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Domaine Les Grandes Vignes is a Biodynamic estate in the Loire Valley that we first became aware of in 2015. The domaine was established by the Vaillant family in the 17th century, and has continued as a family estate to this day. All of their vines are farmed without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or insecticides, and are certified organic and Biodynamic. It’s a lot of work, but they have a big family, and a trusted team of vineyard workers whom they employ year round. Herbs and perrenials are planted annually, along with hedges and bushes. Treatments in the vineyard include various biodynamic preparations, tisanes, manure, and compost, with plant infusions and small amounts of copper and sulfur used to prevent mildew. Pruning and plowing are planned in accord with the lunar cycle.
Over the years as we have tasted with Jean-Francois and his team, every question we've had about the work in the vineyard and cellar was met with enthusiastic explanations of Biodynamic treatments, cover crops, and pied-de-cuves (to ensure favorable yeasts for their no-sulfur wines). Here was a family proud of their hard work, and due to their large acreage (and generations of history in the region), able to offer a slew of great wines at fantastic prices!
Soils at the domaine range from grey and green schist, phtanite, quartz, and ‘falun coquillé,’ to various gravelly and sandy types. Most of the wines spend between 6 and 12 months in barrels and tanks, with a stock of over 300 barrels on hand to ensure optimum vinification and ageing. Red wines are bottled without filtration or added sulfur, while whites usually see a tiny addition of sulfur at bottling.
In my years visiting winemakers in the region who work on a much smaller scale than the Vaillant family (on average 5-10 hectares surface vs. the close to 50 hectares that the Vaillants farm), I have only ever heard positive things about Grandes Vignes. If you ask me who makes the best Grolleau in the Loire, I will eventually get to Grandes Vignes, after Benoit Courault, Babass, and others, but it's not about "the BEST" here. People respect their farming and their commitment to making wines without added sulfites, and everyone likes the wines! I have always been a big fan of the estate. The whites are by no means inexpensive, but they are beautiful, and representative of the character and personality of Chenin Blanc from Anjou. The reds are all around great deals, so integrated and easy to drink (I know it's an overused phrase but it is accurate), again delivering varietal characteristics along with a vibrant and at times wild side. I highly recommend an exploration of what this fantastic estate has to offer. If you're a fan of the Loire Valley, these are a must!
WINES ARRIVE ON WEDNESDAY 10/19
This is a Methode Ancestrale sparkling white of equal parts Grolleau Gris, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc (Blanc de Noirs), with 10% Chardonnay. Disgorgement is after about 6 months on the lees, and the wine is made without added sulfur. It's dry and delicious - a great aperitif and a really versatile sparkler that will pair well with a wide variety of foods and is equally enjoyable and charming on it's own. -EL
La Varenne de Combre is a dry and crystalline Chenin Blanc, with great precision and a long mineral finish. The parcel is situated on black schist on the slopes of the Arcison (a tributary of the Layon river). JF Vaillant explained to me that the parcel had some concentration in 2018 due to heat. Still dry, the density and purity of the wine makes it a very special vintage! Beautiful now or very suitable for long-term cellaring. Fermentation was in 500L jars and 200L stoneware eggs and aging was all in amphorae for one year. As with all of their dry wines, the Varenne du Combre is bottled unfined, unfiltered, and without the adition of sulfites.
A beautiful Chenin Blanc from the Anjou appellation in the Loire Valley. Vines are around 20 years old on average, from 3 parcels, mostly on soils of black schist (with large chunks of schist) and sandstone in the valley of Arcison, a small tributary of the Layon river. Pressed at low pressure, light racking of 12 hours with light lees recovery. 400L new wood for alcoholic and malolactic fermentation. Kept in old wood for 10 months. Mineral and direct, this is more chiseled than the Combre, and less dense or opulent. If you're after a Chenin that tastes totally dry and showcases the structure of schist, this is it!
A perfectly bone-dry Chenin Blanc from soils that are a mix of degraded gray schist, sandstone and talc. Very chiseled and stony, mineral... ideal! This is a relatively new cuvée for the domaine, and a welcome addition to their lineup of exceptional Chenin Blancs.
A tasty little Chenin Blanc from shist and quartz terroir. Aging was in stainless steel, and this is the sole wine that saw a light filtration, because there was just shy of 10g RS (but the wine was still made without added SO2). This is a generous style, ideal for pairings and culinary settings, or just on its own. This is a perfect "just slightly off-dry" Chenin.
Chenin Blanc from sandstone and shale terroir, fermented and aged in 125L amphorae with no sulfur added. Very little of this is made, and we're very happy to have the opportunity to share this unique wine. The nose is floral, and stony, with hints of stone fruit, but the really fascinating aspect of the wine is the texture. Just letting the wine sit on the palate, there is a pronounced earthiness, crystalline acidity, density in the mid-palate, and a long, mineral finish. Highly recommended for Chenin aficionados and those who are interested in the growing category of amphora wines. -EL
This is a vibrant natural red made from a blend of Groslot (Grolleau) and Cabernet Franc. The quintessential "bistrot" wine, with low tannins and good acidity. Not too fruity, not too light, and a pleasure to drink. Grapes are destemmed and see a short maceration of about 10 days in large underground ceramic tanks.
Yum! This is a very gulpable Cab Franc from the folks at Domaine les Grandes Vignes. This has very little tannin, and a healthy amount of acidity and ripe red fruit, so it's a shoo-in for the chillable red category. There's nice density and richness, which can be missed with some Loire Valley natural wines (always good to have a medium bodied option in that category). There's a little Cab Franc barnyardy funk on the nose, but just pure fruit on the palate, so it's an easy fit for the dinner table, even for less "adventurous" palates. Grapes are destemmed, see 6 days of maceration, and about 7 months in barrel and another 4-5 months in concrete. During a tasting at the domaine last February, I wrote: "Nice, classic, very Anjou, with dark fruit." -EL
A dark, black-fruited Cabernet Franc from degraded schist soils in Anjou. The grapes are de-stemmed and see five weeks of maceration. Aging is around 15 months in old barrels. This is a real food wine, in many ways the other end of the spectrum from the fresh, low-tannin reds from Grandes Vignes. This is earthy and rustic, meant for the dinner table and Fall/Winter weather!
"Groslot" (which loosely translates to "jackpot") is a humorous play on the name of the grape here, which is known officially as Grolleau Noir. The Vaillant family has definitely hit the jackpot with this wine, one of a lineup of reds without any SO2 added. Grolleau is a grape with plenty of fruit, ample acidity level and medium tannic structure, though the style here is light-handed and fun, so there is barely any grip to this wine. Really vibrant and fresh on the palate with crushed berries and a silky finish. Drink with a light chill! Alcohol is 11% and the style is very friendly and dare I say "thirst-quenching"...perfect for a holiday feast!