Loire Valley (Part Three) – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-15T03:34:30+00:00February 15th, 2019|Loire Valley, Travel Report|

Day three in the Loire took us to Sancerre, where we were able to catch up with our four main producers in the region – Henri Bourgeois, Gerard Fiou, Gilles Lesimple, and Pierre Riffault.

Henri Bourgeois

Family owned wine companies with the ability to keep the quality sky-high from generation to generation, even at scale…We are into this sort of thing. I suppose you already know this about us though. The Bourgeois family, led by Jean-Marie, Arnaud, Lionel, and Jean-Christophe, hold a figurative beacon for others to follow on this front. At the core this is a family of farmers, yet they are running what might be the most sophisticated, organized operation we collaborate with in France. Famille Bourgeois is farming hundreds of vineyard sites, mostly organic, and often elite. An example? Only twelve families are lucky enough to own land on the highly esteemed Monts Damnes Cru, and of that fortunate group Bourgeois owns more rows than anyone, and most of theirs are on the strategic top portion of the slope. Another example? Somehow they find the bandwidth to run the top hotel in Chavignol and not one but two restaurants in town. Oh yeah, and they actually make wine too. Lionel Bourgeois took us into the vineyards for some immersion on all things soil and pruning, and we tasted a myriad of bottlings at their enviable location overlooking La Cote Des Monts Damnes.
Henri Bourgeois 17 Sancerre Blanc “Les Baronnes,” Benchmark cuvée of the family, fresh, nuanced, citrus, engaging.
Henri Bourgeois 16 Sancerre Blanc “La Cote Des Monts Damnes,” Classic Monts Damnes, everything there, from the highest plots on the hill. Naked, no wood.
Henri Bourgeois 15 Sancerre Blanc “La Bourgeoise,” The monks of Saint-Satur first worked this site, and these are some of the oldest vines in the estate, singular stuff, flinty, touch of wood influence evident but integrated.
Henri Bourgeois 15 Sancerre Blanc “Jadis,” Kimmeridgian marl soil, organic, old barrels, charm, powerful.
Henri Bourgeois 15 Sancerre Blanc “Les Cotes Aux Valets,” From the best “chalky clay” plot on the estate, in Vinon, tiny plot. Round, long, bravo
Henri Bourgeois 15 Sancerre Blanc “Le Cotelin,” single vineyard marl based plot in Maimbray, long, structured
Henri Bourgeois 15 Sancerre Blanc “Les Ruchons,” flintiest plot in the appellation, in the village of Saint-Satur, old vines, mineral intensity, Frank talked about this one the rest of the week.
Henri Bourgeois 18 Sancerre Rose “Jeunes Vignes (tank sample),” Young vine Sancerre Rosé – Fun idea, and it delivers. Strawberries, pepper, yum. Love the pricing too.
Henri Bourgeois 17 Sancerre Rouge “Les Baronnes,” Typical, red fruits, cherries, medium body, what you want in Sancerre Rouge
Henri Bourgeois 15 Sancerre Rouge “La Bourgeoise,” Memorable stuff from some really old Pinot vines on SW facing flinty slopes. Totally developed. Magnificent.
We also tasted Bourgeois’ very fine New Zealand offerings, and those warrant a post of their own at another time. Want to get a feel for the estate in VR mode? Here is an inside look at the underground family stash, and here is a nice 360 view from the top of Monts Damnes.  On that note, Frank, John, and Lionel dared me to try sprinting up Monts Damnes, and I quickly learned that such an activity represents one “damne” fine athletic challenge (and one for, hmm…maybe an actual athlete?!?), especially after a few pounds of Crotin de Chavignol, but I digress… So here we are happy to report that these fabled slopes truly are at a sixty degree angle and that the clay there is as thick and heavy as it looks on paper.

Domaine Gerard Fiou

Domaine Gerard Fiou was recently acquired by the Bourgeois family, and the energy going into these

wines is something to take notice of. Young Florent Bourgeois is literally pouring his heart into the property and splits his days between vineyard work and winemaking. Fiou comes as a nice complement to us at Grape as all of their Sancerre Blanc is planted on Silex soil and is intensely flinty, yet reasonably affordable for Monday night usage. We spent some time in the bistro talking about the 2018 vintage with Florent while eating braised veal face (something that, as long as you aren’t vegetarian, you must try with Fiou’s incoming liquid mineral 2015 “Le Grand Roc” bottling).

Florent Bourgeois, brining the Silex to your table since, well, about 2012!

