When I harvested at Clos Roche Blanche back in October, I got to hang out and get to know Les Maisons Brûlées' new proprietors, Paul and Corinne Gillet. As it turns out, they are super cool. This recap will confirm that.
We began our visit with Paul giving us an introduction of the estate. 8 hectares of vines are co-planted with nine varietals: Gamay and Sauvignon Blanc represent about 50% of the plantings, but Chardonnay, Menu Pineau, Pinot noir, Pineau d'Aunis, Côt, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are also grown. The soils are clay and flint topsoils with limestone subsoils. Most of the vines are right around the house, on the hillsides of the Cher valley. Another 2.5 ha are on a lower plateaux. The hillsides are some of the best terroirs in the area as they are on mother rock and have great exposition.
Paul and Corinne took over the estate in 2013 from Michel Augé, a pioneer of organic and biodynamic viticulture in the area. Biodiversity in the vineyard was his life's work; Michel used to have a lot more vines, but realized that ones closest to his house had almost no neighboring vines and were surrounded by woods, meaning no chemical overlap and a better environment for biodiversity.
After walking past some 55 year old Gamay and Pineau d' Aunis, you reach the plateau at the bottom of the hill.
The area was mostly pruned, although Paul left several plants untouched in order to practice selection massale and replace dead vines. As you can see from some of the pictures, the area is surrounded by woods, which helps enormously with microbial biodiversity, encouraging the right bacteria to grow into the root systems.
Michel had planted a little bit of Gamay and Sauvignon here in franc de pied. This was an experiment. The vines are about ten years old, so the next few years will be integral in seeing if it works out on this type of soil, since it's usually around 10 years of age that vines begin to experience issues with phylloxera.
From the plateau, we started walking over to the Herdeleau coteau. But before that, we had to say hello to Paul's horse Danseur!
Am I the only one that feels like his mane is died like an 80's heavy metal bro?
Keep in mind he's not even three yet and this is what he looked like when he was born:
They grow up so fast.
Anyway, we then found ourselves on the beautiful Herdeleau coteau!
Depending where you are on the hill, you get closer or further from calcareous sub soil. On the hillsides the soils are fairly poor, which is why vineyards have been planted here for centuries, as nothing else would grow on them. Old Pinot noir, Pinot d'Aunis and Gamay are grown here and produce the R2L'O cuvée, as well Côt and Cabernet Franc that produce Érèbe.
We then walked back to the vinification cellar, which is tiny. Check out that sweet caricature of Paul done last year at Vini Circus.
Here we tasted 2014 R2L'O which was INSANE, some Sauvignon and an orange wine experiment called Ça Me Plait:
About ten kilometers away, Paul barrel ages his wines and stores his bottles in this gorgeous quarry:
Tuffeau limestone from this quarry helped build much of the local landscape in the 19th century, then became a mushroom growing space in the 1930's. The quarry is HUGE, and goes on for about 5 kilometers! Paul and Corinne only use the front of it, but technically rent the entire thing. Paul offered us a tour through this veritable labyrinth, but warned there was no light and we'd need to use our phones to get around.
Fascinatingly, many archives of the mushroom's growing schedules are still painted and pencilled on the walls:
Perfect setting for a horror movie.
It was time to taste bottled wines and eat lunch. We started with Alterité, a pet nat made with Cabernet Sauvignon.
For those of you who are fans of the estate from the Michel Augé days, here's a glimpse of the new Maisons Brûlées labels:
Corinne had set up a beautiful long table for us to taste and eat.
Along with grilled sausages, potato and lentil salads, the group was sated with one of the biggest bowls of rillettes I've ever seen.
And let's not forget the biggest cheese OF ALL TIME.
Upon arrival to Mosse headquarters, we kind of freaked out these two journalists who were there to write a piece about the estate.
After a big hello with Agnès and René, their son Joseph took us out to the vineyards.
Joseph is the young man on the left of the picture above. He's 25, had just returned from working with Louis-Antoine Luyt for a year, is obsessed with sneakers and is poised to take over when his parents retire.
When we told him that my car had gotten obsessed with "Fresh Prince" by Soprano (click that hyperlink if you're a fan of the Will Smith sitcom. Totally worth it), he told us that that song was terrible commercial rap and played us something really good that I forgot. Though it was reminiscent to one of my favorite french rap songs of all time, "La Rue Cause" by Karlito (RIP DJ Medhi).
The Mosse family doesn't have any dogs, so here is a picture of one of their chickens.
The first vineyard we visited was a parcel of 10 year old vines that contributes to the production of the base Anjou Blanc.
