Agnès and René Mosse live and work in the village of St-Lambert-du-Lattay, in the Coteaux-du-Layon area of Anjou. The Layon is a small tributary to the Loire that lazily digs its way through well exposed and drained hills of schist and sandstone. Its micro-climate allows for a long hang-time, and when the mornings are foggy in the fall, with no rain, botrytis develops easily on the Chenin grapes.
Previously, the Mosse had owned a wine-bar/wine retail in Tours, and they credit the great vignerons they met there, among them Jo Pithon and François Chidaine, as the impetus to become winemakers. They studied viticulture and oenology at the agricultural lycée in Amboise where two of their teachers were Thierry Puzelat (Clos du Tue Boeuf) and Christian Chaussard (Domaine le Briseau).
They spent two years working in Côte-de-Beaune, then bought the estate in St-Lambert in 1999. They work 17HA of vines, most of them planted with Chenin blanc (9HA), and Cabernets franc and sauvignon (3HA), the rest is planted with Gamay, Chardonnay, Grolleau Gris and Noir.
They adopted organic viticulture techniques from the start, plowing between and under the rows, and use biodynamic preparations to treat the vines and soil. In their area of Anjou Noir (Black Anjou, so called because of the dark color of the soils of slate and volcanic rocks), the soils are shallow, with subsoils of schist and sandstone, and varying amounts of clay on the surface.
With all the efforts put into vineyard work, it is equally important to them to vinify in a natural fashion, and they are particularly attentive to minimizing manipulations and the use of sulfur. All the wines are barrel-fermented and aged, and usually the whites go through their malolactic fermentation. The barrels are renewed as needed: they are containers, not oak flavor providers.
This interview with René Mosse took place in his dining room in June 2011.
Tell us about the history of the estate.
We arrived in Anjou in 1999 to take over a family estate that had no successor. The owner was about to retire, and we purchased the land from him. At the time the estate was 9 1/2 hectares of vines, and today we work 17. Over the years, we've replanted a lot of parcels as well as acquiring parcels of Cabernet Franc. We're still in the process of ameliorating the vineyard, a work which we feel is never finished. Prior to our arrival the vines had gone through three generations of intensive chemical viticulture, and from day one we started slowly converting the vines parcel by parcel to organic viticulture-and since 2001- to biodynamic viticulture.
How did you end up a vigneron?
I worked all types of jobs before I ended up where I am now. Prior to purchasing the estate, I had a wine bar/bistro in Tours with Agnès where you could drink a bottle in house or take it to go. This led to meeting a bunch of vignerons from the Loire, most notably Christian Chaussard and Francois Chidaine. We became friends, hung out and this was my first real exposure to the vineyard and the cellar.
I eventually stopped working in Tours and for a period of time I was a cook for various vignerons, which was a lot of fun. They would organize tastings or celebrations and I would cater the food. This is when I really started meeting a lot of vignerons and one of them told me about a viticultural formation in Amboise for old people. Oops, I mean adults!
Agnès and I went through the program together. I then got hired at an estate in Touraine, where she joined me in the work. After that I worked in Burgundy for a year and half and once that was done we decided to start our own estate in 1999.
How did you end up in Anjou?
Ending up in Anjou was a bit of a coincidence. I'm from the Touraine, where there are appellations for white (Vouvray, Montlouis) and for red (Chinon, Bourgeuil). What's interesting about Anjou is that you can make red and white wines on the same terroirs, and in Touraine this is a rarity. It was also much cheaper to start the estate here than in one of the appellations I just mentioned.
What we soon realized about Anjou was that selling the wine wouldn't be easy. The average French customer grimaces when you mention Anjou. While a Bourgeuil or Vouvray means quality, when they think of Anjou they think of headaches and stomach pains. Vignerons here make wines that are heavily sulfured and chaptalised, and save for a few big houses that put out a quality product, the region has had a hard time fixing it's bad reputation.
