Frantz Saumon is yet another outstanding vigneron and winemaker in this tiny area of Montlouis, an AOC which stands on the southern bank of the mighty and unpredictable Loire river west of Amboise. I had chatted with him recently at Bertrand Jousset's wine bar (a good spot to stumble on natural winemakers of the area) and I had decided to ask for a visit. The Loire region has quite a few of these hot spots where artisan vignerons seem to be concentrated, like Rablay-sur-Laon/Martignié-Briand in Anjou, Pouillé/Thésée in the Cher valley, and Montlouis being not that far from my occasional weekend base near Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher, I've been visiting more often this year, overcoming my natural preference for reds...
Tiny Appellation by the number of domaines (all the vignerons can stand on one page), you have here a good proportion of natural-wine producers who have given a new life and fame to the Appellation, which has long been considered as a poorer brother of Vouvray on the other side of the Loire river. A recent illustration of this rivalry was when a couple years ago the Vouvray wine bureaucracy, probably jealous of the success of two prominent Montlouis winemakers (Jacky Blot and François Chidaine) who were also producing excellent Vouvray, forced them to downgrade their Vouvray wines under the table-wine label of Vin de France...This deplorable pettiness was certainly counterproductive and highlighted even more the two ostracized winemakers and their AOC, especially in the foreign markets where what's in the bottle and the terroir work count more than the AOC labelling.
I arrived at Frantz Saumon's house and facility on a sunny autumn day, taking the road that drives up to Husseau from the road along the levée dike overlooking the Loire, I love that road, you can check the changing surface of the river with its surfacing sand always on the move, no equivalent in this country. Before the road begins to climb, there's a sign on the left that reads Frantz Saumon, you're almost arrived (if you keep driving ahead you'll pass at a short distance François Chidaine's facility and a bit further, one of Jacky Blot's cellars with the office).
Good omen, as I was driving slowly on the short dirt road leading to the wine farm, a goat suddenly joined the road ahead of me toddling back to the farm premises, as if caught at fault while wandering away on forbidden territory. Frantz told me later that this goat is his and it's totally out of control, going where it wants to go at any time, he hasn't a say about its comings and goings and has given up trying to, but it always comes back home safely...
Frantz Saumon isn't originally from a grower or winemaking family, he's an outsider and started his domaine here in 2002, finding separately the vineyards and the cellar/facility. He now farms a vineyard surface of 4,5 hectares after reaching in the early years 8 or 9 hectares, he just concentrated on his estate vineyards, bettering them with replantations and dropping off the fermages (the rented parcels). In addition to his own surface Frantz makes wine from purchased grapes (négoce). His purchases at the beginning were mostly Sauvignon grapes but now he extended his range of purchased grapes, sourcing his fruit from friends and fellow growers he trusts the work of, and going as far as the south-west of France since the last two years. Next year for example he plans to buy some Melon de Bourgogne in the Muscadet, he makes also rosé from Gamay and Grolleau, plus no less than 4 different cuvées of Pet-Nat, one Chenin, one Chenin-Sauvignon, one Gamay & one Gamay-Grolleau... Frantz's wife is Marie THibault who makes wine herself in Azay-le-Rideau and two of the négoce sparklings are hers.
Frantz' grapes purchases make now the equivalent of an additional 10 hectares. For much of it, he works in tandem with neighbor Bertrand Jousset who also buys part of these grapes, they both go over there in the south-west of France to do the picking with the help of local manpower, they press the wines over there and haul back the refrigerated juice by truck, which is easier and safer than bringing back whole-clustered grapes on this long distance. This facility was beginning by the way to be a bit tight for all this winemaking and Frantz is moving soo, he'll have a young vigneron taking up this place, he'll just keep one of the cellars and move the négoce part to the region of Azay-le-Rideau (where he already lives with his wife), near Valaire excactly where they found deep cellars, a great, convenient site with easy access and lots of room.
