Catherine and Pierre Breton are no strangers to having a good time. If you peruse Bon Appétit, you may have read a story in the December 2019 issue in which the author recalls “standing in a small warehouse in the middle of the Loire Valley of France at three o’clock in the morning watching an apparently legendary 60-ish vigneron named Pierre Breton dancing to Blue Suede Shoes.” Combine that anecdote with the name of this cuvée—“drunken nights”—plus the fact that unsulfured reds like this one are often made in a glouglou (that is, gulpable) style, and you might expect the 2017 Nuits d’Ivresse to be a simple, delicious quaffer. It is indeed delicious, but this cuvée is the Bretons’ argument that serious, age-worthy wine from a top-notch terroir can be made without the addition of sulfur, which most winemakers use to stave off bad bacteria. Creating this ambitious a wine without sulfur is an incredibly difficult and scientific feat, one that the Bretons have masterfully achieved here. Made from fifty-year-old Cabernet Franc vines planted in clay and limestone—as opposed to other sandy and gravelly patches of Bourgueil—Nuits d’Ivresse evokes eating fresh blackberries in a pine forest. Simultaneously plush and structured, it is ready to drink now after a little decanting, but it also will evolve beautifully for at least ten years.
Catherine and Pierre Breton are real life bon vivants vignerons of lore. They are passionate about what they do, enjoy sharing it with others, and entertain with a generosity and charm. That they make great wine with such integrity makes our appreciation of them complete. The Bretons farm 11 hectares just east of Bourgueil in the village of Restigné. They produce Chinon, Bourgueil, and a bit of Vouvray, creating honest wines for both early consumption and aging. The Bretons received organic certification in 1991 and recently began the three-year process of seeking biodynamic certification. They’ve become international icons for the natural wine movement in an area where the climate and soil can make organic viticulture difficult.
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.
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