Domaine Filliatreau, a large estate of about 50 hectares located near the city of Saumur, is run by Paul and Frédrik Filliatreau, père et fils.
The vineyard of La Grande Vignolle, in the Saumur-Champigny appellation, rests atop a tufa-stone outcrop that runs along the Loire river for a number of kilometers. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the stone, a creamy colored limestone, was quarried for building some of the great monuments and châteaux of the Loire. Cave dwellings and a few formidable houses were actually carved into the cliffs. The La Grande Vignolle label is a depiction of this site.
The soil and subsoil of the vineyard are highly calcareous. This type of soil lends the Cabernet Franc grapes juicy flavors and good acidity.
The vines are of considerable age and yields are kept low. The wine is vinified in stainless-steel and bottled unfiltered. It is rich in red fruit flavors, with a touch of tobacco and licorice in the finish and has excellent aging potential.
Two other cuvées from Domaine Filliatreau available in America are the Saumur-Champigny Vieilles Vignes and the Saumur Château Fouquet, a single-plot vineyard that is worked in biodynamic viticulture. Paul Filliatreau, who twenty years ago did much to put the AOC Saumur-Champigny on the map of great wines, has resolved to go back to “older ways” of tending vines and found the principles of bio-dynamie well suited to this purpose.
This interview with Frédrik Filliatreau took place in January, 2012 at the Salons des Vins de Loire.
Tell us about Domaine Filliatreau.
I started up in 1990, and I am the fourth generation in my family to work here. We're pretty big compared to a lot of my friends in the area, but have divided things up over the years. Domaine Filliatreau covers all of our vines around the village of my grandparents; it's where our original cellar is and where we make Saumur-Champigny. Then you have the Grande Vignolle, a lieu-dit, which is where we make those cuvées and have our store. Finally, we have Château Fouquet, which has been completely organic since 1998. Fouquet is 6,5 h, with an additional 4.5 h still in conversion.
When my father took over in 1967, a lot of things changed. Though my grandfather was a vigneron, he didn't necessarily do it by passion. He'd make some wine for his family and friends, whites and rosés, then sell most of the grapes to the a couple of négociants. There were no reds at the time; that was my father's doing. He's also behind us bottling and selling independently, and was really one of the first guys to do it in the region. He was also one of the first people to work in this "modern fashion" of fruity, light and easier to drink reds. They were a hit in Paris, and things really took off from there.
Did he also change the cellar practices?
My grandfather worked with concrete tanks and barrels. My father quickly realized that this affected the wine's freshness, so he integrated concrete tanks that you could open from the top, giving him much more control. The inspiration to do this came from Charles Joguet in Chinon.
Then in '78 he met a guy who sold stainless steel tanks. When he realized it was the solution to his temperature control issues, he was sold. So yes, there has been a serious evolution in the cellar. My father was always looking for the way to make a lighter, fruiter Saumur-Champigny, but it was always with the utmost respect to the vines and the grapes. It might seem obvious now, but if you want your grapes to taste that fruity you have to respect them.
The interesting thing is that there was almost a reverse evolution for us in the 90's. We had some years that produced a very concentrated wine, and while it threw some people off at first, it became popular in its own right for being more powerful and structured. And now we find ourselves producing both styles, which is fun for us!
Is your dad retired?
No. He's obviously less active then he was 20 years ago, but he still loves being in the vines; in fact he's been teaching my wife how to prune! He's really a vigneron, and stuff like this (Salons des Vins de Loire) is not really his thing.
And Château Fouquet is your project right?
It was something we did together. When my father purchased this great piece of land, I was still in school so I had no say in that decision. He is also the one who decided to replant certain parts that had been abandoned. Again, under the influence of Charles Joguet, we began replanting in selection massale that actually came from Charles' Clos du Chene Vert vineyards.
It was my idea to convert to organic viticulture, and he was all for it! This made me really happy, because in '98 it was still something new and exciting that not many people were doing. It was a situation where in many cases, the new generation wanted to work organically, but their parents refused to change. It was fabulous having his support.
