Mareuil-sur-Cher, Touraine (Loire)
Julien Pineau is having his first harvest season on his newly acquired vineyards, and he has been very lucky because this first vintage went through an ideal weather throughout
summer and harvest time (you'll hear that across all of France I think for 2015) : healthy grapes and sun all along with just enough rain to better the juice in time.
To wind back
a few years ago, Julien has no family in the wine trade, years ago he was doing some seasonal jobs in Ardèche, picking pears, apricots and so on, and someone there told him that he was going to do the harvest at a friend's domaine in Montlouis,
this was in 2009 and he went along. The vigneron was Bertrand Jousset, and he was to begin to get the virus there. He loved this experience and Bertrand offered him to hire him as a trainee if he enrolled at the viticulture school in Amboise (the curriculum includes 10 weeks as a trainee in the domaine of your choice). That's what he did, spending his training month with Bertrand Jousset in 2010 and 2011. His initial idea was not to become a vigneron, his father being a cook and all his family and friends loving good (and organic) food he kind of envisioned himself opening a wine bar or something like that, but little by little after months working in the vineyard he realized that this was what made him tick.
In 2011 after graduation from the viticulture school he left for Provence to work for Jean-Christophe Comor in the Var département. He had discovered his wine at Bertrand Jousset (vignerons always exchange bottles) and as a girlfiend was studying in the University of Aix-en-Provence where jean-Christophe Comor also taught, he got connected with him and went down to Provence 3 years in a row for the harvest season, working on the vinayard and in the chai as well.
Rochefort-sur-Loire, Anjou (Loire)
Thomas Boutin started his domaine in 2008 with a tiny 80-are vineyard of chenin located in Saint Aubin de Luigné but he didn't have his own chai until last august when Christophe Gallienne who had started his own domaine 2 or 3 years ago let him use part of his facility set up under his own house at a short distance from Rochefort, south of Angers. Christophe is slowing down his domaine and Thomas is in the process of taking over Christophe's vineyards, something he began in 2011 when he took the relay on a 90-are parcel with gamay, chenin and
cabernet franc. Then in 2014 he took over more parcels, some chardonnay planted near Christophe's house,
plus a parcel of chenin previously worked by Sébastien Fleuret, another natural winemaker based in Beaulieu. Thomas' present vineyard surface remains low, with 2,4 hectares, the good side of it being that he can do all the work by himself.
Before starting his domaine, Thomas studied at the wine school (BTS enology) in 1998-2000 and from then on he worked here and there in different domaines, in the Dordogne département (Chateau de Fayolle), in the Bordeaux region near La Roquille (Chateau la Maroquine), after which he came back in the Angers region working in different places. Then he went to California where he worked 4 months at J. Lohr (Paso Robles) and also 6 months at Wild Horse near Templeton. He worked only on the cellar side, he says that in the United States they don't understand when you ask to work in the vineyard, this is kind of the job assigned to the Mexican workers and the managers don't see the interest of sending winemaking-wise staff there. Back in France, Thomas worked in Vouvray and in Chablis in domaines owned by de Ladoucette where he was cellar master. Back in Anjou he met people doing nature wines and this was an eye opening experience, his mentors being Xavier Cailleau, also Christophe Daviau, and lastly Benoit Courault who was the living proof that he could also make wine even with a small surface (this was around 2005-2006).
Pictures on the sides courtesy of the village's website
Champ-sur-Layon, Anjou (Loire)
I met Damien Bureau here and there, tasting his wines on wine fairs, the lastes occurence being at the pet'nat sparkling fair in Montrichard.
Anjou is an area where you may find affordable vineyards but finding a roof for your chai and cellar may be more tricky because of the real estate pressure, and Damien has been sharing a
building with Kenji Hodgson, whom I visited a few years ago now. I won't say I found my
way immediately (these winding side roads of Anjou are not the easiest to navigate through) but once arrived I was in familiar territory. When you arrive at the intersection pictured on right (vineyards in the background not belonging to any grower I know) outside of Champ-sur-Layon, just follow the small blue sign (on left)...
