Since the Middle Ages, there have been records about the lieu-dit “le Tue-Boeuf” and its excellent wines which were enjoyed by the local nobility and the kings of France. The family name Puzelat is mentioned in 15th century documents.
History, though, is not the story here. It’s about two brothers, Jean-Marie and Thierry Puzelat, who tend their 10-hectare family estate in Les Montils (part of the Cheverny AOC) and rent 6 hectares in a village nearby to produce AOC Touraine. The region, near the hunting grounds of Sologne, has always used a wide variety of grapes. Since the 60’s, the Puzelats' father had been making his own selections of vines to replant, leaving his sons with vines of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Menu Pineau (or Arbois), Pinot Noir, Gamay, Cabernet Franc and Côt (or Malbec).
Jean-Marie was joined on the estate by his younger brother Thierry in the early 90’s and they began converting their vines to organic viticulture. When the Cheverny AOC was created with the 1993 vintage, some varietals became outlawed from the blends, and the brothers started a yearly struggle to get their wines accepted under the new appellation. Now, when a wine is rejected, they sell it under a Vin de Pays or Vin de France label; their customers know and trust their work and methods, so quality is never put into question.
A visit to their cellar feels like a tour de France of varietals, each wine with its distinct personality, lovely label and wonderful name. Some cuvées are so small that there is never enough to go around. Of the wines which have made it to these shores, there are several from Touraine: Le Buisson Pouilleux, a Sauvignon Blanc from old vines - bright, very mineral, with notes of verbena and honeysuckle; Le Brin de Chèvre, from Menu Pineau grapes - floral, light and citrussy; La Guerrerie, a sturdy red made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Côt (Malbec) - spicy, peppery and requiring some bottle age and a red Cheverny La Caillère, Pinot Noir with Gamay - juicy, fruity and round.
Size: 5,5 hectares of red, 2 hectares of white
Soils: clay and flint on limestone, gravelly siliceous clay
Grapes: Pinot Noir, Gamay, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
Vines: between 10 and 30 years old.
Yields: 40 hl/ha
Size: 2,5 hectares of red, 4 hectares of white
Soils: Clay and flint, sand and gravel
Grapes: Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Côt, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Menu Pineau
Yields: 45-50 hl/ha
VIN DE FRANCE:
Size: 2,5 hectares
Soil: Clay and flint on limestone
Grapes: Pinot Gris, Chardonnay
Vines: 25 to 35 years old.
Yields: 35 hl/ha
This interview with Thierry Puzelat stems from a series of emails in October 2010.
How did you end up a vigneron?
I inherited the estate from my father. As a youth, he would make us work in the vineyards whether we wanted to or not. And you know, it's normal in adolescence to identify with something else than what your parents do, especially when you're at an age when you just want to have fun riding around on your mobylette and fall in love for the first time. So at first wine wasn't exactly the most riveting prospect. As I got older though, I decided to give it a go and became fully involved in the estate at around 18 years old.
What's the work like with the vines?
The goal is simply to maintain the health and soul of the vines by keeping them pure.
What about your terroirs?
As far as my terroirs, I prefer a place to geography, pedology or geology. Some places just exemplify well being and that's enough to spend a lifetime there. Unless you know more than one of these places!
What's the winemaking process like?
Healthy vines on healthy soils lead to healthy grapes that have something to say. My "vinification" process (I hate that word) consists of being discreet enough to let the wines tell the story of where they're from.
How do you feel about your AOC and AOC wines?
I give AOC's credit for labeling a geographic location. Ours (Cheverny and Touraine) don't do much to distinguish themselves other than being specific places, so I guess the AOC did its job. I believe our wines are very typical of our AOC, as opposed to the vast majority of the wines that share the same name.
Do you ever have a specific goal in mind with how you want your wines to end up?
I like my wines, but the problem is you become a better taster much faster than a skilled winemaker. In such, I always feel like I have some catching up to do!
As far as how I want my wines to end up, vignernons are not "creators". There's supposed to service their terroir and express it by using their personal experience. You'd have to be crazy and pretentious to think you can dominate your terroir and its history. I hope our wines reflect that.
Did you always work in organic/biodynamic and as a non interventionist in the cellar?
The first time I drank a natural wine, it put me in the same state as Bernadette Soubirous in front of the Virgin Mary. A year later, I was attempting my first "100% grape" vinifaction. Working organically became an evidence to me a few months later. Ever since, I visit Ville-Morgon every year the way some go to Lourdes; there aren't any miracles, but there's certainly joy for me!
What's your take on the "natural wine" debate?
I think it's an error to defend "natural" wine to the customer based on how it was made. The end result should suffice. On the other hand, it is necessary to to lobby around this type of production to defend it against an industry that dreams of seeing it disappear. We can validate working "naturally" with a minimum of "politics" and a whole lot of good wine.
What do you like to drink?
No limits of region, country, price or notoriety. My favorite wines are the the ones where the bottle is empty in less than 5 minutes.
This visit at Clos du Tue-Boeuf took place in July, 2013.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by John Kafarski and Jules Dressner.
Puzelat time! After a quick hello with Thierry and Jean-Marie, we headed straight to the Clos du Tue-Boeuf, the lieu-dit the estate is named after. The first part of the clos we visited were the three parcels that go into the Gravotte cuvée.
The three plots total 1h, and Thierry blends them together because of similarities in their soil composition. Gravotte is a small coteau of eroded clay and flint with shallow, chalky limestone, all planted in Pinot Noir.
