Les Maisons Brûlées is an estate founded by Michel Augé -a former head of one of the first biodynamic cooperatives in France- and his wife Beatrice.
The vineyards are located in Pouillé, which also happens to be the town with the cheapest gas prices in the vicinity of Clos Roche Blanche, a place very close to our hearts. It is, in fact the continuation from Clos Roche of the first hillside rising from the southwest side of the Cher river into the Touraine. The soils consist of limestone-clay with lots of silex and fossils. As with many Touraine estates, many grape varieties co-exist on the same land: Gamay, Pinot Noir, Pineau d'Aunis, Côt, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc are planted amongst the estate's 8 hectares of vines.
As of 2013, Michel has retired and sold the estate to young couple Paul and Corinne Gillet, who have taken over as head vignerons. Paul and Corinne and both of Alsacian origin, and both began their careers in the restaurant trade. After falling in love, the couple moved to Argentina and continued doing restaurant work. A chance opportunity to own some vines there led Paul to move back to France to study oenology and viticulture, and though he planned to bring his knowledge back to South-America, they would ultimately decide to stay in France.
Corinne quickly joined him, and the two discreetly started working full time for Michel before fully taking over the estate. The work in the vines continues to be biodynamic, and while a few of Michel's cuvées will continue to be produced (L'Art de L'eau and Erèbe), other will be discontinued to make way for new ones. Paul will not add any sulfur on the reds, but is considering adding a touch at bottling for the whites.
This interview with Paul Gillet took place in October, 2014 on his front porch.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My family have been vignerons for many generations in the village of Ingersheim, so wine has always been dear to my heart. My grandfather, who is actually the first generation to stop working vines, had a fantastic cellar. This is where I made my first discoveries.
When it came time to get a job, I decided I wanted to sell wine. I briefly worked as a broker, then opened a retail store with my wife Corinne and another partner in Mulhouse. This was in 1998. Around 2002, we discovered natural wine and got really excited about it. By the end of our tenure in 2006, they had become the main focus of the shop.
Was their a “eureka” moment with natural wine?
My first “eureka” moment was tasting Bruno Schuller’s wines, because as a lover of Alsace I’d never tasted anything even remotely similar. The second was a budding friendship with another retailer in Strasbourg. He’d been heavily involved with these wines for a long time, and was good friends with Marcel Lapierre, Phillipe Pacalet, Patrice Lescarret...
Were people in Mulhouse jazzed by this new direction?
It was a challenge! But stuff like Lapierre was an instant hit.
So what happened after the shop?
In 2006 we decided to close our doors and travel abroad. This led us to Argentina.
Why leave France and why Argentina?
It was highly circumstantial. Our minds were set on leaving Mulhouse, and due to my brief time living in Mexico as a child (my father lived there for a while), Latin America was on our minds. It just so happened that a friend of ours had a pending project in Argentina, and we decided to go visit him.
Corinne and I travelled to Buenos Aires in 2005, and immediately fell in love with the city’s energy. From that trip, we were convinced to move there and start a new project. Mind you, we didn’t really have an idea of what we even wanted to do out there! Of course we knew it would somehow involve wine, food or restaurants. It ended up being a restaurant.
Had you had any past restaurant experience?
No, but we had experience in catering. I failed to mention earlier that the retail shop was not only wine. We also offered fresh produce, oysters, fish, charcuterie, cheese... Just like with wine, we prided ourselves in getting the best products from all over France and even from other nearby countries like Spain and Italy. In fact, we were more ahead of the times with food items than wine! In the early 2000’s you couldn’t find stuff like this anywhere else in Alsace.
So how did the restaurant come to be?
Corinne and I really wanted to open a restaurant. After moving to Buenos Aires, we met another French couple, and the idea came naturally: a French brasserie with simple food, highlighting the best Argentinian ingredients with French preparations. Of course this meant working with a lot of great beef! After moving the whole family to Buenos Aires, we opened in November 2007.
How did the restaurant pan out?
It was a great experience, full of memorable nights. We had a very good response to the food, and quickly developed a reputation for our wine list, where I did my best to highlight some of the smaller, less mainstream wines of Argentina. We were even able to find guys working with native yeasts, minimal intervention, low sulfur etc... Most notably Bodega Cecchin in Mendoza.
