La Grange Tiphaine, the Loire's most complete line up!

7/14/20 -

How lucky am I! After writing about Benoit Courault in my last article, I have today the great pleasure to talk to you about a very unique couple I consider at the very top of the game, this time in Amboise and Montlouis-sur-Loire in the eastern part of Touraine: Coralie et Damien Delecheneau of La Grange Tiphaine. As with Ben, I have to admit I have a special relationship with these two. I met them very shortly after meeting Ben, i.e. at the very beginning of my sommelier career. My mentor Patrick Rigourd introduced me to the Delecheneaus. We hit it off right away, and since that day, almost 15 years ago, Damien has been my “go to” as both friend and farmer: if I have any questions about vines, soil, farming, winemaking, he is the one I call, as I know I can trust his knowledge. Every year at the domain, at the wine fair in Angers or in New York, I have been religiously tasting and following Damien’s work, and I can say today that he and Coralie are producing the most complete line-up of the region: dry, off-dry, sweet white, rosé, light red, structured red, bubbles, all the bottlings have a purity of expression, a sense of place, a coherence, and age-worthiness at a surprisingly affordable price!. 2018 and 2019 are for me, despite the warmth of the vintages, the best wines produced by these two yet, and it is a pleasure to present and offer them today.

The History.

La Grange Tiphaine (Tiphaine’s Barn) is a lieu-dit on the upper part of the gorgeous Renaissance city of Amboise, just east of Montlouis-sur-Loire AOC. Damien’s family has been living and farming here since the 19th century. He is today the 5th generation of Delecheneau growing grapes. Like the vast majority of the farmers of that time, the great great-grandfather of Damien ran a polyculture farm and bred livestock. At the time he was cultivating a variety of crops, and grapes which were sold to local cooperatives. In 1941 though, during the critical time of WWII, his grand-father decided to bottle all the production, something very new for the region. When Jackie, Damien’s father, took over he stopped the breeding business to keep only 30 hectares of grains, cereals and grapes until 2002 when he retired. It is only in 2007 that Damien decided to dedicate the property solely to wine. Over the years though, he realized the importance of polyculture and understood that the overspecialization of a farm towards one crop is unproductive, from both a financial and environmental point of view. He began a side business of négoce, and helped growers around him to convert to organic farming by buying their fruits. In addition, he dedicated some fields for horses, pasture, hay production, with the idea to maybe come back one day to farm other crops.

Growing up, Damien did not dream to become a winemaker. Instead, his dream was to be either a pilot or musician. Alas, the atavism prevailed and he committed to go into oenology school. He still plays the clarinet extremely well. While studying for his DNO (oenologist diploma) in Bordeaux, he met Alsace-born Coralie who was pursuing the same diploma. It was a perfect match. Together they interned around France and the world, in Burgundy, Beaujolais, California and South-Africa before deciding to come back to Amboise in 2002 as Damien’s father was retiring. Coralie joined full time in 2009. As a couple they work together hand in hand, Damien focusing more in the vineyard, Coralie on the sales, with both minds uniting in the cellar. Their marriage of roles in the business is quite rare in the wine world. Starting with 8,3 ha in 2002, the domain today counts 30 ha total but only 17 ha of vines split almost evenly between Amboise and Montlouis. They produce 3 different AOC: Touraine, Touraine-Amboise, Montlouis-sur-Loire as well as some Vin de France. Of course you will find some Chenin in Montlouis but also in Amboise, where they grow Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Côt (including a superb 120-year old plot) perhaps the oldest one in France. There is also a field-blend of different types of Gamay teinturiers, Grolleau and other reds he uses for his delicious pet’nat Rosa Rosé Rosam.

Convinced of the utmost importance of farming, they obtained the organic certification in 2007, and the biodynamic Biodyvin label in 2014. Talking about farming with Damien is extremely stimulating: he is a practical scholar, always reading, searching, so his views on the subject are very well thought out and practiced. But as an artist, he deeply believes in intuition and the value of cultivating beauty, to a point that Coralie and Damien asked a sculptor to populate the vineyards around the winery and the Amboise vineyards with impressive and interactive pieces. They also regularly host concerts and performances with wine tastings. More precisely in terms of farming, Damien totally stopped ploughing a couple of years ago. He is just hoeing under the rows, and mulching the endemic cover crop. He has been working a lot using composting, improving his technique over the years to produce quality compost material for fertilizer. For Damien this is a crucial tool to restructure the soil and bring back organic matter and life. It is very apparent today that the vines are less stressed, more resistant to disease pressure, recover faster from frost or hail, etc. thanks to this work.

