France Au Natural: Part Deux. The Loire Valley through a lens
After a few technical difficulties with our Renault Clio (did you know they make cars that are both automatic AND manual in one!? It helps to know which one you’re in), and several hours of winding roads encased in a tunnel of autumnal tinted trees, we arrived in the beautiful hilltop village of Sancerre. We were not there however to taste Sancerre’s famously zippy if sometimes overpriced sauvignon blancs. This was a trip to visit natural wineries after all, so we had a different agenda. That night we were treated to some barrel samples and a wonderfully rustic dinner made by natural winemaker Sébastien Riffault himself. We arose early the next morning to head back to Sébastien’s place for a tour of his vineyards…in a horse drawn carriage. Besides actually being ON the horse (that was soon to come), it was truly the best way to see vineyards…although not the warmest.
Next we drove west to the tiny town of Les Montils to meet Thierry Puzelat, natural winemaker extraordinaire. We tasted through his dazzling array of wines, from both his own vineyards, and his cooperative.
Thierry Puzelat (photo taken by Whitney Adams)
After tasting a seemingly endless amount of mostly great wines, we had to leave Thierry and head further west to another tiny town, Martigné-Briand. We had a dinner invitation at the home of Olivier Cousin, one of the godfathers of the natural wine movement in the Loire. I was slightly apprehensive about this meeting because I’d seen pictures of the large, pony-tailed, bear-like man and so wasn’t expecting a warm welcome. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As soon as we turned into the the little driveway of the Cousin home and stables, the steeple of the neighbouring church lit up and towering over us, I knew this wasn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill winery visit. (For more on what turned out to be a surreal evening of bareback horse riding through the streets to the cellar accompanied by an accordion and a crazy dog, have a read of Whitney’s guest blog)
Clare summons the wine gods in a wonderfully echo-y tank
The craziest, highest jumping cellar dog I’ve ever met. He retrieved this ball off of the head an over 6 foot tall Soren!
The next day I was feeling, shall we say, a little under the weather. I am embarrassed to say I didn’t make it to our morning appointment at Pierre Breton’s although got to have his wine at dinner that night (shame on me). However, we were back on the saddle (literally) that afternoon with lunch at Olivier’s, and more magical bareback horse riding through his vineyards.
We were joined by Olivier’s friend, and highly respected natural winemaker in his own right, Jean Pierre Robinot. His colourful labels are all from his own paintings. Like Olivier, his wines strongly reflected the man who made them.
That night we enjoyed a decadent multi course meal cooked by the hosts of our chateau, Nicole Ranc and Jean Yves Bauchart, the latter a former Parisian chef.
'This is not a Rose'!
The next morning, after a carb-filled breakfast of warm croissants, baguettes, and brioche with a selection of Nicole’s homemade jams and a yogurt pot, we rather sadly drove out of the winding hills of the Loire Valley, away from the famous snaking river, and turned south to begin our epic 9 hour journey to the Roussillon (soon to come in Part Trois).
Note: All wines are available in the UK from Les Caves de Pyrene.