Joseph explained that the majority of the region is defined by clay topsoil with schist subsoils, with the amount of topsoil schist composition (chunks, pebbles, sand) varying on where you are on the hillsides. There are lots of grains grown in the area as well as a fair amount of cattle raising. For the young vines, they do a very short pruning in order to limit yields from the get go. This helps to avoid having to green harvest later in the year.
All of the Mosse's vineyards are located in the Coteaux-du-Layon, an area defined by the abundant hillsides that curve and bend alongside the Layon river. The hills help induce humidity in the morning but also make for very warm afternoons; this helps botrytis thrive, which explains why the area has historically produces sweet wines from noble rot.
From the young parcel, we drove to Le Rouchefer, a parcel that sees its own cuvée.
Le Rouchefer is a 1.6 hectare parcel of 40 year old Chenin Blanc grown on iron heavy clay and gravel on schist, with pebbles and quartz at bottom. As you can see from the photo below, large chunks of schist are easily found on the top-soil.
Directly across the road from the Le Rouchefer, one finds the lovely Marie Besnard vineyard.
These crazy vines are over 100 years old!!!
René briefly made a Marie Besnard cuvée, but the vines have become so low yielding that he now blends them with Le Rouchefer. Also, for reasons unknown to Joseph, the vineyard is named after Marie Besnard, a local woman accused of poisoning 12 people from 1927 to 1949. If you're curious about her, you can get an in-depth bio on her murderpedia page.
The final vineyard we visited was Les Bonnes Blanches, from an area widely considered to be the best terroir in the Layon.
As you can see, this was the only vineyard the Mosse hadn't yet pruned.
The reasons why this is considered the best is two-fold: first is its geologically ideal proximity to the Layon. This is one of the rare vineyards that can produce an excellent Coteaux-du-Layon every year, but the Mosse intentionally harvest earlier to produce dry whites. The second is that the soils are composed of shallow decomposing schist and quartz on schist rock, so the roots of the vineyards' 40 year old vines can get exceptionally deep, providing an unparalleled amount of minerality in the wine.
After a solid vineyard tour, we got to taste all the 2014 barrel samples as well as some yet to be released 2013's (many of which have now hit the market).
Everything is smack dab delicious, including a CURVEBALL TWIST with the 2014 Magic of Juju, which is now 90% Melon de Bourgogne (WAAAAA????)!!!
More importantly, we ate the ultimate casse-croute lunch thanks to this butcher:
In that pot were some fantastic rillettes. But the ham, rillons, cheese and butter were nothing to scoff at!
So simple. So hearty. So good.
After lunch, we checked out the cellar.
The entirety of the Mosse production ferments and ages in old oak barrels, often for a really long time. Malo is a prerequisite on the whites, and often happens on the reds as well. The extended lees contact on the whites gives it a weight and unctuousness that take the wines to the next level. Also, René leaves a radio on 24/7/365 so that the barrels can listen to music at all times.
As we set up to say goodbye, the whole thing got very hug-centric:
RIP to Buster, the best dog ever.
If Louis/Dressner Selections was a band with a greatest hits album, Thomas-Labaille's Cuvée Buster would probably be Track 3.
We didn't have much of a sunlight window, so after a big group greeting with Jean-Paul Labaille, we headed straight to Sancerre's best and most terryfying vineyard, Les Monts Damnés.
Before getting into any details about Les Monts Damnés, we need to talk about Jean Paul's jacket. It is without a doubt the freshest jacket ever worn by a human being. And if its insane color combinations weren't enough, the brand's "manifesto" on the back is all the proof you need:
That is the best testimony for the life itself. Fact.
If you've never met Jean-Paul, the act of so effortlessly pulling off this jacket should cue you in to his extremely confident nature. Because let's face it; that shit is hard to pull off.
Ok, so have you seen or heard of this Mont Damnés vineyard? It's shockingly steep!
Monts Damnés is within the commune of Chavignol, and faces full South. About 80% of the vineyards in Chavignol are planted on steep hillsides, and are intentionally planted with grass to avoid erosion. Monts Damnés is the most extreme example of this steepness. Along with a majority of Sauvignon Blanc, a little bit of Pinot is planted on the hill's red clay. Due to the steepness of the hill, everything is done either by hand or with a mechanized hand-tiller that is still a ton of work. When they prune the vines, they leave the cuttings on the ground in order to create a natural fertilizer.
From Les Monts Damnés, we headed over to a vineyard called Cul du Beaujau.
Jean-Paul doesn't own this vineyard, but considers it one of the best views of Chavignol (which you can easily spot in the above pictures' backgrounds) and an apt contrast between the village's Southern and Northern hills, with the latter pictured below.
Of course, there's two sides to every story, so we then drove to the northern vineyards to check those out.