Here there'll be lot of room for a debuting vigneron, and he still keeps his farming tools here in this shed (the wooden barn on the right) overlooking a small clos (here on the left) where in the past people were growing vegetables and fruit. The Loire river with its surging waters has brought lots of fertile silt or loam on the lower slopes, especially before the dike was built in the 19th century, this was really a country of milk and honey, with the vineyards up the slope on the plateau and a bounty of vegetables on the muddy land along the Loire...
For the anecdote, the stately mansion with its outbuildings in the far on the left (partly hidden by trees) is Jacky Blot's residence, he moved there a few years ago, very nice place overlooking the Loire river. This side of the Loire is really a wonderful place to live, lots of beautiful houses most with terrific cellars, and towns and villages alike have this little something that makes you want to setlle there...
This sketchy montage of two pictures of the courtyard and cliff wall show you the access to the cellars, a pretty typical situation in the back of the houses in this region, everyone was certainly making wine one way or another a century ago for family consumption. An the house are often troglodytic or lean on the hill, taking advantage of it for support and additional rooms. This is the last time he uses the facility for the négoce wines, next year it'll be in his large cellars in Valaire, by the way at a short distance from L'Herbe Rouge, the restaurant (closed down now) that had great local food and natural wines. His new cellar there is very impressive and he plans one day to stage a tasting event or a small wine fair with colleagues in this site.
This cellar is also very impressive if much smaller compazred with the new one from what I understand. I like the vaulted ceiling and also the mysterious notches or holes in the wall here and there, deemed to be where heavy parts of a wooden press a century ago or more. While we were discussing issues like natural wine popping up here and there in the mainstream retail wine shops, I learned from Frantz that he knows very well the story of this particular table wine I discovered recently (see picture and story on top of this page) : they even travelled to the south of France together to buy the grapes ! Of course Frantz knows well these vignerons (the Grosbois family) who farm in biodynamy their vineyards in Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil) and when they got this terrible frost in 2016 they devised together where they could find grapes to still make wine that year, and they call their friends here and there, in particular the PLageoles in Gaillac who tipped them about a large domaine (130 hectares) in the area which farms organic and doesn't vinify eveything they grow. On the way to the south they stopped en route in the Gers département on a tip by Dominique Andiran in a domaine where Bertrand and Frantz bought 120 hectoliters of Ugni Blanc and Colombard, pressing in Andiran's chai.
So they drove further down to Gaillac with Bertrand Jousset and Nicolas Grosbois, visited this domaine, checked the vineyards that were very well farmed. The chai over there is very large adapted by their big surface and they used it for the vinification and the pressing. They liked the result and the experience and they've done it again this year [this means by the way that you should find this great table-wine cuvée again from Alirault-Grosbois]. Frantz and Bertrand bought only Gamay because they don't want yet to work with varieties he's not familiar with, even if he began to do it with whites. Nicolas keeps buying there, in Chateau Les Vignals, buying them in 2017 large volumes of red (and I understand that, especially that I'm sipping this particular bottle while I'm typing this). The domaine is Swiss owned but the man in charge is a local, Olivier Jean. I love that story, that quite a coincidence, I wouldn't have guessed after posting this story on top on my Wine News' page that I'd meet at about the same time a vintner who had been a close associate to this Gaillac-grapes purchase. And I like these négoce stories, I really think it's good for everybody, for a vintner who lacks fruit and for a grower who doesn't vinify (yet) all his fruit but may through these sales begin to vinify more himself (I'm sure Olivier Jean is or will be contacted by wine buyers following this indirect fame).
Here on the picture above you can see where a huge press had its beam fixed in the walls of the cellar. These 18th-century presses that were a bit similar to a Champagne press were custom built in the cellars and few remain today, you just see the holes in the cellars where they used to be fixed. There's one though at the Museum of Chateau Moncontour on the other side of the Loire in Vouvray, see here a few pictures of this press. But they were slightly different in each cellar, adapting with the type of room, ceiling and available wood and beam sizes, too bad most have been dismantled, i'm sure with an added motorized system they'd have been usable today.