We ran the brasserie for 2.5 years, but moved on because of a growing divide of interests with our partners. From there, Corinne and I started doing clandestine dinners, full meals in private spaces but only 3 times a week.
In the US, we call those “pop ups”.
A pop up? (laughs) I like it!
How did these dinners differ from the original restaurant?
At the brasserie, I was in charge of sourcing the ingredients and wines. Our chef was Argentinian but familiar with French food. When we did the pop up, it was just me and Corinne cooking. Obviously this was a stark contrast to what we had been doing before: at the brasserie we were 5 in the kitchen and 4 on the floor, and the focus was on moving a lot of simple but delicious dishes. With the pop up, we took a more gastronomical route. It was partly to stand out, but mostly because we had much more freedom to use a wider array of ingredients than in the brasserie.
So what happened?
Again, the pop up was a great success and we had a lot of fun with it. But it was obvious from the get-go that we weren’t going to be able to sustain it in the long term. We had a few ideas at the time, the major one being to start a viticultural estate in Northern Argentina, an area we had spent much time in and found quite beautiful. It felt like we had come full circle with food and wine, that it was time to start from the source and go back to the land.
While scoping out vineyards, we had a little surprise! It was the news that our third child Emma was on the way. This changed everything, and we both agreed that in taking the next step, we needed to plan for stability. So we chose to temporarily move back to France for me to follow a program in viticulture and oenology while Corinne took care of herself before giving birth.
Where in France?
Back to Alsace. It made the most sense since we’re both from there. I then followed a program and the Lycée Agricole d’Obernai, and when it was done we all returned to Argentina to continue pursuing our original plan of starting an estate there. After a month and half though, we realized that our project was too ambitious and that it would be wiser to move back to France permanently.
Can you elaborate?
When you have three children, you can’t live day to day adventures with your wife like a young couple. Starting an estate in Argentina would have proven to be economically challenging, especially without subsidies from the government due to our foreign status. Not to mention our start-up capital was quite low! We were also concerned about our children and imposing this life on them. Maybe we just didn’t have the balls. I don’t know. But in the end we chose to come back to France.
So we re-focused our energy on finding an estate in France. Our main criteria was working in a region with wines we enjoyed. Our first choice was Auvergne, but we also had the Loire and Beaujolais in mind. In any case, we wanted wines touched by the Northern winds.
Why not Alsace?
Alsace was out of the question because land is extremely expensive and they are very adverse to outsiders. If you look at the vignerons of Alsace, they’re almost all lifers with long family histories. Plus the average hectare goes for 150,000 euros there. It’s not Champagne or Burgundy but...
So the Loire?
I was interested in some nearby vines in Sologne. While in the area I met Michel (note: Michel Augé, founder and prior owner of Les Maisons Brûlées), who knew I was looking to settle somewhere. After tasting with him, he invited me to come prune with him in the vines, and I accepted.
While we were in the vines, Michel brought up the fact that we was thinking of retirement, and that if I was interested he could offer me some vines or even the whole estate. After some further discussions and negotiations, we came to an agreement in Spring 2013 that we'd take over.
You’ve chosen to keep the name Maisons Brûlées and some of the cuvées names. What will remain the same and what will change?
Michel is a formidable character. He was born here and knows his land like the back of his hand. He used to have way more land, and while downsizing he chose to keep the most interesting and coherent plots to make the best wine possible. I was not ok with the idea of erasing what he’s spent decades creating.
Same goes with the cuvées; there is a real coherence in the choices Michel made. Of course we have our own experiments: coming from Alsace and really loving Pinot Noir, it was dear to my heart to vinify a 100% Pinot cuvée. We also wanted an earlier release, so we bottled Dernier Née.
But look: there are old Sauvignons (Poussière de Lune) and young Sauvignons (Silènes). The Alterité Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons here make sense as bubbles. Erèbe makes sense as Cabernet Franc and Côt, etc...
After that, we have chosen to change the labels, and of course vinification is an extremely personal thing. Even in this first vintage of ours (2014), I think you can taste the difference in our choices. But in the end, the real flavors come from the land.
Where do you stand on the “natural wine” debate?
It’s complicated. I think the day that people stop actively debating natural wine will be the day we decisively got the point across. We try to make wines as honestly as possible, even though we know we are taking serious risks. But I see this as a return to the way wine was always made. To say natural wine is something new, invented or different is incorrect.