Why not convert the entire estate then?
I really hate to say it, but it's strictly economical. It's a reality we have to accept. To this day Filliatreau has a huge reputation in French restaurants, and we knew that if we converted everything to organic, it would make the wine about 25% more expensive, which would confuse and frustrate the customer. It's not fun to talk about the profitability of your wine, but upping our prices by this much was impossible. Château Fouquet was new, and let us start from the ground up.
And now we work exactly the same way in our old vines in Saumur-Champigny. We care about the vines and good work. Part of our estate is in lutte raisonée, the other is organic. It's the way it is.
You recently bought a horse to work the soil, Can you tell us about that?
I bought the horse last year. It's yet another evolution! It's a dream I've had for a very long time, and I'm ecstatic at learning how to work the soil with a horse. It's great doing it with my father too, because it brings him back to his youth; he never did it much himself, but remembers it being a common thing. We were talking about it one day, and he told me he'd love to have a horse for the vines. So without telling him, my wife and I found Scarlette. At first he was shocked we'd actually done it! But once he met her and saw what she's capable of, he fell in love! He's been obsessively sourcing plows from all his friends and we now have a huge collection of them that are completely useless!
For now we're only working 1,5 hectares of Château Fouquet with Scarlette. The idea is to eventually do all of it: we'd have to pass to 2 or 3 horses and hire a new employee, but it's totally doable. I'm very excited about it!
What do you like drink?
I like everything that's different from Saumur-Champigny! I really love Savagnin and Poulsard from the Jura. The wines are so different yet so terroir! I recently loved some Chianti Classicos. I don't know, as long as they bring me pleasure!
This visit to Domaine Filliatreau took place in February, 2014.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by Krystof Zizka and Tom Loup.
After eating lunch in Saumur, Fredrik Filliatreau met us up for coffee before setting out to his vines. Before seeing any of his own land, he asked me (and consequently, the 6 other cars following us) to pull over to the side of the road.
"From here, I can give everyone a general overview of the area."
Saumur-Champigny is located between the Loire and Saône rivers, and was declared an AOC in 1957. It consists of 1600 hectares of Cabernet Franc spread over 9 villages. 100 independent growers make wine from their own land, and 40% of the AOC's vines are run and produced by huge cave cooperatives. With 45 hectares to their name, Domaine Filliatreau's is one of the biggest independent producers in the area.
The Filliatreau family has been based in the village of Chaintres for many generations. Fredrik's grandfather was the first to focus entirely on viticulture, and before that their main crops were asparagus and cereals. He was also one of the first 4 independent vignerons in the area. His father Paul started in 1967 with a very small production, but through many decades of successes and ambitious expansion, the estate now exists as 45h of land spread over 37 parcels.
The first site Fredrik showed were young vines from the lieu-dit La Croix.
As you can see from the photo above, it's been a rainy winter in the Loire.
We then walked by a clos whose name I didn't catch.
Fredrik had forgotten the key to this site so we couldn't go in. He shares this surface with a handful of other growers.
Just a short walk further, we entered one of Fredrik's favorite parcels, Clos Candi.
This 1.2 hectare clos' vines are 75 years old and some of the oldest at the estate. The soils consist of clay and limestone with limestone subsoils.
Fredrik explains how this is technically a "monopole" of a terroir, but since growers and consumers don't take things like that too seriously in the Loire, it makes it hard to justify bottling such a small amount of wine as its own cuvée. This did however happen once, and ended up as a Cuvée Buster.
Before getting back into our cars to go taste in the cellar, Fredrik wanted to show us a project very dear to his heart.
6 years ago, Saumur-Champigny became the first viticultural region in France to invest collectively as an AOC to transform into a bio-diversity zone. Bio-diversity has been discussed numerous times on this website, but the gist of it is a) to not use herbicides and b) to plant anything OTHER than vines. By taking these two steps, the growers of Saumur-Champigny are permitting a more balanced eco-system to form itself around its vineyards, thus attracting other types of life (plants, animals and bugs) that will help nature defend itself with minimal to no chemical aid.
