Les Maisons Brûlées is the domaine of 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 in the Touraine, a soil of limestone-clay with lots of silex and fossils. We have brought in two wines from the 2008 vintage - Le Herdeleau, a lively and fresh gamay/pinot blend. and L'Erebe a dark cot and cabernet blend (this means 'Erebus' or darkness). Both wines are closed with a crown cap.
Michel believes in using crown caps over cork for a lot of reasons, but mainly for proper conservation of the the freshness of the wines and ecological preservation: crown caps are recyclable, and the cork industry is particularly destructive to nature because of its required cleaning treatments.
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, which involves his guests walking 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 this. How did it 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 nature to understand, to feel it. The question seemed odd, trivial and besides the point at the time, but his message finally clicked 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.
The man 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!
And it wouldn't be a party without our good friend Donkey!
Donkey's main job is to keep Praline company. While an incredibly social guy, 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 coteaux. 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 revolved around a potter's town the size of Tours in the 2nd century. Traces of galo-roman ruins are still being found to this day.
The 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 (most microscopic) that inhabit and feed from the various wild flowers and plants. Also, butterflies:
"As long as there are butterflies in your vineyards, the berry worms (verre de la grappe)-which are night moths themselves- 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, as well as very old Sauvignon that is over 100.
This land totals 8 h, with 1 h being rented to a young guy.
FUN ASIDE: 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.
"I have no idea if it's actually doing anything."
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 soils 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.
You can spot these easily in the superficial soil, but they are especially present in the subsoil. Interestingly, all the 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 for 2011.
It was delicious, and while tasting, Michel explained that he harvests different parcels based on maturity levels, so it's done plot by plot rather than grape by grape.
"This is what led us to do blends. The soils have way more importance than the varietals."
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 confuses with tannin. Hmmmm.....
We also tasted this sous-voile, Vin Jaune style Sauvignon that was the bomb.
Sparkling Rose "Altérité"
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.