A winemaking tradition as long as France’s is bound to produce a few historic vineyard sites here and there. But when some rosy-cheeked monk or abbot—the wine bloggers of their age—singles out a specific plot, you know you have something truly special. In his 1777 history of Sancerre, the abbot Poupart wrote that “the Bouffants hillside is one of the best I know in our Sancerre area.” It is perfectly appropriate, then, that the “Côte des Embouffants” is now under the care of the Neveu family, who has roots in the village of Verdigny—just half a mile from the vineyard—since the 12th century. Today, brothers Éric and Jean-Philippe Neveu produce a fresh-cut-grass-and-citrus-inflected Sauvignon Blanc of incredible precision from this site. They ferment and age it only in tank and rack by gravity to preserve all the juicy, sun-ripened fruit and lively mineral snap conferred by this steep, limestone-covered hillside. The generously perfumed and incredibly refreshing 2020 vintage suggests that, nearly 250 years later, our old pal Poupart may have been onto something.
The Neveu family’s roots in the Loire Valley are nothing short of impressive. Local archives show Jean Neveu lived in the village of Verdigny (where the family still resides) as early as the 12th century, and they already ran an agricultural estate in 1641. Grapevines made up part of the property in the 19th century, but were destroyed by phylloxera. It wasn’t until after WWII that winegrowing regained its place at the domaine. It was Roger Neveu, father to current owners, brothers Éric and Jean-Philippe, who during the 1970s brought the domaine into its contemporary incarnation. The family tradition has already added another generation as both Éric and Jean-Philippe’s sons have started helping out in the vineyards and cellar.
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.
Great winemakers, great terroirs, there is never any hurry. And I no longer buy into this idea of “peak” maturity. Great winemakers, great terroirs, their wines offer different pleasures at different ages.
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