When you truly love wine, you can immediately tell the difference in the way people work in the vineyards and cellar. You can taste convictions, from the choices made in the vines to those in the cellar. We feel that we are doing the right thing. Are we right? We’re taking a lot of risks doing what we do.
So why do we categorize our work as something different? We are simply trying to make a living product. Not different, but alive! We're in our vines everyday, trying to cultivate the best grapes possible, all the while respecting nature and life. In the cellar, we try our best to transmit this by not making the process artificial. If you don’t know anything about vinification, it's very difficult to grasp these concepts. It's a question of fluidity from grapes to wine.
When I started selling wine, it was a life changing experience discovering these types of wines. I remember looking back on experiences when I’d go taste with vignerons in the early stages of a wine, and absolutely love the barrel samples. But when it arrived to the shop, the wines would be tight, tense, closed... They tasted nothing like what I had tried in the cellar! Wine should taste as fresh as possible.
What are you favorite things to drink?
One day I heard someone say that the peak of a grape’s expression is found in regions touched by Northern winds. The more a grape finds itself touched by Northern wind, the more it finds its optimal maturity. When I say this, I am referring to the aromatic potential, vivacity, and acidity to have a beautifully balanced wine.
My big passion for whites is Alsace. For reds, I love anything that is light and fruity but still manages to express its structure.
This visit to Les Maisons Brûlées took place in February, 2015.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by Noah Oldham, Patrick Cappiello, Hadley Foss, Josefa Concannon and Dave Sink.
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 dyed 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.
This visit to Les Maisons Brûlées took place in July, 2013.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by John Kafarski and Jules Dressner.
The first time I visited Les Maisons Brûlées, Michel Augé asked us to participate in his favorite experiment: having his guests walk though the entire vineyard without saying a word, then asking: "How did it make you feel?"
Even though this was only back in the summer of 2011, I didn't get what he was trying to accomplish with at the time. How did walking through the vineyard "make me feel"? I replied that I didn't know, that it was a vineyard, that it was pretty... Michel nodded, but asked again: "But how did it make you feel?"
What Michel wanted us to realize was that every part of the vineyard has a different energy, and that one must be in tune with this energy to understand, to feel the vineyard. The question seemed odd, trivial and besides the point at the time, but his message finally made sense over a year later during last summer's visit at Renardat-Fâche (re-read the part about the biodynamic experiments).
Look, I've spent my whole life in vineyards, and the man is right: biodynamic vineyards -and I am in no way, shape or form trying to explain why this is the case- have a special, connected energy I've never felt anywhere else. I'll leave it at that.
Michel may have a deep, philosophical soul, but he's still down to earth enough to rock some Royal Wear sneakers.
From Noella Morantin's, it took us a whole 4 minutes to arrive to Michel and Béatrice Augé's farm.
Our first stop was visiting Praline and the gang!
This is Praline.
This is Praline in action, which gives you a much better idea of how massive she is.
Praline just had a son with Olivier Cousin's horse Joker, and because of his long, lanky legs, Michel has named him Danseur!
Of course, it wouldn't be a party without our good friend Donkey!
Donkey's main job is to keep Praline company. While incredibly social, he's not much of a hard worker.
"Horses and donkeys are like dogs and cats. A horse, you can train and it will take orders. A cat does what he wants."
We then set off for a tour of the vines.
Glancing into the horizon, Michel explained that his vineyards are exceptional because they are THE last in the area to be on planted on a coteau. He describes his vineyards as the same landscape you would typically see in 12th and 13th century France, well before people started intentionally planting in the plains, a phenomenon fully linked to mechanization.
Michel also explained that the area's economy used to revolve around a potter's town in the 2nd century. Around the size of Tours, traces of galo-roman ruins can still be found to this day.
Michel's vineyards are separated into two distinct sections. The one closest to the farm and on the top of the coteau is co-planted with many grapes, including Pinot Noir vines that go into Herdeleau. At 25 years olds, these are the youngest of the estate.
Right across, Côt is planted and acts as the base of Erèbe, as well as the Sauvignon for Poussière de Lune. These are 70 years old.
Michel's got some honey going!
