Reclaiming a Top Terroir in Saumur-Champigny
One of the more exciting developments at Rosenthal Wine Merchant in recent years has been the expansion of our efforts in the Loire Valley. The “garden of France” is a vital part of our DNA, of course: our partnerships with Lucien Crochet and Philippe Foreau date back to the early 1980s and constitute some of our most important relationships, and we have worked with others there for nearly as long. In terms of our more recent discoveries, last year we debuted the pure and classic wines of Château du Petit Thouars to immediate acclaim, our clients seemingly as excited as we were to once again represent a great source of Chinon. And now, we are thrilled to introduce to the US market our newest partner: Château de Chaintres, in the heart of the lovely appellation of Saumur-Champigny, perched high above the Loire River just to the west of Chinon.
The Château de Chaintres itself is stunning: a mid-17th-century mansion that combines bucolic charm and gentle majesty in a manner quite particular to this part of the Loire. In 1675, the Oratorian monks of the Notre Dame des Ardilliers constructed a wall around fifteen hectares adjacent to the château, in the sunniest and most favorable terroir in the immediate area. This clos is situated on a subtle but notable slope and contains a variety of different soils within its confines, including tuffeau chalk, clay-limestone, and sand. The de Tigny family has owned the property since 1938, having revived viticulture in the clos upon acquiring the estate; in fact, a good number of the vines planted back then are still in production. Fortuitously, our paths crossed in 2017, when the family hired our friend Jean-Philippe Louis as their new cellar master. Rigorous, intelligent, and deeply committed, Jean-Philippe was the long-time right-hand man of none other than Philippe Gilbert in Menetou-Salon—a keystone of our Loire Valley portfolio for many years. In fact, it was Jean-Philippe who encouraged and facilitated Gilbert’s adoption of biodynamics, and he has already begun converting the vineyards of Château de Chaintres in that direction. He expressed unbridled enthusiasm about the possibilities inherent in terroir of Château de Chaintres from the get-go, and our two visits have only confirmed his assessment. Jean-Philippe’s precise, intuitive, non-interventionist hand in the cellar has already greatly improved the quality of wine here in just one and a half vintages (he oversaw the vinification and élévage of the 2017s but was not present during the growing season), and the future here looks very bright indeed.
Whereas grass was previously retained in the clos, Jean-Philippe works the soil in order to aerate it and to stimulate microbiological activity. Harvest is conducted entirely by hand—not necessarily the norm in the central Loire—and fermentations from 2018 on will proceed spontaneously. A variety of vessels are employed for the vinification and élévage, but the ultimate aim is to allow for the purest expression of terroir and to capture the fruit’s inherent mineral-driven vibrancy. Indeed, these are wines of energy and freshness, with even the longer-macerated, more structured cuvées showing remarkable drive. The property’s tuffeau makes for Chenin Blanc of vigorous acidity and penetrating precision, and the ever-transparent Cabernet Franc thrives in the heat-retaining sand that covers the limestone in many parts of the clos. Notably, Cabernet Franc from this appellation—a small and particularly gifted appellation within greater Saumur—can possess a complexity and longevity that belie its fresh, finesse-driven demeanor.
Our first shipment from Château de Chaintres will reach our shores in early September. The 2018 vintage—comprising the bulk of the incoming wines—was warm and dry overall, and favorable harvest conditions yielded exceptionally clean fruit which allowed Jean-Philippe to work with a minimum of added sulfur in the cellar. Overall yields were 40 hectoliters per hectare (the appellation maximum is 57), and the finished wines display excellent tension between ripeness and acidity.