See also this one at the Domaine de Bisseret and of course the old press of the monks of Citeaux in Clos Vougeot that are even older. Remember that there was not companies like today building presses but rather highly-experienced dedicated artisans who built different presses each time they had an order. Only wealthy farmers had presses a few centuries ago, the populace would just rent a mobile one or press with rudimentary ways like stomping.
The amphora here is for a try. There's another oddly-shaped container in the back, it's made of cement and inside it's ovoid like a laying egg. This thing is made in italy. With this kind of vessel you keep more tension, which is not necessarily what you're looking for with Chenin where you usually prefer to add roundness through the use of barrels, but for certain terroirs and depending of the maturity that may be useful.
Frantz says that he's very keen to work with the Appellation Montlouis and is an active member in the collective project of this AOC and its growers, several of them being profiled on this website. He also takes part to a CUMA (The same one Ludovic Chanson told me about) where they have machinery and a worker whom they pay annually and collectively. The CUMA is appropriately named CUMA du Chenin (official administrative name of the structure). Be it with this CUMA or the work on the AOC he says he can work collectively and improve things, and the fact it's a small AOC in terms of number of domaines helps in this sense, things can move faster. tHe whole surface of the AOC is 450 hectares, not much indeed. 20 years ago the two engines that moved this Appellation up were Jacky Blot and Fraçois Chidaine and thanks to them more people have followed suit especially in the early 2000 like himself and others. they all were helped by the good vintages between 2000 and 2010 when about every year was qualitative except 2004 (too many grapes on the vines and rain for an entire month at harvest).
This cement vat has been built long time ago, probably before or shortly after WW2, it fits nicely with the volume and ceiling of this part of the cellar, nice job. He never used them but could have renovated and given them a try. I think they were often built by itinerant masons, possibly Italians from what I remember someone telling me elsewhere. Sometimes to use less cement (a costly commodity back then) they'd just seal a small room in the cellar, almost to the top using sandstone blocks and coat the inside with cement. Smart people. When Frantz bought these cellars they had been closed and idle for 4 or 5 years, same for the house outside.
Speaking of his wines Frantz says that he makes a majority of dry wines. A Pet-Nat natural sparkling made with 100 % Chenin in AOC Montlouis (doesn't make it every year), a one-year-élevage chenin cuvée named Minéral + [plus] then terroirs cuvées like Le Chapitre
So very soon Frantz will leave a large part of this cellar/facility including the house to a young vigneron who for now still works for him as a worker. Expect yet a new name to pop up on the natural wine scene of the region with Vincent Bergeron who takes over 2,2 hectares which he'll vinify here while Frantz moves the négoce part to Valaire to make room for him. This isn't the first worker of Frantz who sets up his domaine, Julien Prevel was also working for Frantz before setting up his own thing, by the way these two guys share a parcel of Chenin. Frants will sell Vincent a couple of parcels, including the parcel with the Pinot Noir and some bare lots where he'll replant. He keeps working for Frantz but will certainly stop when his vineyard surface will augment to the point that he'll not be able to work on the side.
Frantz Saumon like to work in the vineyard, even if today he employs a worker part-time, and he considers the fact to give work to someone as fitting into the collective approach of sharing with people who in general are as passionate as he is about the job and who end up starting their own thing in the same philosophical approach. Often they're themselves (like he is) outsiders from the grower/farming sector and have no family in the trade. This reminds me what Ludovic Chanson told me last time I visited him (but I gorgot to print it on the story) : he said that the other [conventional} growers often complained that the media didn't come interview them because they were too much looking like farmers [meaning unsophisticated farmers], but Ludovic replies, come on, I never see you guys walking in your vineyards, you or your employee do everything from your air conditioned tractors and when an ivy comes to grow along a vine or even a small tree as he witnessed you'd never come by foot to till and make sure that this doesn't happen and your vines get properly taken care of. We "outsiders" are the real farmers in this story, we're doing all the hard work you and your fathers stopped doing decades ago...
