For the final part of our trip to France we were spending a couple of nights staying with Kenji & Mai Hodgson at their beautiful little house in Rablay Sur Layon. A visit here is always one of the highlights of our trips to France, and their wines have long become some of our favourite to drink, offering thought-provoking expressions of place; detailed and fine wines that are built to last.
We had planned to help harvest fruit, but weather had pushed back the picking for a few days, so the new plan was to help prepare their new cellar. Just a five minute walk down the road from their house, the space is vast compared to their old cellar, which was part of their house and offers so much more flexibility and a nice steady temperature inside. So we had a glamorous day, steam cleaning barrels, pressure-washing store rooms brushing leaves and making sure the space was clean and tidy ahead of the grapes coming in over the next few weeks.
There was still plenty of time to taste, back in their old cellar, through the barrels and tanks of what was left to bottle, Faia & Aussigouins from 2020, it looks to be an exceptional vintage; cooler than the previous two, with striking balance and purity to the fruit. We might see these wines a little earlier than usual. From 2019, some wines that will become P'tit luchini, flinty and reductive gems from juice that didn't quite make the cut for their two estate whites.
The reds are already bottled, indeed we already have the O Galarneau! 2020 in the UK, a velvety dense Cab Franc full of bright black fruit.
We took a trip to the vines to see where the grapes were at. First to Montbenault, where the soils sit on on an ancient volcano, on a windy plateau, this is known as one of the best sites in Anjou - just a few metres walk from Richard Leroy's parcel for Les Noels De Montbenault. From it comes Aussigouins, perhaps their most iconic and age-worthy wine.
Then to Faia, perhaps their favourite parcel, as they planted a lot of the vines themselves and when it's ready offers such immediacy in it's enjoyment. There young vines here were ready to pick, the older vines not yet, so again they would start the next week with both vineyards. There is also some Syrah planted here, which at some point we will see bottled as a new wine for them. Kenji: 'heavy extraction and all new oak!'
This is MF Doux 2020, their sweet wine from botrytis fruit, now ageing in demijohn, we should see the wine in a few years.. Making sweet wine without additives is a lengthy process.
Over dinner we tasted a few older vintages, always illuminating; 2016 Aussigouins was shimmering, 2014 Galarneau was fantastic too, a very fine Cabernet. Tasting these wines with age always reminds me that these are consistently some of the most remarkable wines in France. Take a look at them here
On our final day in France a full day of of visits was planned: The first one was a handy 5 minute walk down the road to see Simon Batardiere whose cellar is next to the Kenji & Mai's. There are quite a few new projects starting ups in Anjou as older growers retire and land and vineyards become available. Simon is one of these new wave, having spent a number of years working with other growers, recently with Mai & Kenji, before that in the Auvergne with Vincent & Marie Tricot.
For now he has just a couple of hectares but is making some lovely wines in small quantities and has taken on a new parcel this year which he is very excited about, even if yields in 2021 are not great.
In Simon's little cellar we tasted some 2020 wines, Maceration which is a blend of Chenin with a short maceration on the skins and direct press Cabernet Franc, Miroirs Blanc from a parcel of vines up to a hundred years old, direct press and aged in barrel, with a lovely salinity and depth to the fruit. Miroirs Rouge; Cabernet Franc, with very angular red fruit. Exciting wines and we hope to see some of them in the UK later this year, though quantities will be small.
Simon Batardier on the left, a friend from Paris on the right.
Next was to another Simon - Rouillard, who we started working with just this year. Simon started his journey in wine in this very region working with La Grange Aux Belles & Nicolas Grosbois, after migrating to vines from vegetable growing. He then went to the Jura, spending time with many of the Bornard family and a long spell with Domaine De La Tournelle. After this he then went to the Gard to work with his friend Fred Agneray, before returning to the Loire and setting up on his own, taking over two hectares of old vines of Chenin, Gamay & Grolleau in Anjou. While he sets up this project he is also working with Sebastian Dervieux, aka Babass.
Simon's set up is very DIY, with two old basket presses and other vinification equipment set up in a Marquee outside, where he has covered the ground in hay. It is temporary, but he has seen this set up before and it works well enough, and he doesn't yet have the money for a big cellar. This sits next to his rented house and behind the house there is a small space for some tanks and bottle storage.
We tasted two wines from 2019, a wonderfully rich textured Chenin that has just a hint of an oxidative element that as Simon said 'it's like something from the Jura'. And an incredibly elegant juicy gamay from very old vines, which shows a remarkable lightness of touch and balance in his wines already.
Simon has just taken on a larger parcel nearby where there are some younger vines, including some chardonnay and has also planted Grolleau & Chenin. Eventually he hopes to make just wine from his own vines, but that will take time.
In the meantime he will continue to make a mix of negociant and estate wines, we have just shipped a couple of lovely wines made from negociant fruit, bought from Toby & Julie Bainbridge & Domaine De La Grande Gauterie. You can find them here
Our last visit was to see Cedric Garreau, one of the first winemakers we started working with. Cedric has long been one of the most underrated winemakers in the region, he works very hard in the vineyard and this comes through in the power and vivacity of his wines. He is extremely well respected in the area and is now one of the organisers of the wine fair Les Anonymes.
Cedric and his partner had kindly cooked a lovely lunch of beef and many vegetables from his garden and we tasted through the 2020 wines, a few of which have just arrived in the UK. As with a lot of producers we visited, 2020 is a wonderful vintage.
He bottled two versions of his Lunatic Chenin in this year, always a wonderful wine, coming from a schist soils south of the river Layon. We have just recieved the Lunatic Orange, de-stemmed chenin given 7 days of maceration before pressing and ageing in inox tank. The gentle maceration has given a lovely citrusy aromatic to the wine and the balance in the wine already made him bottle this separately to his direct press, which we also tasted, just bottled and will be available in spring. We also tasted Lulu Berlue 2020 this year a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grolleau & Cabernet Franc given a three week carbonic maceration. Extremely vibrant and thirst quenching. We also tasted Metisse 2020 and 2019, which is in bottle but we probably won't see intil late 2022 or even 2023 as we just grabbed the last of the wonderful 2018 and his Sonamnbulles Blanc 2020 which is looking fantastic.
Cedric also opened a 2012 Anjou Rouge, from his second vintage which was fantastic, incredible elegant Cabernet Franc, it shows that his modestly priced wines are very much worth cellaring. His project goes from strength to strength and it is wonderful to follow it. Find the wines here