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Here at Chambers Street, we typically shy away from large estates, and champion winemakers with tiny plots and horse-drawn plows, but occasionally there are exceptions to the rule! Enter Domaine Les Grandes Vignes, a family estate of about 50 hectares (over 100 acres) of vines in the Loire Valley. They may seem "grand" in scale compared to some of our favorite Loire estates, but all the vineyard work is certified organic and Biodynamic, the prices are very reasonable, and the wines are truly compelling examples of some classic and lesser known Loire varieties.
We first tasted with Jean-François Vaillant of Domaine Les Grandes Vignes two years ago in France, and were immediately impressed with the sheer breadth of the offerings and the balance and purity of fruit across the board. Anjou reds and whites, fun no-sulfur cuvées, sparkling wines, a delicious Bonnezeaux (among numerous off-dry and sweet offerings), and even some amphora wines! Every question we 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.
The domaine was first 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.
Soils 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.
This first offering from Grandes Vignes introduces some of their dry reds and whites, all of which are perfect for ushering in the fall. Enjoy, and stay tuned for their sparkling, amphora, and off-dry wines arriving later this year!
A beautiful Chenin Blanc, from a great vintage for Loire whites. There's a nice amount of weight and roundness in the mid-palate, so don't expect enamel-stripping acidity, but don't worry either... it's still totally dry. Vines are around 20 years old on average, from soils 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. Golden yellow, with a touch of quince, and white peach. Just plain delicious Chenin Blanc. Eben Lillie
The 2012 Varenne de Combre is a totally dry and crystalline Chenin, with great precision and a long mineral finish (thanks to the Schist soils). I happened to have an Anjou blanc that reminded me exactly of this one with a salt crusted whole bass in Catalonia, Spain not too long ago (I brought a bottle with me to share with a winemaker friend), and it couldn't have been a more perfect pairing. The minerality and acidity provide the cut and freshness, and the density of the wine can stand up to the richness of the fish. Eben Lillie
This is Anjou Cabernet Franc from gravel/schist and sandy clay soils. The grapes undergo 3 days of maceration followed by aging in 2-3 year-old barrels, and the wine was bottled this past June without filtration or added sulfur. It's quite funky on the nose, almost deceivingly so, as it's totally pure on the palate. Plenty of red fruit, spice, eucalyptus, and earth... really classic Cab Franc in many ways, but with a little edginess. Eben Lillie
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 no funk here, just pure fruit, so it's an easy fit for the dinner table, even for less "adventurous" palates. Eben Lillie
"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 a noticeable 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 chill! Eben Lillie