This Bobard 621 Turbo dates from the 1990s' and it belonged to fellow vigneron Stéphane Cossais who died unexpectedly a few years ago near here, Frantz bought it back from his family. This straddle tractor is very light and it has a horsepower of 60 or 70, very nice and cute model (looks more leke late 70s I'd say), he maintains it without particular problem, they just use it carefully, there's no cabin but it's rare that they plow the soils under the rain. Anyway these old straddle tractors are the best otion, a new tractor would now cost 100 000 and it'd be too big anyway. For the spraying they have it done by the CUMA, with a tractor that can work quickly including by night, and the spraying technology is very sophisticated and easy to finetune.
When Frantz Saumon took over the vineyards in 2002 they were farmed conventionally, chemically. He hadn't bought them whole from a retiring grower, he rather bought separately a collection of parcels spread out on the Appellation area on the north slope, taking a parcel here and there when azn opportunity showed up. at one point from 2002 to 2005 he even took a métayage (renting a parcel and paying the owner with 1/3 of the wine) which is uncommon in the region, fermage (regular long-term rent) is the rule over here. He dropped the deal when he began to sell his wine, he needed the whole volume of wine, and also the owner wasn't certainly pleased with the business relation because hewasused to very high yields on these parcels, resulting on lots of wine for himself, and with Frantz's organic farming and conservative pruning he only got a reduced volume of wine for his allotment.... The previous farmer probably made 50 hectoliters/hectare or more and Frantz made 30 ho/ha only, but he was a nice guy and he understood what Frantz wanted to do.
So as soon as he took the vineyards in 2002 he farmed organic but he got the organic certification (Ecocert) in 2006 only. He does all the usual organic farming things, including the plowing and every year he has someone come here with a draft horse
to plow 1,5 hectare, particularly the Clos du Chêne which is a twisted parcel with lots of marcottage which makes it difficult to plow with a machine. Jean-François Lafon the man with the horse works here and there on demand for growers and he even does log skidding for forestry businesses. there's another guy in the trade of walk-plowing for growers, Philippe Chigard who also teaches at the Amboise viticulture school (training on hitched horses), but he's often fully booked.
In their CUMA (group of growers sharing machinery) they also bought together some biodynamic tools, he says they're still have to learn because they don't spend enough time on the issue but twice a year they make a 500 prep plus a few herb tea preps, using the shared dynamizer. The soils over here are pretty poor and they try to put compost every year, using preferably weeds or other plants which they mulch at the end on the spot. His yields may improve when the replantations reach full production age but here he never made beyond 30 hectoliters/hectare, with the low years at 7 or 10 ho/ha. tHey do debudding for years, he has a seasonal team for that usually around mid-may (after passing the last frost-risk days), taking off everything except the wood selected for the following year. tHey do also lots of tilling by hand, which costs quite a lot altogether along the year.
We pass along a few rows of pinot noir, Frantz says he has a few small parcels of it, as he had begun to make a cuvée of pinot noir a few years ago, a small volume. These grapes are verjus, or grapes that didn't ripe with the rest of the grapes, This has to do with the frost, like the grew to replace the frozen ones as a reaction of the vine to its loss of potential fruit. These grapes were very late to ripe, they're also names revenues in French, and they even come on normal years, not on the main branch of the vine bus as secondary buds that are usually tazken down (but they're useful in case of frost, if they ripe on time).
The parcel here is a bit more than 40 years old for the oldest rows, he got it in 2005. The grower he got it from was still plowing the soil (between the row only though) and he was doing a rather good work in this regard, but at the origin it had been planted sous bâche meaning that the soil was with a black tarpaulin to prevent the grass from growing. the down size is that with thys plantation mode the tarpaulin remains as long as it stands the light and UV and the roots reamain close to the surface because its warm ant retains humidity year around. So when he began to plow under the row he had lots of casualties among these vines that were not properly rooted. This terroir here (les Landes) on sand/silica yields very tasty, fruity wines.