Domaine Gerard Fiou 18 Sancerre Blanc. fresh, juicy, some flint, very nice.
Domaine Gerard Fiou 15 Sancerre Blanc “Le Grand Roc,” broad, big structure, layers of mineral, wow.
Domaine Gerard Fiou 16 Sancerre Rouge, fresh fruit, spice, a bit disjointed right now but we look forward to seeing this develop.

Domaine Pierre Riffault

We hold a special affection for this small property in Chaudoux – Each year we take every last drop of wine available, which is usually about one container. This is a third-generation producer, with father Pierre handing things over to son Bertrand in 2005. Bertrand brings a bit of a unique (and more urban) background to what is overall a fairly provincial scene in Chaudoux – He returned home to the winery after earning a Master’s degree in Sociology, and is just as interested in music and cooking as he is winegrowing. If you make it to the property ask about their unbelievable collection of old clay “crotin de chavignol” molds. The family owns 20 vineyard plots in total (almost exclusively on very steep slopes), and all soils are either flint or of of two types of calcareous clay known locally as “caillottes” and “terres blanches.” In terms of size we are talking 9.5 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc and 1.5 hectares of Pinot Noir.
Pierre Riffault 18 Sancerre Blanc (tank), ripe, rich, full, mineral, good acidity. Will be bottled 4/19
Pierre Riffault 17 Sancerre Blanc, tasty, but low acidity as is typical with these 17’s
Pierre Riffault 18 Sancerre Rosé (tank), rich and fresh, just 100 cases avail though which is sad
Pierre Riffault 18 Sancerre Rouge (tank), concentrated, tannic, very good, a pallet avail
Pierre Riffault 17 Sancerre Rouge, lighter, but quite good, a pallet avail.
Pierre Riffault 15 Sancerre Blanc “Croix de Chambre,” from limestone in Verdigny, ample, structured, aged in wood and bottle. Confirming price/availability and hoping for access to a bit

Bertrand Riffault, the most interesting man in Chaudoux

Neutral barrel fermented old vine Sauvignon from the 2015 vintage was becoming a theme on this trip, and we will take what people offer up!  Mark your “new Riffault” calendars for June, just in time for Sockeye Salmon!

Domaine Gilles Lesimple

Gilles Lesimple is probably not a name you’ve heard. Gilles is a good friend of the Bourgeois family, and a farmer with some very nice Sauvignon vines who sells most of his finished wine in bulk to producers you know and respect. This is the case for many a winegrower in this region, is really the backbone of Sancerre as you know it, and it is also a good living, as the bulk price for Sancerre right now is actually a slightly higher rate than most folks can earn for actual finished, bottled wine (especially when bottling costs are taken into consideration). We tasted probably twenty tanks with Gilles, all on various levels of his maze like setup in a connected series of buildings hidden right in the middle of town.

Domaine Gilles Lesimple 18 Sancerre Blanc. Fresh, juicy, balanced, very nice.

In coming years we’d like to help Gilles on the packaging front, help connect him to other like-minded importers and distributors, and as a result help get more of this very fine handmade clay soil Sancerre out into American refrigerators.

Loire Valley (Part Two) – Winter 2019

By |2019-02-13T16:24:42+00:00February 13th, 2019|France, Loire Valley, Travel Report|

Domaine Masson Blondelet

The brother and sister team of Mélanie and Pierre Masson run this staunchly organic estate which they’ve taken over from their parents who founded it in the 1970’s. Pierre is the beautiful man gracing our landing page this month. You’ll see the winery on your right immediately upon rolling into Pouilly-sur-Loire, and their sixty lovingly tended micro-plots are patched through the appellation. To say this is a family passionate about organic viticulture is an understatement, you can smell that energy the minute you walk in, and this isn’t only because of the never-ending organic vegetable slideshow playing above the fireplace. Here is Mélanie taking us through things:
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 17 Pouilly-sur-Loire Chasselas, fresh, typical
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly-sur-Loire Chasselas, better, fresher
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Sancerre Rosé, complex, fine, smokey, Melanie likes this after 18 months in bottle and we therefore took a stand on the 17 last summer, and get the 17 from us while you can
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Sancerre Blanc “Thauvenay,” fine, cool, mineral
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly Fume “Les Angelots,” vibrant, mineral
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly Fume “Villa Paulus,” bigger, tight, not as much finesse
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 18 Pouilly Fume “Pierres de Pierre,” salinity, floral
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 15 Pouilly Fume “Clos Paladi,” full, rich, fine
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 14 Pouilly Fume “Tradition,” mature, boring
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 15 Pouilly Fume “Tradition,” fresher, better, more balanced
Domaine Masson-Blondelet 15 Sancerre Rouge “Thauvenay,” skinny, dry, not much fruit left
The specialty here is clearly the whites, and with plenty of Sancerre Rouge already in the portfolio it is where we will keep our attention on all things Masson Blondelet. The Chasselas is coming to you thanks to the request of Mr. Jal Hastings who is making heads turn for us in the Bay Area – You’ll here more from Jal on the content side of things in coming months. Pierre showed Frank, John, and I something new, as in how to instantly spot a “roundup ready” vineyard as opposed to an organic one (hint: no plastic sheaths around young vines in the organic plots, as organic vines need no protection from the barrage of Monsanto branded glyphosate that most conventional Loire farmers are heartbreakingly reliant on nowadays). I’m standing there stiff like a total idiot at the start of this video but for the sake of unfined/unfiltered video content here you go!