Damien Bureau began to make wine in 2006 after Babass from les Griottes let him a parcel to work on, he made his first barrel from which he'd do his sparkling Saperlipopet. Before that he had been working for different domaines including in Burgundy. He then rented his first parcel (it was Chenin, 0,5 hectare) in 2008, keeping making his sparkling. In 2010 he bought a 70-are parcel of old vines with Pineau d'Aunis and Chenin, this parcel being previously owned by les Griottes. With then a 1,25-hectare surface he was beginning to have more raw material to make wine and he made his first red, a Pineau d'Aunis named la Poivrotte. Next to this Aunis there was 45 ares of Chenin with which he could begin make dry Chenin. All the while beginning his wine farm he kept working for other vignerons, in 2009 he began working for the Clos de L'Elu not far from here, staying there until 2013. He kept increasing his own surface and When he stopped working for this domaine they helped him find additional parcels so that since 2013 he works on 3 hectares, the majority being planted with Chenin (he also has some Grolleau). This is the right surface he says when you want to do everything by yourself, the pruning, the plowing and so on.
Marc Houtin, founder of the domaine (Chenin on left)
Soulaines-sur-Aubance, Anjou (Loire)
The Domaine de la Grange aux Belles is one of these fairly recent artisan wineries that make Anjou shine beyond its borders in spite of its humble table-wine status. This winery started a few years ago from scratch in the south of Angers without family backing, not even an old farm which is sometimes is a good help, and the result is simply very good.
I discovered them in an open doors a few years ago, their Chaussée Rouge was just a killing, a pure
pleasure of a red wine, connecting you back with what wine is supposed to be.
The facility is located near the village of Soulaines-sur-Aubance, this is a new warehouse, an efficient but bland construction. It is very difficult to find available buildings in the vicinity of Angers because of the real estate frenzy, people look for any ruin to renovate, they call it home and commute to work in Angers which has become a busy/noisy metropolis surrounded by a maze of freeways and highways. As a result it's sad to say, you see subdivisions sprouting up at the edge of what were not long ago quiet villages with charm and history. This often leaves the aspiring vignerons with little choice other than building something near the parcels.
This all began in 2004, Marc Houtin was a wine lover who was employed in a major oil company in his former life. His references were Patrick Baudouin, the trigger being the wines of domaine Léon Barral which he visited in 2002. To rewind back, he had quit his job in 2001 and enrolled in Toulouse for a DNO (enology degree). At the time he'd taste plenty of wines and visit vignerons he loved. Barral was a shock and remains a reference for him. The domaine is now managed by two men, himself and Julien Bresteau who joined the winery in 2007.
Pascal Potaire checking sediment in the bottle neck
Faverolles-sur-Cher, Touraine (Loire)
The Domaine des Capriades which was founded by Pascal Potaire is particular in the sense that it makes only natural sparkling, its entire production is centered on these bubblies where, unlike for Champagne, nothing has been added to make the wine fizzy, no sugar, no dosage and no so2 (all the wines here have no added sulfites).
The natural sparkling, dubbed Pet'Nat or Pet-Nat in the
wine milieu in France has become over the years of the natural-wine version of a bubbly, some sort of light-hearted counterbalance of Champagne which even if it is regarded as a more respectable bubbly is much less natural beginning its widespread farming management. Like said before, natural sparkling has actually deeper roots than Champagne historically, as it could be compared to the older Blanquette de Limoux, which was made in the early 1500s'.
The domaine's facility sits in a wine farm at the foot of the hill along the Cher river, with the ubiquitous cellar dug into the hillside. Faverolles is one of these winegrower villages along the Cher, like Mareuil or Pouillé a few kilometers east where Clos Roche Blanche and Noëlla Morantin are based. Every single house in this street was long time ago making wine in its respective cellar under the hill, the parcels and fields being conveniently atop of the hill. The area of Touraine is still very affordable for a young vigneron who would be looking for parcels to purchase or to rent, and the region is thus a magnet for artisan winemakers wanting to start a domaine.
Bruno Allion in a young parcel of Sauvignon (15 years)
Thésée, Touraine (Loire)
Bruno Allion and his family live in a quiet lane in the village of Thésée with view on the church in the distance. The area on both sides of the river (which flows into the Loire a few kilometers west of Tours) is now home to quite a number of artisan winegrowers who make wine without additives and from organic grapes. Bruno Allion is also part of a group of biodynamic growers who gather regularly to exchange and prepare herb tea for spraying. I tasted his wines now and then in the last few years and met him last near here in Montrichard, at the natural sparkling fair. I visited him on
a warm august day and we had first some refreshing mint syrup in the
It is noteworthy that Thésée is a very old settlement dating from the Roman times, there was a roman road going through the area and linking Bourges to Tours (named differently back then), and you have still-standing impressive ruins (monuments des Mazelles) near the village that date from the 2nd century.