They're restructuring the vineyard of the domaine choosing carefuly the new plantings by making massal selections on existing old vines and replanting through a nursery, first with a selection of wood canes then having them grafted and lastly with the replantings. For these new plantings he does them on a 2,5-hectare block of land which he bought in 2003 and which was empty but for 60 ares of old vines which he uprooted in 2009. Having begun the plantings 3 years later in 2012 they begin to see the results of this long term effort, the first such replantings being 5 years old they now enter full production mode with a qualitative chenin, with clusters bearing grapes that are not too compact and prioritize the taste before juice volume and with still overall satisfying yields.
Here on these young Pinots Noirs that were planted in may 2017 the soil got it's buttage, the plow pulled earth beneath the row, forming a mound (butte) which will be pushed back with a décavaillonneuse in the middle of the row later in the season (february-march). You may see that the earth is light, it's almost sandy and the grass you see now in the middle is the future compost of the parcel, it's oat, triticale, grand-épeautre (spelt) and féverolle (faba), they'll mulch all down so that it all gets back to the soil and build the biomass. tHese vines were planted earlier in the year and in spite of the drought and the draining soil they made it through summer, they've certainly be planted properly also, deep enough. They were about to plant the posts soon for the trellising on this parcel. For these pinots noirs they took the wood in Alsace from several growers there, through a nursery that works very well, the Pépinières Hebinger.
We drive further and arrive on a terroir named Chapitre where Frantz has a few parcels, it's easy to find, it's close to the water tower of Montlouis. The terroir
is on the plateau right along the Loire, with a cliff falling abruptly at the end of the
parcels, these blocks never suffer from the frost and they're very early to ripe, some 10 to 12 days in advance compared to his other terroirs. You can see Vouvray on the other side (pic on right) and by the way the name of the terroir is because this area was farmed by the monks of the Abbaye de Marmoutier in Vouvray. There is even a high probability that at the time, before01938, the wine made here in what we call Montlouis were named like Vouvray wines, because this side of the Loire was some kind of extension of the vineyards of Vouvray overlooked by the abbey monks.
The vines on his block have different ages, some older, some younger, having been planted with massal selections, with the chenin wood coming from other growers like Eric Nicolas and François chidaine. The soil here is more clayish, with limestone also.
There are also lines of rows of different varieties which he planted earlier this year (pic below), Chenin and other Loire varieties. Frantz says he works with a nursery in the south of France (near the ventoux), Lilian Berillon, the guy is passionate about his job, he worked a lot on the issue of massal selections, and he also works on rootstocks, putting them on trellis like a regular vine which is atypical. His idea is to kind of already train the rootstock before grafting it. Regarding the type of rootstocks for example for this vineyard on the left that was planted in 2015 he chose Riparia Gloire which is adapted for quality still wines, it's not to prolific in terms of yields but tends to suffer more from draught. So for the recent plantings he chose 101-14 which is something inbetween Riparia and Rupestris.
Here on Le Chapître Frantz has also a few groups of rows of recent replantings. The last replantation stretch will be achieved next spring (2018), with Chenin of course but also Menu Pineau and Romorantin, the wood for the massal selection coming from Hervé Villemade (for the Romorantin), Philippe Tessier and Pascal Potaire (Menu Pineau, from 90y old vines). When he started the négoce in 2009 he immediately looked for these latter varieties, Menu Pineau and Romorantin with which he wanted to work because of their long history in the Loire and their unique tasting characteristics. In the early years of the négoce he bought grapes to Tessier and also in Saint Aignan, plus he found an ungrafted parcel of Romorantin in Sassay above Saint-Romain, a parcel that had been planted in the 1820s' and which is still standing. He worked 2 years with this parcel although it was quite a distance to the parcel and he still has a few magnums of this exceptional wine, the lack of rootstock giving an incredible gustative dimension to the wine. This is an area (Sassay) with sandy soils where it's easier to keep ungrafted vines healthy and phylloxera-free, and by the way Claude Courtois and Henry Marionnet have been growing ungrafted vines in this area also and for a long time.