30 km of hedges have been planted alongside many rows of vineyards.
These have brought insect populations that haven't been present in many generations. Furthermore, herbicides have been abolished completely in order to permit not only grass, but all of the flowers and plants that grow along with it to invigorate the vineyards' soil and micro-biological life.
"It's impossible to force everyone to work organically, but with this agreement we've found a way to reduce chemical use as a whole. I consider this a very important accomplishment."
From the rain soaked vines, we drove over to the Filliatreau's vinification cellar, built by Paul in 1978 and nicknamed Le Chai.
Originally, the entire production was made in concrete tanks. The resulting wines were very tannic, and often tricky to vinify due to lack of proper temperature control. In 1978, Paul discovered stainless steel and had a revelation: not only could this vessel be temperature controlled, but it could also permit him to make a lighter, fruitier wine in the style he'd always wanted to make. Domaine Filliatreau was the first to produce this style of Saumur-Champigny, which he jokingly labeled "Champigny Nouveau", a term which has since been banned.
Paris went apeshit for the "Fillatreau style", and as a result more and more producers started bottling similar wines to supply the ever-increasing demand of Parisian bistros and bar à vins. Unfortunately, as with most trends, big négoces and caves coopératives also started emulating and mass producing this style, eventually pushing things too far (à la Beaujolais Nouveau) and ruining that the reputation of the light gulpers Paul had pioneered in the late 70's.
Though thick and thin, Fredrik has continued to make this stainless steel style, which remain in high demand due to his knack for quality. Every year, a 50 to 60 person harvest team that works over the course of 2 weeks.
"You never really need to rush."
80% of the estate is hand-harvested. For the other 20% (young vines), Fredrik had this to say:
"If you make the decision to machine harvest part or all of your crop, It's very important to have your OWN harvesting machine, because it gives you control. Most people who machine harvest hire guys who are trying to get the job done as soon as possible, and don't care about timing or multiple passes."
Tanks macerate 1 to 5 weeks depending on the wine. The 13 Domaine had 10 days maceration.
In the tasting room, we got to try a bottle a bottle of 2013 Saumur Rosé.
"Every year, a local bar holds a competition for the best rosé. 3rd place gets an entire Serrano Ham, 2nd place gets 10kg of extremely rare and seasonal mushrooms, and first place gets:"
That's right, folks. First place for best rosé get you a weird boob statue. Fredrik in no way tried to explain how this made any sense (probably because it doesn't), and since we all know that a whole Serrano ham is way better than a weird boob statue:
"The secret is learning how to make the 3rd best rose!"
Fredrik then disgorged some Fillibule 13.
The wine is much darker in color this year, and slightly sweeter. Grapes for this PET NAT are sourced from the same parcel as the rosé, and it was delicious.
From Le Chai, we went to the Filliatreau's underground tuffeau cellar, which was built in the early 18th century.
As you may have noticed, all the barrel aged stuff is down here. A lot of old, moldy bottles also age down there, and we got to try a bunch of them.
2003 Chateau Fouquet was very fresh and balanced 95 Domaine Vielles Vignes had beautiful cherry fruit. I wanted V.V 1986 to be the best since it was my birth year, but Fredrik disagreed.
"It wasn't the best vintage. Still pretty good though!"
Thanks a lot Fredrik! The 85 V.V, on the other hand, was banging.
We then got to take a mini break back at the hotel before joining Fredrik for dinner at La Grande Vignolle, the lieu dit that produces the cuvée of the same name. This is what it looks like from a bird's eye view:
Yes, that's a vine maze. If you look towards, the top of the photo above, the beautiful monuments are built purely out of tuffeau limestone.
Outside, we spotted a super creepy and mysterious mannequin man.
Fredrik told us he has always been there, and any soul foolish enough to get too close has inevitably been hexed with a curse of getting drunk way too fast at public functions and making a total fool of themselves.
Dinner was awesome.