Savennières, north of the Loire, produces powerful, regal whites which require patience in the cellar and at the table (with air the wines blossom in unexpected ways). Standing above the town of La Poissonnière, at the western edge of the appellation, one can see three buttes extend southeast towards the river, each with its own special vineyard: Le Clos du Papillon above Savennières town, La Roche aux Moines (and Le Clos de la Coulée de Serrant) around the eponymous chateau, and La Pierre Becherelle at the end of the town of Epiré. We work with three of the best growers in this appellation: Nicolas and Virginie Joly, owners of la Coulée de Serrant, Evelyne de Pontbriand, custodian of the Château des Vaults (better known as Domaine du Closel), and Damien Laureau, whom we think can lay claim to some of the best-farmed land in all of the Loire Valley.
Evelyne de Pontbriand, Vins du Closel/Château des Vaults
The joyful aristocrat
“I want my vines to feel free and happy – I think it leads to more joyful wines,” Evelyne said as we discussed a tiny patch of bush vines. Chenin Blanc is most typically trained along wires as it is easier to manage vine growth during the all-important summer, when the plant channels its energy into producing shoots and leaves. Evelyne was however experimenting with letting some vines grow unassisted, close to the ground, curious to see what the effects were on the grapes and wine. That she chose old vines in her top vineyard for the trial speaks to her commitment to make the best possible wines; that she couldn’t resist cracking a half-joke speaks to her unbridled enthusiasm for life and wine.
Nicolas & Virginie Joly, Coulée de Serrant
Favoured by the gods
It is embarrassingly easy to write of the greatness of the terroir, but triteness does not make it any less true – there is something special about the patch of land in the middle of Savennières. Within the appellation, there are headier wines (e.g. from its neighbour Roche aux Moines, which typically ripens earlier and gets more botrytis), fruitier wines (e.g. from Clos du Papillon, which is always feminine) and even more minerally wines (e.g. from the easternmost butte, La Pierre Becherelle). But none of them match the Coulée de Serrant for the combination of intensity, elegance and complexity, sprinkled with a coating of je ne sais quoi.
Damien Laureau comes from a cereal farming family near Versailles, but made the switch into grape-growing just over ten years ago when he acquired some land in Savennières. The soil is clean-smelling, moist and well-aerated, crumbling just so in the hand to reveal tiny tendrils of other plants, worms and various insects. The bio-diversity of his land is astonishing, which Damien believes is essential to the health of his vines and therefore the quality of his wines. All that work would be wasted if the élevage was sloppy, but Damien is just as careful in the cellar as he is in the vineyard. Grapes are manually harvested from each plot and vinified separately in a spick and span cellar he has just moved into. He doesn’t ‘force’ the wines, preferring to let them have time to ferment dry and find their own equilibrium. As a result, the three wines he makes are distinct yet related expressions of the Savennières terroir.