Now he hasn't these grapes anymore, same for the Menu Pineau in Saint Aignan so he decided to plant them on his empty blocks. Right now there aren't many, he just planted 12 ares of Menu Pineau and same for the Romorantin but he'll continue planting more so as to have 20 ares each, enough to make about 4 barrels of each (or 1200 bottles each) which is fine for him. And he lives with a woman who manages herself 4 hectares of reds, they're having this négoce together, their respective vineyards are not on the same area and they have to manage this situation, so he's content with his present vineyard surface for now. From 2002 to 2011 he worked mostly amone in his vineyards including for pruning
The other thing he works on is the selection of terroirs : Among his different parcels, some allow the vine to get the best expression while other terroirs are more tricky, needing more work, and they all yield different wines.
Walking along a block of trees away from the cliff overlooking the Loire we reach the Clos du Chêne in the middle of which stands oddly not an oak tree (chêne in French) a walnut tree. The parcel is arounf 100 years old, it kind of reached its peak in terms of age from what I understand but still yields rewarding wines. Here the soil is more sandy/silica and he thinks also he could with other growers plant a few rows of ungrafted vines, this could be a safe terroir for that.
Another nice collection of convoluted old chenins, very cute...They obviously managed to replace the missing wines along the years through marcottage you see some younger vines resurrected through a long shoot from the next vine, and Frantz used some of these old vines to take some wood for massal selections, but the yields here are quite symbolic, something like 7 hectoliters/hectare he says, he's still pondering if he uproots the block or not, he hasn't decided yet. He planted 4 rows at the end of the block in 2011 which give nice fruit with better yields. It's some kind of arboretum or vine conservatory for now, there are maybe 70 ares of vines and on a normal year it's 7 or 8 hectoliters.
Here is a Vin de France 2016, a cuvée appropriately named Vin de Frantz, a blend of Sauvignon, Chenin and a little bit of the Gaillac white variety Loin de L'Oeil which means in French "far from the eye" (also known as Len de L'El in the local idiom of the south-west). Very aromatic wine, I guess this southern cépage brought it all with it. The chenins come from Azay-le-Rideau, about 30 years old. There's a nice bitterness feel in the mouth, nice wine. Frantz says it's an apéro wine typically ideal to prepare the mouth before eating. And next year when he'll begin to mage Melon-de-Bourgogne wine (the variety from Muscadet) it will be in the same spirit and approach. Dry wines, to drink by themselves but also to eat with. Restaurants like that because it makes the two uses. This négoce cuvée is quite important in volume and he doesn't bottle it at once, he makes a first bottling in march, then early summer and another in november, which allows the wine to offer different expressions along the bottlings. This one is bottled in july.
__ We taste what was supposed to be bottled at the end of november, it's a slightly different version of this white, with a bit more of Len de L'El. the color is obviously more on the gold notes (pic on left) , this is brought by the Gaillac variety. Tastes good with some sweetness and acidity, he doesn't think it'll have time to finish the sugar. He prints on the label which bottling it is, 2nd, 3rd and so on so that customers know they might find something different from the wine they had.
Speaking of the vinification it's of course on wild yeast, no added sulfites during the vinification and just 1,5 gr added at bottling, the reason being his wines have to travel as he exports around 95 % of his production. That's a big export share for sure.... Asked if he ifilters, he does it case by case if there is some remaining sugar.<:p>
__ La Petite Gaule du Matin, a Pet-nat, a vin de France (table wine label) mousseux, the word mousseux is derogatory in France but here we all know it's not gazeified plonk but a real wine all along. A gaule is a fishing rod in French but I won't explain to you what the exactly "little fishing rod in the morning" means in French, now you may try to figure it out by yourself... let's say this wine can give you I
suppose a welcome burst of energy, for those who need it ;-).