Here's a good pic of the view of the southern vineyards:
The sun was setting, so we decided to head to the cellar.
When you enter the relatively new Thomas-Labaille cellar (the facility is barely three years old), you immediately bear witness to this glorious work of art:
Some things you can't un-see...
Still, if you don't at the very least find this painting amusing, I don't know if we can ever be friends. I can only imagine the reaction of prudish tourists visiting the winery for the first time! Kudos to Jean-Paul for owning the boldest jacket AND self portrait IN THE UNIVERSE.
It was time to taste the 2014's!
The vast majority of Jean-Paul's production ferments and ages in these fiberglass tanks:
"They're not the most beautiful things in the world, but they get the job done!"
As with the rest of the Loire in 2014, everything was showing really well. Unsurprisingly, the highlights were the barrels of Monts Damnés, particularly the Cuvée Buster from a single barrel from Jean-Paul's best parcel of old vines within the "damned hill".
Someone spotted and decided to photograph this inspirational calendar:
After tasting the 2014 juices, we were treated to a truly next-level tasting of back vintages.
Jean-Paul pulled out all the stops. We tasted 12, 08, 06 and 01 Monts Damnés, 97, 96 88 and 85 Sancerre (later renamed L' Authentique), as well as a 99 and 97 Cuvée Buster. 1997 was the first ever Cuvée Buster, so this was an especially special bottle to try.
If having such an amazing tasting wasn't enough, Jean-Paul's wife Laurence prepared us a true feast that was one of the best meals of the trip!
Look at the size of that cheese plate!!!
When I complemented Laurence after the meal, she told me:
"It's easy. I'm used to it."
Oh my god can she cook! Jean-Paul was in a really good mood, and ended the night with 85 Mirabelle marc and 83 grape marc that happened to be kicking around.
Man that was a fun night.
Someway somehow, I'd never visited Alain and Fernand Girard. I'm not really sure why; we've been working with them so long that they definitely fall into the "We are going to drag 5 year old Jules and 3 year old Alyce all around France and bore them to death by visiting vignerons for two weeks straight." era of Louis/Dressner Selections. You see, there was a time when Joe and Denyse would spend their entire summers in France visiting growers. And because we were too young to stay at the house by ourselves, that meant we were obligatorily included in these insanely boring road trips. Plus French TV in the summer only played reruns of MacGyver and Knight Rider (aka K-2000)!
So yeah, I wasn't the biggest fan of summer vacation growing up...
But I'm not here to bore you with the past. I'm here to write about WINE STUFF.
Before heading to the vines, Alain Girard gave us a quick introduction to the estate. He took over from his father Fernand about 20 years ago, and is the fifth generation working his land. Here's a great picture from that era:
14 hectares of vines are spread over five communes with three distinct terroirs: gravely soils, flint and heavy clay.
We began the visit checking out the flint soils of Saint-Satur:
This next picture isn't really necessary, but I like how it highlights my R698 EVO's:
Louis/Dressner Selections: We Wear Nice Sneakers™
Alain explained that these soils have much later maturities than the others, bringing roundness and tension to the final blend.
Next up, the caillottes, or gravely soils:
The caillottes were formed millions of years ago when the land the vines grow on was an ocean. This terroir brings fruit to the blend.
Last but not least, we visited the beautiful coteaux of Verdigny to check the grosses terres, or heavy clay:
Back in the nineties, the village of Verdigny decided to completely redo this hillside in order to make larger, more regular plots with better drainage. This was done to avoid flooding of the town on the bottom of the hillside (which you can spot in the pics). Prior to this change, many owners had micro-parcels all over the hillsides like in Burgundy. But in order to make this restructuring work, vignerons had to exchange parcels so that their land was more coherent.
After a lovely tour of the vineyards, we got to check out the cellar. As it is so happened, a shipment was on its way to our NY/NJ/PA distributor David Bowler wines!
We began by tasting from many pre-blended 2014 tanks. Alain co-vinifies parcels with similar characteristics in stainless steel vats:
That's right: Alain owns a parcel called "piss pot".
2014 was a tough year due to a very rainy summer. Fortunately, an Indian summer in the fall saved the crop, and the wines have proven very satisfactory.
While tasting these distinct, unblended terroirs, I asked Alain's father Fernand if he'd ever considered making single vineyard or terroir driven cuvées.
- Why not?
- The blend is nice.
-But you never felt some parcels could make a great single vineyard wine?
- I like the blend.
- Have you ever been to the US?
- Have you ever wanted to visit?
Fernand Girard: a man of conviction. A man of few words.
We also got to do a fun flight of Sancerre from the last decade:
As well as this special treat:
Before leaving, we had to pet Alain's girlfriend's dog Gypsy.