Vignerons can be sneaky people. Take Matthieu Baudry, who nonchalantly handed me a bottle—as if it were an afterthought—following an outstanding tasting at his family domaine near Chinon a few summers ago. He muttered something along the lines of “I do this on the side, for fun” as I stared at him inquisitively, the look on my face asking, Were you trying to hide this from me?! The wine in question is a Grolleau produced from nine-year-old ungrafted—franc de pied— vines in a small sandy parcel on the banks of the Vienne, a tributary to the Loire that has carved out some of the finest terroirs in the great Chinon appellation. Once widely planted in its native Loire Valley, Grolleau can still be found in certain pockets, but requires the hand of a skilled vigneron to check its high-yielding nature. Matthieu ferments the Grolleau whole-cluster and ages it in tank, producing a juicy libation brimming with lively fruit marked by the silky, sensuous texture of an unfiltered bottling. Brambly berries and lifted floral notes combine with an earthy coolness and touch of spice in this red whose low alcohol level makes it even easier to fervently slurp down. While it does not carry the heft or nuance of Matthieu’s Chinon bottlings, this cuvée—served chilled, of course—has the irresistible, easygoing nature of top Beaujolais. He was able to spare ten cases of his “afterthought,” and we are thrilled to carry it.
Bernard Baudry is unquestionably one of Chinon’s most outstanding producers. Not only does he have the talent to make delicious and consistent wines, vintage to vintage, but he is also fortunate to have vineyard land that showcases the varied soil types of the appellation. After completing his viticultural studies in Beaune, Bernard returned to the Loire Valley and purchased his first two hectares of land in Cravant-les-Coteaux, a village from which almost half of the production of A.O.C. Chinon is sourced. Over the years, the domaine has grown to 25 hectares and Bernard’s son, Matthieu, has joined the family domaine. The Baudrys are staunch traditionalists, and you would have a hard time finding a Chinon more classic than theirs.
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.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
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