Varieties Sauvignon & Chenin, and this year for a change there's a 3rd one, Chardonnay. This sparkling was disgorged in spring or early summer like june-july, there a small time sur lattes for this one. He's selling the last bottles. He's been making this cuvée for a very long time, but at the beginning it was from the estate vineyards and only from Chenin, now it's from purchased grapes (négoce) and with a couple of varieties. Vinified in vats, bottled with residual sugar and sisgorged late spring so that people can have it in summer. I like the texture of the bubbles, a very-vinous type of sparkling, very enjoyable. Speaking of exports (95 % of his production) the leading country is the United States with Selection Massale with whom he works from the start in 2009, then comes Japan with Diony (but before he started with Junko Arai) and in Europe, there's Les Caves de Pyrène (UK & Italy), Switzerland (Le Passeur de Vin), Belgium (A Taste Affair), Denmark (Lieu Dit), Sweden (Ida Boutiken __ not sure of this), Holland (Vini Natura, not sure either), Quebec (Vini-Vins, Diane Turcotte), Spain, Australia.
__ Natural sparkling 2017 from Sauvignon-Chenin , undisgorged at the time. I understand it's the 2017 version of the Gaule du Matin. Great turbid color. This bottle had energy to relase, and Frantz waited that it calms down, good thing we were in the chai, the cement slab can hold this... the bubbles are more up-front here of course, that's because it had little sur-lattes time (it's a 2017, is at the very beginning of its élevage). Obvious expression of Sauvignon, aromaticly.
I like this style of undisgorged sparklings, quite easy in spite of the harsher bubbles, but the thing is, Frantz says, you can't leave it that way and expect it will remain as seducing as it is now, it will get unwelcome yeast aromas and reduction issues. Of course Frantz takes part to the natural-sparkling wine fair Bulles au Centre at Montrichard, this is a good opportunity to taste his bubblies as well as the other pet-nats.
This is yet another sparkling cuvée (Frantz has quite a few of them, 4 if I'm right), a rosé pet-nat named La Cave se Rebiffe. This is the 2017, also in the infancy of its vinification. It was bottled a month before with the adequate residual suger, this is Gamay/Grolleau. Very soft, tender color. This cuvée was initiated on the domaine in 2003 with at the time 100 % Gamay. Very light in alcohol, makes 11,5 % in alcohol, Frantz says, and it's dry even if there a misleading sweetness feel, so it'll remain that low in alcohol.
He sells the cuvée mainly for export, lots in the United States, Japan also. Very enjoyable rosé, I love it at this stage, undisgorged, I don't know how it will show after getting rid of its lees/yeast but it could make a killing already in november. And look at the color of these two wines, you put that on a table, you're pretty sure the bottles will be empty in no time, just grape juice, nothing else... Frantz had me also taste from a (submarine-shapes) vat his future still rosé made from 70 % Grolleau and the rest in Gamay, delicious and light, should be great next summer. He started to make this rosé in 2003 then stopped making any before making one again two years ago. The cuvée should be here to stay now.
__ Montlouis Minéral + 2016. This was bottled late august, it is a still Chenin made as a blend of different parcels. Already sold by now when this visit took place and the buyers (export) got a limited allotment, of course because the yields were about 10 hectoliters/hectare in 2016 because of the frost. This is not because of the name but
it's obviously more square, more mineral. But as Frantz remarks there's this interesting iode, saline end that smooths it over.
__Frantz grabs a bottle which is not on the market, it's a Pintray (single parcel Chenin) which has fermented for 2 years in 600-liter demi-muids that were more or less new if I remember and it never really finished to dry. There's residual suger but an acidity that makes the wine feel great. Very interesting but he keeps it for now. Very refined with nice glycerol legs on the glass. 14 grams of residual sugar, he says. At the beginning his Mineral + were often on this register but now he's not into these wines and wants to make them dry. He says the balance of the acidity with the rest of the wine's organoleptic properties has a lot to do with the organic farming (and biodynamic farming is a plus), to the point that when you convert a conventional parcel to organic it can take a few years before this acidity balance comes to its feet in the wine. The reason natural wines have this high but balanced, enjoyable acidity is because of the vineyard life behind.
