When Éric Chevalier welcomes us with a broad smile at our first stop, you can practically smell the Atlantic Ocean in the air. Éric pops open a bottle of La Noë. The first glass is perfect with oysters—it is streamlined, saline, and full of lemon. Shortly after, the granite terroir kicks in, the wine becomes more full bodied, and chamomile and apricot notes lead to a rich finish—perfect to accompany local fish dishes.
Éric Chevalier is a rising star in the Nantais of the Loire Valley. For ten years, he sourced fruit for a large négociant in the Touraine. In 2005, he returned to his hometown of Saint-Philbert de Grandlieu and ended up taking over the family domaine, Domaine de l’Aujardière. His father, a talented vigneron well-known as a high-quality source of bulk wine, had stopped working the vineyards and the vines were going to have to be pulled up and replanted or sold. Éric was anything but enthusiastic. Little by little his passion grew, and today he is proud to be the 4th generation to farm the domaine. Éric sustainably farms 25 hectares of vines, producing wines of great character and finesse. He found his future in his family’s past.
The defining feature of the Loire Valley, not surprisingly, is the Loire River. As the longest river in France, spanning more than 600 miles, this river connects seemingly disparate wine regions. Why else would Sancerre, with its Kimmeridgian limestone terroir be connected to Muscadet, an appellation that is 250 miles away?
Secondary in relevance to the historical, climatic, environmental, and cultural importance of the river are the wines and châteaux of the Jardin de la France. The kings and nobility of France built many hundreds of châteaux in the Loire but wine preceded the arrival of the noblesse and has since out-lived them as well.
Diversity abounds in the Loire. The aforementioned Kimmderidgian limestone of Sancerre is also found in Chablis. Chinon, Bourgueil, and Saumur boast the presence of tuffeau, a type of limestone unique to the Loire that has a yellowish tinge and a chalky texture. Savennières has schist, while Muscadet has volcanic, granite, and serpentinite based soils. In addition to geologic diversity, many, grape varieties are grown there too: Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Melon de Bourgogne are most prevalent, but (to name a few) Pinot Gris, Grolleau, Pinot Noir, Pineau d’Aunis, and Folle Blanche are also planted. These myriad of viticultural influences leads to the high quality production of every type of wine: red, white, rosé, sparkling, and dessert.
Like the Rhône and Provence, some of Kermit’s first imports came from the Loire, most notably the wines of Charles Joguet and Château d’Epiré—two producers who are featured in Kermit’s book Adventures on the Wine Route and with whom we still work today.
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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