The bees play an essential role in the vines, as do the hundreds of insects that inhabit and feed from the various wild flowers and plants (most are microscopic). Also, butterflies:
"As long as there are butterflies in your vineyards, the berry worms (verre de la grappe)-which are actually a type of night moth- will go away. All you need to attract butterflies are flowers and plants."
Luckily, over 70 types of wild plants grow in the vineyard.
Oh, and trees:
"Just like man, vines need trees. They help us all live better."
On the bottom part of the hill, it's colder so vegetation is slower. Very old 60 plus+ Gamay and Pineau D'Aunis as well as Cabernet Franc are grown here. There is also very old Sauvignon that is over 100.
This land totals 8 h, with 1 h being rented to a young guy.
FUN FACTOID: Michel has been experimenting with his dog Balou's hair to scare away chevreuils.
The idea is very simple: Balou killed a baby chevreuil during the summer, so in theory they should be scared of her. By smelling her hair, they will stay away from the vines.
"I have no idea if it's actually working. But it's worth a shot!"
Obviously, it wouldn't be fair to not show you what Balou looks like.
The most interesting factoid of the visit is how the estate and lieu-dit got the names Les Maisons Brûlées (the burned houses): the vineyards on the bottom of the hill are planted on the ruins of a village that completely and mysteriously burned down. You can spot the stones that were used to make these houses -which were presumably easy to stack on top of each other- all over the vineyards.
While noticeable in the top soil, but they are especially present in the subsoil. Interestingly, all the vines planted in this area are franc de pied.
After telling us the burned down village story, Michel poetically exclaimed:
"The peasant's work is to heal the earth."
After our nice stroll through the vines, it was time to taste some wine! We were all parched, so Béatrice busted out some of her home-made elderberry blossoms lemonade. It was extra refreshing. We then tasted Sauvignon, which Michel uses a unique technique I've never seen anywhere else: pelicular macerations in little boxes before pressing the grapes.
"Sauvignon has really high alcoholic potential. The maceration (in boxes) gives more matter, which would be impossible with a regular alcoholic fermentation."
Michel feels the wines need one year to find their final precision.
"That is the challenge with sulfur free whites. It takes up to a year in a half for them to stabilize."
Speaking of a long time, Silènes 2012 still has 250 grams of sugars to work on!!!
"The summer should do it's work."
For stupid legal reasons, l' Herdeleau is now L'Art de L'Eau in 2011.
It was delicious. While tasting, Michel explained that he harvests different parcels based on maturity levels, so the work is done plot by plot rather than grape by grape.
"This is what led us to do blends. The soils carry way more importance than the grapes."
The 3 grapes in l'Art de L'Eau (Pineau D'Aunis, Gamay, Cab Franc) happen to be amongst the red grapes with the highest amount of tartaric acid, which is usually confused with tannin. Hmmmm.....
We also tasted this sous-voile, Vin Jaune style Sauvignon that was the bomb.
Vin de France Sparkling "Maisons Bulées" Blanc
Soil: Clay and Limestone.
Grape: Sauvignon Blanc
Vinification: Pétillant naturel made in méthode ancestrale. No filtration or added SO2.
Soil: Clay and Limestone.
Vinification: Pétillant naturel made in méthode ancestrale. No filtration or added SO2.
Soil: Clay and Limestone.
Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon
Vinification: Pétillant naturel made in méthode ancestrale. Direct press, then aged 10 months in barrel. No filtration or added SO2.
Yields : 25 hl/ha.
Soil: clay and limestone.
Grapes : Pinot Noir, Gamay, Pineau d’Aunis. We don't know percentages because all the reds are harvested and macerated together.
Yields: 15 hl/ha.
Vinification: macerates for 10 days, whole cluster with remontage and pigeage at the end of the maceration. Aged 12 months in barrel. Non filtered and no added S02.
Origin of the Name: The name of the clos, which is a lieu dit.
Soil: clay and limestone.
Grapes : Cabernet Franc, Côt
Vinification: maceration 8 to 10 days. The Côt is vinified whole cluster while the Cabernet is de-stemmed. Aged 12 months on the lees and with ouillage. Non filtered, no SO2.
Yields : 22 hl/ha.
Origin of the Name: This symbolizes the renaissance in primitive Greek mythology. Erebe was the son of Chaos and the brother of night; Aristophanes' poetry gives us a sense of this paradoxical being who created day and love (Eros). The wine seems to have gone through the same genesis.