A special place
Sitting on the southwest periphery of Saumur-Champigny, Château de Fosse-Sèche covers an area of about 45 hectares, of which only 17 are given to vines (Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc). Fields of alfafa (grown as silage for farm animals), hedges and oak stands wrap around the vineyards like a protective cocoon, and are a bit of a shock for anyone more accustomed to the monocultural landscapes that dominate the supposedly better vineyards of the region. Guillaume believes that he needs to preserve the ecological balance of the area in order to make great wines, and is therefore willing to limit the area under vine cultivation.
The terroir is also different here – instead of the chalk more common in this area, the vineyards sit on the silex-heavy Brossay plateau; the wines (both red and white) are often more like their Angevin cousins to the west, rather than their Saumurois neighbours, with a denser mid-palate and more overt minerality in youth. The estate was bought by the Keller family in late 1998, and Guillaume, the energetic young son, has moved wholeheartedly into organic cultivation. He thinks it will take many years for the balance to be fully restored, but is convinced by recent growing seasons and harvests. Despite fairly high levels of oak, the wines have a clarity of flavour and more than enough structure to age wonderfully.
Most of the estate is planted to Cabernet Franc (9ha), with some Cabernet Sauvignon (3ha) and Chenin Blanc (5ha). Both the basic white and red are very, very good indeed – the Arcane is a fresh but powerful Chenin Blanc, reminiscent of the Anjou with its honeyed overtones, while the Eolithe (a term for prehistoric flint tools) is an intense, minerally red with plenty of substance. It typically takes a few years for the oak to blow off, after which it becomes a darker version of a classical Saumur rouge. Both are terrific with the classic matches of the region – the Arcane with fish, and the Eolithe with something a bit gamy. The Les Tris de la Chapelle requires time to integrate the botrytised flavours, and is best with a cheese plate as its intensity overwhelms even red wines (i.e. it should be served later in a meal). Finally, the Réserve du Pigeonnier takes at least a decade to come around – it’s a bit oaky and dense in youth, but slowly and surely develops. The 2008 should develop nicely, if the 2000 is any guide.
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