I'm glad, however, to say that in the 10+ years we've been working here, there's been a positive evolution. A lot of younger vignerons have come here to start their own estates, working well and on a smaller scale. Today I am happy being a vigneron in Anjou, but when we first started we were really worried we'd made a terrible choice.
What's the work in the vines like?
We work the vines organically and biodynamically: no chemicals, no herbicides and we work the soils. We are certified organic but not biodynamic.
And in the cellar?
I do everything! No that's not true.
Once we've harvested the grapes the white are pressed directly and put in barrels the next day. The reds ferment in stainless steel and are then aged in barrel for about a year.
As a member of the A.V.N (Association des vins naturals) tell us how you feel about "natural wine".
When we started out, "natural wine", at least the way we speak of it today, did not exist. For us it was all about working organically in the vines. We never intervened in the cellar either, but it was never our intent to be labeled or to be part of a movement. When we started a vast majority of vignerons who had organic vineyards didn't even know they had them, but had simply always worked that way.
And when I sold wine in Tours, it was never about if the wine had been inoculated or chaptalised or this or that. What we did look for was quality, something that spoke to us when we drank it. When we drank a Bernard Baudry or a Francois Chidaine for example, we could taste the quality, and that was what drew us towards the wine. This was the late 80's/early 90's, and neither of those guys were working organically at the time.
I never speak of natural wine when asked about our wines. For me working as well as you can in the vineyard and not intervening in the cellar is the ONLY way to make exceptional wine. If you ask me I'll tell you it's wine made as naturally as possible. I have no ties or intent in defending "natural wine" or being part of this so called movement. A lot of the stuff coming from these natural winemakers is completely undrinkable and I refuse to be in cahoots with these guys. Quality is what matters. I don't care how your wine was made if it's undrinkable.
This visit with Agnès and René Mosse took place in January, 2015.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by Noah Oldham, David Sink, Patrick Capiello, Hadley Foss and Josefa Concannon.
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:
VdT "Magic of Ju-Ju":
Soil: clay, gravel and shale on decomposed schist.
Grape: Chenin Blanc
Vinification: slow alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in barrel. Aged 12 months in barrel.
Soil: Clay, decomposing gravel and Schist on Schist
Grape: Chenin Blanc (sélection massale)
Vinification: Blend of young vines planted in 2000, 2001 and 2002. Slow press. Spontaneous alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in barrel. Aged in barrel 12 months
Soil: Shallow decomposing schist and quartz on schist rock.
Grape: Chenin Blanc
Vines: 3 hectares of 35 year old vines.
Vinification: Slow alcoholic and malolactic fermention in barrel. Aged 12 months in barrel.
Soil: aeolian sand on schist
Grape: Chenin Blanc
Vines: 45 ares parcel planted in 2002.
Vinification: Alcoholic fermentation and malolactic fermentation occur in barrel then aged in barrel 12 months.
Soil: sloped parcel with clay and gravel on schist, with pebbles and quartz at bottom.
Grape: Chenin Blanc (sélection massale)
Vines: 1.66 hectares of 35 year old vines. South-West exposition.
Vinification: Alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in barrel. Aged in barrel for 12 months.
Soil: Schist, gravel and quartz on schist.
Grapes: 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 75% Cabernet Franc
Vines: Young, 7 year old vines.
Vinification: Short 14 day fermentation. Aged 12 months on the lies after gross-lee racking for 12 months.
Soil: Schist, gravel and quartz on schist.
Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc
Vines: 35-40 years old Cabernet Sauvignon vines. 40-50 year old Cabernet Franc vines.
Vinification: The boxes of grapes are dumped into large wooden casks. Pigeages,spontaneous maceration and fermentation for 2-3 weeks depending on evolution of the juice. Spontaneous malolactic fermentation in barrel. Aged on lees after gross- lee racking for 12 months in barrel.
Grapes: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grolleau Gris, Grolleau Noir, Gamay
Vines: 25-30 years old.
Vinification: Slow press without fermentation. Fermentation in vats.
Grapes: Grolleau Gris and Gamay
Vinification: Slow press without fermentation. Fermentation in barrels and vats.