Damien is a detail-maniac. each plot is treated with its own approach using the appropriate ploughing, treatment, pruning, etc. It is an insane amount of work as there are 54 plots, some more than an hour away by tractor (this requires a lot of organization for treatment or for harvest)! To do it he is assisted by Jean-Rémy and François-Xavier, and always has interns eager to learn from him. He deeply believes in mentoring (he teaches at Amboise’s Lycée Viticole). He also believes in community. Since 2017 he took over the presidency of the ODG of Montlouis after François Chidaine and pursued the work that allows this tiny AOC to shine worldwide and be one of the most dynamic of the region. He has managed to rally the producers around projects like Pétillant Originel (which promotes the decreased use of herbicides) or buying wind turbines or using helicopters against the frost. He is has championed Côt as the grape of Touraine-Amboise. His voice within in the region has been effective in changing the AOC.

Touraine and Touraine-Amboise.

Amboise is famous for its majestic castle and for being the place where Leonardo da Vinci ended his life, but its historic wine reputation is yet to be fully recovered. What we know is that part of the area used to be combined with Vouvray until the beginning of the 20th century, and that the wines were enjoyed by multiple French kings. Located on both sides of the Loire (but mostly on the northern side), just west of Vouvray and Montlouis at equal distance between Tours and Blois, Touraine-Amboise is considered a subzone or geographic designation of Touraine AOC, a kind of antichamber before being fully recognized on its own (you have 4 others like this). The region was a bit of a sleeping beauty until Damien and Coralie’s influence. With the work of La Grange Tiphaine the true potential of this area is slowly gaining recognition. Only 185 ha are claimed today by roughly 30 producers able to make 3 types of still wines-white from dry to sweet (100% Chenin), rosé and red (100% Côt since 2019; before it was a blend of Côt, Cabernet Franc and Gamay). If you are using Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc or Gamay, monovarietal or blended, the wine carries the regional Touraine AOC label.

In terms of terroir, you find the same cretaceous soils as in Montlouis and Vouvray, just with the tuffeau way below an important layer of clay, silt and a lot of silex or flint. There is wide variation of soils in the area. Damien’s vineyards (9 ha in Amboise), all on the southern side, have three different profiles :

On the eastern side: very special dense clay with a lot of silex, giving a fantastic texture to the wine. A beautiful terroir. (Cuvée Bel Air)

Around the domaine: more silt mix with the clay, less flint, exposed to the wind, on top of the hills. (Cuvée Côt Vieilles Vignes, Quatre-Mains, Bécarre, Rosa Rosé Rosam

On the western side : heavier clay, a lot of flint and gravel on top, more clay in the bottom, colder terroir. (Cuvée Clef de Sol Rouge)

I consider Bel Air and Côt Vieilles Vignes (120 + year-old vines…) part of the top cuvées of the Loire today!


Montlouis should be a familiar name for any wine lover. For a few years now, this small AOC (450 ha) has become a benchmark for Chenin Blanc to a point of outperforming its long-time big sister, Vouvray. It is a kind of Goliath and David relationship. Five times bigger than Montlouis, Vouvray has long been considered the great Chenin success story. Vouvray’s recognition was superior to the point that Montlouis’ wines were often sold under the Vouvray name until 1936 (when both got their AOCs). But a focus on the mass production of entry level sparkling wines with the use of industrial farming along with a lack of vineyard investment led Vouvray to lose its valued reputation. The only original producers of Vouvray to retain their standards of excellence are Domaine Huet and Clos Naudin. Very few new generation talents (the Pinon family, Vincent Carême, the Cosme brothers, Julien Vedel, Michel Autran, Sébastien Brunet and just a couple of others) have chosen to follow the path of great farming and high quality wines.

In Montlouis, the opposite movement was taking place. In the 1990s Jacky Blot (La Taille aux Loups) and biodynamic pioneer François Chidaine created a fantastic dynamic in the area, quickly embraced by a new generation of talent who could afford vineyards at a way lower price than in Vouvray (Damien, Lise & Bertrand Jousset, Xavier Weisskopf, Ludovic Chanson, Frantz Saumon, Julien Prevel, etc. and the late Stéphane Cossais). With no money and very little support from the regional union, they managed to stimulate quality from the inside: Montlouis is on fire!

