Standing in Château d’Epiré’s chilly cellar, housed in a perfectly preserved Romanesque church dating back to the 12th century, one has the impression that time has stood still. But a quick look around reveals that the clock has ticked as much here as anywhere else, especially when greeted by the young face of Paul Bizard, the fifth and latest generation of Bizards to cultivate the schist-laden vineyards surrounding the Château. Having just taken over the reins from his father Luc, Paul shows ambition and determination in his work, with fresh ideas on the horizon to take this historic domaine to the next level. Any changes he should implement would be with the goal of achieving a purer expression of the strikingly rocky terroir he farms in Savennières, and this was also his primary objective with his first harvest in charge, the 2018. The nose immediately reflects what proved to be a milder vintage compared to the mythically icy years of the past: Chenin Blanc’s floral qualities shine through unabashedly, generously expressing acacia and jasmine in a notably friendlier way than the notoriously austere Savennières of cooler years. On the palate, however, there is no doubt we are dealing with cool-climate Chenin grown in schist: a firm core of minerality and racy acidity keep this bone-dry white sharp as a razor, despite a lovely fleshiness and trademark hint of walnuts on the finish. Things may be evolving at Epiré with the passage of time, and the changing of the guard certainly forebodes good things to come from this literal church of Chenin Blanc. What we know for sure is that we can count on this domaine now as much as ever to deliver bracingly fresh, stony Savennières, just how we like.
One of the oldest and most celebrated domaines in Savennières, Chateau d’Épiré is rich in history. Savennières is situated just southwest of Angers, on the north bank of the Loire River. Vines have been cultivated there since the time of the Romans. The domaine itself has been in the Bizard family continuously since the 17th century. The most recent owners and caretakers of the land are Monsieur and Madame Luc Bizard. They own eleven hectares, nine of which are entirely dedicated to the cultivation of Pineau de la Loire, known today as Chenin Blanc. The château is exquisite, but the pièce de résistance is their winery, formerly a Romanesque chapel, which is from the 12th century. Truly a blessed wine!
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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