The Champalou family—Catherine, Didier, and their daughter, Céline—are Chenin Blanc specialists: from the vineyards around their home in the heart of the Vouvray appellation, they make wines in every style from the noble Pineau de la Loire, as the grape is also known. Their Vouvray pétillant is crafted in the méthode traditionelle: the secondary fermentation takes place in bottle, and then the wine is aged extensively on its lees—in this case, two years—before being disgorged and recorked. From clay and limestone vineyards, they are able to obtain remarkable complexity in their Brut, while the texture shows both a creamy richness and an austere minerality. For this reason, this wine makes a great bargain alternative to Champagne, but it is important not to overlook the fact that it comes from a terroir and grape variety of its own. The Champalous like to serve it at the end of a meal, but this dry sparkler works well from the apéritif all the way through dessert.
Catherine and Didier Champalou both came from vigneron families, yet their mutual sense of independence prompted the couple to brave it on their own. Since starting the domaine in 1983, their label has become one of the most highly-acclaimed in the appellation. Vouvray is home to the noble Chenin Blanc, more commonly known as Pineau de la Loire in their part of the world. The Champalou family farms 21 hectares of vineyards, embracing sustainable farming while integrating the use of the lunar calendar. Their soils are rich, deep, and aerated though regular plowing. The Champalou house style produces wines of great elegance and tenderness, highly aromatic with impeccable balance. No one comes close to copying their distinct style.
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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