In terms of terroir, how different is Montlouis from Vouvray? Montlouis is sandier, flintier and slightly cooler with less influence from the Loire. The Montlouis AOC is on the southern bank of the Loire, facing Vouvray. The Amboise Forest along with the Loire and Cher Rivers form a triangle with a steep cliff at its northern limit. It is a compact appellation spanning three communes, Montlouis-sur-Loire, Lussault-sur-Loire and Saint-Martin-le-Beau. The vineyards on the north (the most famous ones - Les Bournais, etc.) are planted on a plateau rolling gently towards the south-west with small valleys and slopes. The exposure is not as favorable as Vouvray for botrytis or passerillage, so Montlouis makes little of it, focusing the production on sparkling and still dry or slightly off-dry. For the soils both AOC’s share the same base of Turonian tuffeau - white and yellow - but Montlouis has very little of it exposed. Regarding the topsoil, the AOC has less aubuis (clay-limestone mix) and more perruches (more acidic soil of clay, flint and silica) and younger top soils (sandy gravel from the Miocene) thus lighter soil in general. To understand its terroir better the Union of Montlouis Producers sponsored the creation of a geological map designating single vineyards which could be used in labeling. It is a great initiative Vouvray should follow… This map was published 2 years ago, with the idea to link a style of Chenin - still, petillant original, traditional method, dry, off-dry, sweet - to a terroir.

Most of Damien’s vineyards (a little more than 8 ha in a lot of different plots) are in Saint-Martin and Montlouis, on perruches. As the clay is not very far from the surface, the soils can easily become compacted. Since 2010 he has diligently worked with different composts and preparations to bring back organic matter to the soil and discourage soil compaction. Since 2016 Damien has produced a single vineyard from a special plot called Les Epinays, planted and farmed specifically to be a still dry grand vin de garde, with a slightly sandier terroir, close to the one of Bel Air (his superb Chenin in Amboise).

In the cellar. Over the years, Damien and Coralie invested in finding the right tools for the quality of wine they wanted to produce with the minimum amount of additives (i.e. sulfur dioxide.). All the domain cuvées are made with the same level of perfectionism. Hand-harvested, hand-sorted in the vineyard then again at the cellar, pressed with two top-of-the-line pneumatic presses fed by gravity. The whites are pressed whole-cluster directly, cooled and settled overnight, then fermented either in cement tanks, eggs or barrels. The reds are macerated, destemmed or whole clusters, depending on the vintage, the grapes, the terroir. A little sulfur dioxide may be used at picking if needed. Fermentations are spontaneous, malo happenes more and more for the white - not historically usual for the region. They now make a lot of pét-nat (Rosa Rosé Rosam) and pétillant originel (Nouveau-Nez, Montlouis-sur-Loire AOC 100% Chenin), the second term is now the first official AOC designation in France for the style. They have mastered it, as the wines are delicious to drink, yet complex, clean, and totally age worthy. I love opening these bottlings for any nay-sayer! Wines are aged between 6 to 18-24 months, they are usually slightly filtered with kieselguhr, with a slight adjustment of SO2. When you see the amount of work and attention to detail for each cuvée - having worked the 2017 harvest, I am a witness - you can only be impressed by the quality for value in each of their bottlings!

A quick word on 2018 and 2019.

2018 was an early vintage, with a rainy and warm spring (think Thaïland) leading to a lot of mildiou pressure, requiring a lot of attention in the vineyards. Fruit set was very high, so the fungus made a "natural" selection to offer at the end a crop slightly lower than normal. Summer was hot, with some heat waves. Overall, the wines have power and density, and for those who farmed well, preserved a surprising acidity, especially for the reds. The great vignerons have purple inky wines indicating low pH with ripe alcohol! They are really unique wines, super fresh but dense (a mix of 2008 & 2010), not easy to get young but built for aging! It also means for those who kept their yield high or were not on top of the farming, you will tend to find high alcohol wines already a little oxidized...

2019 was a little bit the reverse, with a dry spring, less rain. Also an early vintage but more balance overall between acidity and sugars. A denser classic Loire vintage: the whites have a great core witout losing their freshness and tension. The reds are easier to understand than the 2018s, with a velvety tannic texture. This is a also a vintage to cellar for the top cuvées!

All in all, La Grange Tiphaine is today a major domain in the area, for very good reasons. The titanesque work of Damien and Coralie allows them to produce a stunning line-up of wines in all colors and ranges. With the years passing by, they are more and more able to express in remarkable detail long forgotten terroir. Great bottles to enjoy today, you can safely cellar them too. In a word, these wines are the real deal!

-Pascaline Lepeltier

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