The vines are 36 years old, and Thierry has recently ripped out a bunch of very old Chardonnay and Pinot Gris in the same area to replant Pinot Noir (all from massale, sourced from Caillière, Gravotte, Hervé Villemade's Ardilles parcel and Prieuré-Roch).
This will effectively double Gravotte's production in coming years.
Just a little further, the plots that produce Caillière (also planted exclusively in Pinot Noir) awaited us.
The soils here are composed of red, sandy clay.
As you can see from the pictures above and below, they are much less absorbent than Gravotte.
Still marching onwards, we crossed this little path to check out some Sauvignon Gris.
When I pointed out that the whole area felt extremely closed off, Thierry explained:
"The land costs nothing here so we bought everything around us to keep the trees and ensure nothing would ever get cut down. We didn't want to lose the biodiversity."
The Sauvignon Rose here was planted in 1998, when René Mosse used to work at the estate. It used to be woods, which Thierry's team cut down before planting the following Spring.
Some older Gamay used to be planted here as well, but Thierry recently ripped them out.
"They were shitty clones from the 70's. They had poor vegetal matter and were always sick."
Gamay will be re-planted here in massale.
From the Sauvignon, we took a quick drive upwards, which eventually led us to Frileuse.
If you haven't noticed yet, many of the Tue-Boeuf cuvées are made from micro lieu-dits within the lieu-dit of Clos du Tue-Boeuf. Also, this is the visit recap where the term lieu-dit has been used the most. So there.
Frileuse roughly translates to "the little cold one", and unsurprisingly, it's the parcel that gets the coldest, so frost is often an issue here. The soils are clay and flint, and less compact than Gravotte. The site is 2h: one in Sauvignon, the other in Chardonnay.
We then drove around for a while, passing by the Buisson Pouilleux, some of Pierre-O's recently purchased Touraine vines, the Guerrerie parcel and Brin de Chèvre, a plot of old vine Menu Pineau planted in 1934.
"I work the very old parcels by horse due to their fragility. A tractor easily rips them out of the ground or breaks them."
Still talking about Brin de Chèvre, Thierry explained that the windy climate and solid clay mean that (due to Menu Pineau being a late harvest grape), this is usually where they harvest last.
"This grape is super resistant. Esca has never been a problem and it resists mildew. The three really local varieties -Menu Pineau, Romorantin and Pineau D'Aunis- are always the most resistant to illness. Gamay and Sauvignon have only been planted here for 100 years, and they are always sick. This is why we've started replanting only these old varieties."
Still driving around, we passed a Gamay parcel where Olivier Lemasson was working. It would have been rude not to say hello, so we did.
This parcel planted on a very similar terroir to Frileuse.
After an extensive tour of the vines, it was time to taste, which didn't take very long since their is so little wine in 2012. Here's a picture of the TOTAL production of Frileuse.
That's right, 3 barrels. It tasted good. Additionally, there is only one barrel of Buisson Pouilleux, which also tasted good.
An exceptional rosé was produced in 12:
"We decided to make rosé because many parcels were hailed on. The tannins would have made the wine too harsh for a red."
Also, the little bit of Guerrerie Gamay harvested was consolidated into La Butte.
After ALL that tasting, we headed to the famed L'Herbe Rouge with Thierry, Jean=Marie, Pierre-O Bonhomme and Olivier Lemasson for lunch. This happened:
We also ate some good food, but that's inconsequential. Points of conversation included:
-A lot of growers working conventionally are slowly going out of business, as evidenced by Olivier Lemasson being able to buy old vine Côt, Gamay and Grolleaux from guys who have quit over the last 10 years.
-The Puzelat-Bonhomme négoce will change to Domaine Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme as of the 2013 vintage. This has been years in the making: Jean-Marie is a few years away from retiring, and Thierry, who will now be alone at Tue-Boeuf, has decided to focus his energy entirely on his family estate (on top of his importing business and running a successful wine bar in Orléans). Pierre-O made many of the 2011 wines and all of the 2012 wines on his own, and both parties feel that he is ready to step up to the plate. Fan favorites like Le Telquel, Rouge est Mis and Tesnière Pineau d'Aunis will still be in full effect.
-As of early 2013, Pineau D'Aunis is officially de-classified from use in the Touraine AOC.
"If you start a new plantation in Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, you get a 10,000 euro subsidy from the minister of agriculture. If you plant Pineau d'Aunis, you get nothing."
We also talked about the late Chistian Chaussaurd and Thierry's time as professors at the viticultural school of Ambroise. Cho-Cho was there for 5 years, Thierry for 3.
"On our own we were bad enough, but the combination of the two of us is what got us fired!"
Apparently, telling people to use less sulfur and native yeasts didn't go over too well...
Here are some completely unrelated pictures of Thierry's new puppy Horatio.
After lunch, Pierre-O drove us over to the really, really cool, 100+ year old Probilière parcel.
The soils here are composed of very fine clay and flint.
Some of the vines here are Gamay Teinturier, one of the only red pulped grapes in the world.
Some marcottage was going on.
The prior owner was pumping tons of chemicals into the vines, and was getting up to 100 hl/h yields off of 12 canes!!! Pierre-O has converted the parcel to organics, reduced the amounts of canes to 6 and had 40 hl/h yields in 2011.
A.O.C Cheverny Rouge