__ Another Montlouis, Clos du Chêne 2014, from a remaining magnum because Frantz has no more 75-cl bottles from what I understand. Unfiltered cuvée, from a 100-year-old parcel. They bottled this cuvée themselves by gravity, using the forklift to raise the vat or the cask and fill the bottles, keeping the bottles standing afterwards a few days before laying them down. Elevage in 600-liter barrels. Vey nice mouth feel, and Frantz says it's a wine that lives for ever, every time they open a bottle they marvel at it. Great mouth & swallow, very rich, there's power too, the wine commands respect. Frantz says that there's always this end that is very montlouisienne with this high acidity typical of these terroirs at the eastern-most latitude for these Anjou Chenin. This was picked at 14,5 potential. You feel the classy touch of these old-vines wines with an exciting sappy reaction on the tongue. This wine was shipped in numbers to the U.S., Japan, the U.K. Super nice wine indeed.
__ Montlouis Le Chapitre 2016, from the barrel. Young vines planted in 2011 plus 2 other parcels we didn't see and which are older. Will be bottled in 2018 after racking, preferably unfiltered. Nice energy on the tongue. Among the barrels he uses there are 600-liter ones made by Atelier Centre France, a cooperage he says that uses good quality oak (you can see a new one on the picture on top). We tasted precisely the wine in this new demi-muid, this is Chenin 2017 intended for the cuvée Mineral +, a blend from 3 parcels (Clos du Chêne, Landes & Chapître). The wine tastes still like bernache as it is still fermenting.
We now taste a red from a vat, this is the Pinot Noir 2015 that has been racked in there 2 days before this visit took place after two years in barrels, it will be known later as La Moscova 2015. Will be bottled unfiltered. Nice clear color, very promising on the nose. Label by Philippe Pherivong in Tours. Burgundy style of wine.
__ Frantz then opens a magnum of red, this is La Moskova vin de France 2014, a Pinot Noir "from Montlouis". Sadly he'll not make wine anymore from this parcel because Vincent will get them. He'll not make reds anymore but his wife Marie tHibault makes some so he'll certainly sell her reds through the négoce. Darker color here. Destemmed grapes, 12-day maceration in the white fiber-glass tank, then devatting, pressing and again in a vat, stainless-steel this time for 1,5 year and bottled in magnums unfiltered (never went into oak or barrel). Very nice chew, delicious, lovely substance. He still has a few magnums of this and he thinks it will age beautifully. Anyway that's so good right now, I think, especiazlly after I warmed the glass in my hands. He sold this Moskova 2014 in Japan and a bit in Italy.
__ Montlouis natural sparkling Les Gars Les Filles 2015. The name of the cuvée can be translated like Guys & Gals. And it's an AOC, you can make a natural sparkling that is still labelled as AOC Montlouis (it's named Pétillant Originel), they worked about it in the Appellation, there are 200 hectoliters made throughout Montlouis There are a few rules, like hand-picking at harvest, the minimum potential alcohol at harvest must be 11,5 %, no chaptalization, no selected yeast, no acidification or rather desadification, minimum 9-month stay sur lattes before reaching the market (you can age more), and it has to be disgorged and have a wire cage to hold the cork. Nice honey aromas. It's a small-volume cuvée, 15 hectoliters or 2000 bottles. The other nature producers make some also, Bertrand Jousset as well as Delecheneau (Grange tHiphaine), Ludovic Chanson also.
Frantz sells his wines mostly abroad but he also sells in Paris and at the domaine as well (although he's not always present, better call ahead), with prices like 20 € tax included for Mineral + for individual buyers while Clos du Chêne & Chapître go for 30 €. tHe négoce wines are less expensive like for example the white we tasted at the beginning sell for 10 €, the rosé 9 € and the natural sparklings 15 €.
Be sure to go to Hervé Villemade's Open Doors this weekend if you're in the region (saturday december 9 & sunday december 10), Frantz will be there with his wife & a few fellow natural-wine vintners (see poster below, terrific wine people taking part)...