Beneath the towns that flank the central Loire lies another world. It is a world of caves, dug into limestone by prior generations—folks who knew that the ideal place to nurture a bottle of wine is deep within the same earth that nourishes the vines from which it came. Given the extensive German occupation they endured in World War II (frequently accompanied by gratuitous cellar pillages), this Loire old guard also had good reason to want to protect the fruits of their labor underground, and to this day many growers with deep historical roots in the central Loire hold back significant reserves of their current releases.
On our most recent trip to France, we came face to face with the region’s subterranean bounty in shocking fashion. Having long treasured the memory of a 1976 c from this domaine as one of the great wines of his career, Neal reached out to Lamé-Delisle-Boucard to arrange a friendly visit. After working through some terrific recent vintages upstairs in the modest tasting room, Philippe Boucard—the fifth generation here—asked us if we wanted to see the cave… Expecting perhaps a modest handful of low tunnels, we descended into an arcing passageway large enough for a steam train to drive through, with rough-hewn ceilings damp with moisture towering above us. Along both walls were stacked countless bottles punctuated by occasional handwritten vintage markers, and even a brief glance as we wound around to an adjacent chamber suggested that this stash stretched far back into history.
Once seated in what can only be described as an underground living room—complete with floor and table lamps, well-worn stools, and sturdy old tables, all adorned with tendrils of cellar scuzz—Philippe proceeded to pull corks on some truly moldy soldiers, each bottle more eye-popping than the previous: 2005, 1989, the same 1976 Neal remembered so fondly, 1964, 1959, 1947 in red, rosé, and white (the result of a trade with Gaston Huët), 1928, and, finally, 1911—the oldest red wine any of us had ever had in our lives. The vibrancy and power that even the oldest vintages still possessed stunned us, and to reflect on all that had happened in the world as these bottles slumbered was overwhelmingly poignant. Philippe’s maternal great-grandfather Jules Lamé spent four years fighting in the First World War, sustaining nearly fatal injuries, and his grandfather Lucien Lamé was taken as a prisoner of war in 1939, less than a year after marrying his wife, Yvonne Delisle. Through it all, the family tended their vines and bottled the fruits of their labor, adding each year to the living museum in which we sat and drank and talked.
The story of Lamé-Delisle-Boucard begins with Pierre Guyot, who founded the domaine in 1869. His son-in-law Jules Lamé was able to keep the operation afloat through the ravages of phylloxera with a small but locally renowned grafting business, which augmented the family’s modest production of wine grapes, vegetables, and fruits. Jules’s son Lucien married a local woman, Yvonne Delisle, in 1938, and it was Yvonne who kept the farm functioning during the long years Lucien languished in a World War II POW camp. (Yvonne is pictured above here, tending vines in 1942.) Upon Lucien’s return from the war, the family decided to begin bottling their own wine and commercializing it, commencing with the 1947 vintage—far before most growers in the region entertained such notions. In 1965, Lucien and Yvonne’s only child Maryvonne, born just after the war in 1946, married a young man from the neighboring winegrowing village of Benais, René Boucard, and the winery’s name stands as a testament to the intertwining of these three families over the 20th century’s tumultuous course. Philippe, the steward of our mind-bending cellar experience, is the only son of Maryvonne and René, and he has been at the helm of the domaine since 1989.
Over the years, the family augmented their holdings little by little, and Lamé-Delisle-Boucard today encompasses 47 hectares of vines, averaging 40 years of age and spread among four villages within the Bourgueil appellation: 21 hectares in Ingrandes de Touraine, encompassing soils of gravel, siliceous clay, and clay-limestone; 13.5 hectares in Saint Patrice, with soils of siliceous clay and well-draining large-stoned gravel; 8.5 hectares in Restigné, with vines planted in sandy soil and gravelly clay; and 4 hectares in the limestone-rich soils of Benais. Philippe and his crew work their 61 parcels without chemicals, having transitioned from Terra Vitis certification (beginning in 2001) to full-on organic viticulture (to be certified as of the 2021 harvest). Grass is maintained between the rows of vines, which are planted at a density of 5,000 per hectare, and meadows and woods interspersed among the parcels are allowed to flourish, thereby contributing to overall biodiversity. Harvest is conducted entirely by hand.
In Lamé-Delisle-Boucard’s spacious, no-frills cellar, all 61 parcels are vinified separately, according to their terroir: sandy and gravelly plots are vinified in steel, and clay-limestone plots are vinified in very old tronconic wooden casks (pictured right), with macerations averaging 15 days. Generally speaking, the wines age for one year in old 20- to 25-hectoliter foudres with no racking, and only a very light filtration is applied at bottling. This type of time-tested, unflashy elevage results in wines of extraordinarily rendered tannins, with well-integrated acidity and precise, lip-smacking fruit. This is Bourgueil whose power derives from the zone’s intense minerality rather than any sort of cellar tomfoolery, and tasting the spot-on equilibrium in the current releases makes one realize why they age so well and for so long. We are very excited to commence a partnership with this storied domaine, albeit in a limited capacity on a state-by-state basis; please inquire with your Rosenthal Wine Merchant representative as to the availability in your area.