Bruno Allion set up his own domaine in 1981, starting with a 2.5-hectare vineyard surface. He is from a family of growers along the Cher river east of Tours (named differently back then), his father was selling to the local coop since the start of his working life as a grower in the 1960s'. the coop (the Confrérie des Vignerons de Oisly et Thesée) at the time was working hard to achieve quality.
Bruno's father had uprooted the hybrids farmed in time by his own father, replanting Sauvignon, Gamay etc instead. Bruno's oldest parcel is a plot of 80-year-old gamay which remains from his grandfather's surface. His total surface today is about 13 hectares.
Bruno's official installation was 1987, he did like his father, selling his grapes to the coop but he began to make wine on the side, competing thus on a small scale with the coop, and at the time it led him into trouble because he had a favorable article about his wine in Decanter following a sale he made to a UK exporter. The managers at the coop instead of being happy that the region and one of their growers was spotted abroad saw this as a blow on their own work, an unfair competition and he was pressured to keep a lower profile, especially, they said, that he wasn't supposed by contract to make more than a certain percentage of wine in his own chai. He was not farming organic at the time, he remembers that his father started using herbicides in 1976-1977 when he himself did his time in the military, and he stopped using them 1996, which makes an overall relatively short time. He was officially certified in 1997 (the conversion had begun in 1995). He has been vinifying his wines for a few years without added sulfites.
Somewhere in Provence
Summer is I think a time of the year you're more likely to drop your guard on your purchase rules regarding wines : you stay far from home without good caviste at easy reach, you have other spending priorities and will
fall easily into buying cheap vinous booze (namely rosé, or white) that can stand being had in the hot evenings and with which you know you'll not be restricted on the volume side. And there's also the factor like, nobody looks, let's try this crap for lunch...
In short, summer is a season you may be less regarding for the quality of the wine on your table, even if now and then you manage to get a bottle of worthy, real wine. This story which I typically make every other summer is about that contradiction and the challenge when buying cheap wine in supermarkets and discount stores.
Here is a wine which I picked in the wine aisle of the Leader Price chain, I thought it was from Alsace, its price tag was 4.12 € and I thought it might be better than a rosé in the same price bracket. I was right, except that the sylvaner was German (Rheinhessen), if bottled in Alsace. The mouthfeel was pleasant here, there was almost a tickling on the tongue like when it has very little so2, and whatever the way it was made it went down easily in the particular conditions of these late-afternoon apéritifs which are I'm sure the norm in the region in summer. Never forget the context, it's crazy how bland wines can come up pretty good when you have them in good company. This wine makes 11,5 % in alcohol which is a very good point, that may have been the reason why I chose it in the first place, beyond its price.
The rebuilt bastide (farm) in the center of the domaine
Tourves, Var (Provence)
It is important to remember that Provence is foremost a country of rosé wines, and this is not the region we think first when looking for a good red wine, except for Bandol of course, and even Bandol where you’d have found 70 % of reds years ago now make a majority of rosé. This is a broad-brush picture and you certainly will find good reds after spending some time, but figures speak by themselves : in Provence, 90 % of
the wine is rosé, and often early-drinking rosé,
this is a big share indeed and we can’t but think to the potential to make great reds in this region, like a few producers showed us, I think for example to Jean-Christophe Comor who could make his delicious reds from unsuspected vineyards in the back country of the Var département.
We come at it today as I heard about a fairly recent domaine in the same region which was set up precisely with a focus on quality reds.
I first heard about the Bergerie d’Aquino a couple years ago from a friend who lives in the area and told me about a small domaine making long-élevage red cuvées that were selling by the way at prices well above the norm of the region. We had tried at the time to visit the domaine but it was located along a remote road between Saint Maximin and Mazaugues and we never found the gate, having probably taken the wrong stretch of the road. This year B. And I had the opportunity to taste the wines of this small domaine while visiting the Maison des Vins des Coteaux Varois in La Celle, a place where you can taste for free dozens of wines of the region (and buy bottles too). Both the rosé and the red were gorgeous, if indeed priced accordingly. So we decided to try again visit the domaine, and this time I found the phone number of the domaine and left a message to tell about our visit. The Bergerie d’Aquino happens to have recently changed hands and I was called back by the new owner Eric Bompard who was about to leave for Paris and had a visit organized for us with the domaine’s enologist Emmanuel Gaujal, a man with a long experience in the region's wine development.
