, he added it at the settling stage, it was the first time he did it and the added amounts certainly vanished since then.
We now go taste the same wine (old Sauvignon) but in a barrel in the neighboring cellar room, Laurent checks the activity in the barrel. He bought the casks second hand from the Vicard cooperage in Burgundy, actually this is a demi-muid (large-capacity, like 400 or 500 liters). The wine typically evolves differently in a barrel and a tronconic foudre, it's a matter of size and also shape, the lees interacting differently with the wine. He likes having a given wine vinified in different vessels, for example for this o,ne there's a bit also in a fiber vat. In general he likes the result after blending the whole. Vibrant feel in the mouth, nice tension with substance, he says the potential is higher than usual, with 13 % or 13,5 %, which is not what he is looking for, but this was the way it turned out, and he takes it. Residual sugar feels lower here, compared to the Grenier vat. The barrels are only one wine old but there's no wood impact on the wine, all the while bringing something in the wine, some complexity that took off the cat-pee aroma. This wine will keep its course until needed, the whole volume will be 4000 bottles, compared to Lucky You with 10 000 bottles.
Now we taste tyhe amphora, the experiment he made with Maïlys, Chardonnay & Folle Blance that went though a skin maceration before being pressed and put into this amphora and a couple of demijohns (160 liters in total). The Folle Blanche is complanted randomly inside his parcel of Chardonnay, it's obviously a blunder made by the nursery which provided the baby vines back in 1978 wheen the planting took place. There's no documented Folle Blanche in the area, the variety is usually found only in the Nantes region (for the acidic Gros PLant wine) and also in the Cognac and Armagnac region. Laurent counted 50 vines in the parcel.
Maïlys had already made a try last year with a maceration on the Folle Blanche and they decided to further the experiment on a larger scale. The skin macerations were separate and lasted 2 months, He & Maïlys tasted the two and then decided to blend the two and have the juice keep fermenting in the amphora. The color is darker because of the skin maceration. Interesting nose, very aromatic, hard to put a name of these aromas, maybe dry laurel leaves, I'd say. Very nice in the mouth, with an enjoyable tannin feel, I like how these white tannins impact a wine through a skin maceration, lovely without excess. Laurent says that there's a bit of residual sugar, but not much. The amphora oozes, letting some wine go through the clay fabric, this is also because it was used for the first time, should be be less oozing the following years, anyway they have to top it up like a barrel...
This is the Pet-nat' 2016, it was bottled at the end of december, it's a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (90 %) and Pineau d'Aunis. Asked if he'll disgorged it (I loved the undisgorged natural sparkling I tasted from Italy recently), he says yes, he's not into these turbid sparklings. He has 4 such pallets of this sparling, 1700 bottles in total. He sells it like the rest, mostly for export (New York), there was a bit of it in Paris at La Buvette and also at Yard.
We now taste La Pause 2016, which is still following its vinous life in this large foudre. This large-capaciti vat was made by Grenier like the other tronconic vat next to this one on the right, but this one is an élevage tank while the other is an open-top fermenter (see picture on right with this beautiful long-lasting red coating). the 3 tronconic vats along this wall belonged to Junko Arai, and they were standing along the same wall if I remember 12 years ago. These types of vessels last for ever, you don't change them like barrels. Here for this gamay he did a maceration with whole-clustered grapes, but not a carbonic, he did some pumping over (without pump I guess, with a bucket) and a little bit of pigeage.
The reds are a bit more difficult to taste at this stage, Laurent says, they'redry, no more sugar left, but the malolactic has yet to start and this gives a sharp mouth feel with an unusual acidity. The variety here for his La Pause red is Gamay only, he's put all his grapes in there, 40 hectoliters in total. His first vintage with this wine was 2012, 2016 will be his 5th La Pause. At the beginning it was his sole cuvée, then he added Lucky You, and since last year there were several more cuvées (see picture somewhere above). The potential again is higher than usual with 14 %, but you don't feel it actually, it didn't strike me. The wine will be neither filtered nor fined, until now he never filtered any of his wines (red or white), and even though again he has no fixed rules, this should remain this way in the future.
Last but not least, Laurent fills two glasses of Pineau d'Aunis from a resin vat, I love this job... The white fiber vat (pictured on left) belonged to Christian Chaussard (this pioneer in natural wines for the Loire died in the early 2010s, his wife continues his work). The vat stands above the ground level, like the tronconic vats on the other side of the room, Laurent likes this layout, historically at the very beginning when Junko arrived here there was only dirt floor here and Pascal Potaire who was doing the cellar work and vinifications for Junko had these low walls built and he arranged this chai beautifully (and you can bottle by gravity very easily).
The volume of the Pineau d'Aunis is 9 hectoliters, Laurent says he put a bit of Pineau d'aunis in his sparkling but otherwise the rest is here. He'll put this wine in his cuvée Scarlett which he makes usually with 2/3 of Pineau d'Aunis and 1/3 of Gamay. He says he never succeeded to make a 100 % Pineau d'Aunis because each time he felt along the cellar tastings that his Aunis needed to be balanced with Gamay, but in the long run he intends to make one. I can't but agree. Here also the malolactic hasn't even started, so it's not easy to judge, but look at this color, it can't lie...
Very acidic at this stage indeed, plus the wine is very cold in this chai, you got to warm up the glass, which I did passionately for this Aunis. On the nose, nice white-pepper aromas, Laurent says he really wants to understand this variety and end up bottling it alone, and as a red. Until now he liked the substance that the Gamay part brought in the blend. He has a parcel of 50 ares of Pineay d'Aunis.
Well, there was actually another red to taste, Joy (Full) 2016, made from 100 % Cabernet Franc (not even Cabernet Sauvignon). This is the 2nd vintage of this cuvée. Laurent took the wine from the narrow tronconic wooden vat on the right along the wall, this foudre is also for the élevage.
The wine is much easier to taste, Laurent says that the malolactic is already well on its way here compared with the other reds we tasted before. I like the tannins here, very nice, makes an enjoyable chew, easier for to forcast as a nice Cabernet Franc. Speaking of the labels (below), they're all designed by the same guy, who also helps him choose the name of the cuvée. He managed to print the compulsory legal information right in the middle of the label so that you it's almost invisible, your eyes settle on the general design, smart.