Overall this was a memorable/productive visit and tasting. We have a gem here. The lesser wines are the best value-for-money as is usually the case in our travels. If you are a restaurant or retailer reading this, you ought to put on an event where you taste guests on each of the three soil types in Pouilly Fume using each of this Domaine’s three releases – We have a transcript from what was an interesting but “too poor of sound quality” podcast episode for you to use, which you can access here. Want a custom cover for your event? Call our California office and ask for Logan.

This is what a healthy, organically farmed vineyard in Pouilly Fume should look like in Winter 2019

Domaine Bigonneau

Isolated in a literal sea of quinoa fields, Domaine Bigonneau cranks out shockingly world-class Reuilly and Quincy. This 15 hectare estate has been in operation for maybe 25 years now, and the young Virginie Bigonneau runs all aspects of the operation. She is well-traveled yet very much at home and settled in here, and  while the setup in general looks like a typical French farm this is a winery so clean inside that you could eat off the floors. The wines are similarly clean and transparent. We like to give you the “walk up” or “drive up” approach to each winery, so here it is at Bigonneau:
Domaine Bigonneau 18 Pinot Gris Rosé, typical aromatics and flavors, crisp, very good, we reserved all avail production (this is technically not a Rosé, btw even though it looks the part!)
Domaine Bigonneau 18 Reuilly Blanc, easy, fine, great value
Domaine Bigonneau 18 Quincy,  step up, more concentration and complex, very good
Domaine Bigonneau 16 Reuilly Rouge, lovely Pinot aroma and fruit, we reserved everything avail
Domaine Bigonneau 17 Reuilly Rouge, fuller, fatter, perhaps less focused, we reserved everything avail

Cash flow permitting we will probably just buy a full container to save on logistic costs (remember this is the middle of nowhere). Our only complaint in the past was the packaging and WOW have they stepped that game up! Well done Virginie!

Ms. Virginie Bigonneau! BTW Virginie we are jealous of your sweet vintage Land Rover…

Monmousseau

John and I like quiet, gritty Loire towns. They have character and take a person back in time. Monmousseau is based in one such town, Montrichard, and while we won’t recommend our hotel to you (Frank especially won’t), visiting Monmousseau’s historic caves is an essential look at the Loire sparkling wine industry’s past. The Dutchman in Frank will call the setup inefficient, but John and I will call it deliciously old-school, with tens of miles of tunnels used to age the sparkling wines produced here. Wines are aged on wooden laths (oh how sad we are that most portions of these caves were too dark for our Insta 360 One camera) and Monmousseau is just now transitioning from rail car transport (yes like a coal mine) to electric fork lifts! One visit here and you’ll be drinking Monmousseau Cremant d’Touraine at least monthly in your rotation. Their entry level Brut Etoile was my go-to sparkling wine in the college days, and while simple it still tastes pretty great.
Monmousseau 18 Rosé d’Anjou, bright, deep, ready early Feb
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Touraine “Cuvee JM” Brut, the category defining Touraine Cremant, nice balance, magnums available which is fun
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Touraine “Cuvee JM” Brut Rosé, rounder, more strawberry, pretty
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Loire “Brut Zero,” well made, bone dry, interesting but probably not something that would have pull so a no for us.
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Loire Brut, mostly sourced from Touraine which gives this a bit more personality than most in the category, full, good
Monmousseau NV Cremant de Loire Rosé, pale color, slight yeastiness, one more g/L of dosage than the regular Brut.

Lath storage at Monmousseau – Yep this is what we mean when we say old school