With three decades’ worth of Loire harvests under her belt with her husband, Pierre, plus her own “dabbling” with Chenin Blanc since 2002, Catherine Breton is undeniably an authority on biodynamic farming and natural winemaking. Using these methods, she produces this fine sparkling Vouvray—bone-dry thanks to an extremely low dosage, richly honeyed and complex from refermentation in bottle, and mouthwateringly stony from the flinty soil. Sixteen years after vinifying her first Vouvray, it appears Catherine is “La Dilettante” no more.
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.
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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