At a short distance from Orléans along the Loire there is a discreet wine region which few people know, it's not Cheverny or Anjou, but the Orléanais. A century ago or more it was certainly providing lots of wine for Paris as with the straight road to Paris through the Beauce they didn't even need here to use barges on rivers and canals. The existence of the wines of Orléans is documented as far as in the 5th century with an apogy during the 12th and 13th century when they were poured at the court of the King (source). The total
surface of the vineyards of the Orléanais is
said to have been 30 000 hectares in the 17th century. With the mass production needed for Paris in the 19th century, the quality of the wine went down compared to a few centuries before, and at about that time, with the railroads making Languedoc wines easy to ship to Paris, the production and surface of the Orléans region dwindled, pushing the wines of the Orléanais into oblivion. But there's still a great potential to make excellent wine here, and even though the region today has only 200 hectares, you can find a couple of good producers here to prove that. Reynald Héaulé is one of them.
Reynald Héaulé started from scratch after studying accounting, a field which he didn't feel he'd really consider doing a career in, he worked at several wineries, first in Burgundy then here in the region, particularly at Claude Courtois where he still works part time.
His own domaine makes 2 hectares but with a quite high plantation density, like 12 500 vines per hectare; he grows 15 different varieties on this small surface and 2 years from now you'll find 20 varieties, 10 reds and 10 whites. This doesn't fit really what we call complantation (where vines are planted together randomly) because here he planted whole rows of a given variety (he planted his whole vineyard himself by the way). To tell a few varieties, he planted Pineau d'Aunis, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Gascon, some hybrids, Romorantin, Pinot Gris Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling (Chenin next year, he just gave the wood to a nursery) etc...
From what I know there's no other natural-sparkling fair around, which makes the event unique. The festive and healthy bubbly has gained popularity these last years although it usually can't brag any prestigious appellation, and certainly not the one of Champagne anyway (these vintners would make a weird face if you compare their sparkling with Champagne...), and natural sparkling is probably closer from the Blanquette de Limoux, which is actually the oldest French sparkling chronologically, much older than Champagne.
This was the 2nd year of Bulles au Centre, and the Pet'nat fair was taking place like last year in the charming city
of Montrichard, a mid-size town sitting along the Cher river,
between Saint-Aignan and Tours.
The tasting took place mid-july in the middle of the small town, in a string of connected cellars, some of them with ancient vaulted ceilings making you feel like in a church. More than 50 vignerons were taking part, presenting in person their natural sparkling(s) along at least another still wine. Entry was free of charge, you only had to pay 5 € for the specially-issued glass, which you could keep afterwards. Pours were generous, you could pause outside and have some food, and with the good vibes of the assembly this was a great event (not to miss for next year).
Developped informally among the natural-wine vintners (read this page
by Jacqueline Friedrich), Pet'nat wines, or natural sparklings are "natural" in different ways, first, unlike Champagne and similar bubblies, natural sparklings didn't get any added sugar to produce the second fermentation in the bottle (the one behind the bubbles), the fermenting wine is just bottled in crown-capped bottles before all the original sugar is eaten, and of course without lab yeast. Plus, natural sparkling doesn't get any other corrective additive, and it gets either no sulfites at all or very small doses of it. And to begin with, the grapes used for this type of wine are organicly farmed, like for other natural wines. And lastly, there's no dosage in natural sparkling, meaning no sugary addition to replace the disgorged lees, the bottle being just completed with some of the same wine. And more because we're dealing here with small-volume cuvées than to make the beverage even more natural, the disgorgement is almost always made by hand, which makes this type of wine even more artisanal. From what I know, some of these wines aren't even disgorged and they might get cloudy when you open them, adding to the magic. Don't expect flashy bottles with shiny wrappings, foil and muselet (wire cage), the bottles are often sealed with simple crown caps, but the public who buys this wine usually cares more for what's inside the bottle.