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.