The Wine: Brut Tradition 2020
François and Manuela Chidaine Brut Tradition is a Classic Method sparkling wine made from 100% organic and biodynamic Chenin Blanc grapes from the Montlouis sur Loire appellation, Loire Valley, France.
The Producer: François and Manuela Chidaine
Montlouis is an appellation of 400 hectares located directly across the river from Vouvray. In fact, until it was granted AOC status in 1937, Montlouis wines were produced under the Vouvray appellation. The soils in both places are quite similar: sandy clay on a base of tuffeau. Some say that a slightly higher percentage of sand and pebbles in the Montlouis soils makes the wines a bit leaner than the wines of Vouvray. For us, this trait adds to the charm of Montlouis's sec wines, giving them a lively crispness on the palate and outstanding minerality.
François Chidaine worked alongside his father Yves for many years before setting out on his own in 1989. Convinced of the potential of the terroirs of Montlouis and Vouvray, he purchased assorted parcels and expanded the estate to today's total of 30 hectares of Chenin Blanc, many of which are dominated by old vines of 40 to 80 years of age. During these years of growth, Chidaine earned a reputation as a leading natural viticulturalist in the region. Today, he is devoted to what is referred to in the U.S. as "regenerative agriculture", which involves implementing practices that are known to improve the rate at which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and converted into plant material and soil organic matter (sequestering CO2 in the soils). At the heart of this approach is the practice of "no-till" farming.
While plowing is an integral part of natural viticulture for many farmers and producers, this disruption of the soil is thought to interfere with the complex mycorrhizal network (funghi network) that actually connects individual plants together and transfers water, carbon, nitrogen and other nutrients and minerals between them. After years of working his soils, François developed a belief that by plowing he was sabotaging these important communication networks which help to give the vines what they need to flourish. An essential aspect of regenerative farming is the establishment of permanent cover crops between vine rows. Francois encourages biodiversity by embracing the growth of indigenous plants and sowing over 25 additional species among the vines. By mimicking nature, the vines find their place in a complex ecosystem, allowing them to better express their place of origin.
This progressive vision isn't simply about growing the best grapes possible, but rather a vision for the future. In François' words, "this is how we save the world" (not to mention other proponents, of course). It is estimated that as much as one-third of the surplus CO2 in the atmosphere that is causing climate change has come from agricultural and land management practices. Through organic and biodynamic farming, Francois never saw the results that he is now seeing in his soils and vineyards. But he admits that he is thankful he took those paths since they led him here, and he hopes others will join him.
At the Domaine, François is a true champion of the Chenin Blanc grape and touts its ability to produce vibrant wines that age gracefully. He is happiest in his vines, but being among his barrels is a close second. In many circles, François is as respected as a vinifier as he is a vigneron. He produces an entry-level line of Touraine wines -- Clos de la Grange Sauvignon Blanc, Touraine Rosé, and Touraine Rouge -- all of which overdeliver at their value price points. Two sparkling wines serve as an excellent introduction to Chidaine's various expressions of Chenin: a Méthode Traditionnelle made with grapes from younger vines in Montlouis that spend 12 months on the lees, as well as a Petillant made from Vouvray vines that aged 36 months sur lie.
If you have the pleasure of visiting the newly renovated and expanded domaine, don't miss stopping by La Cave Insolite, the Montlouis wine shop run by François' wife and force of nature Manuéla Chidaine. She has a well-curated selection of wines from the Loire, both old guard and up and comers, as well as the 'best of the best' of small growers from regions throughout France. The sky is the limit with this dynamic duo.
The Region: Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is a vast region located in western France. It stretches from the hills of Auvergne all the way to the Atlantic coast, cut in half by the Loire River. With over 4 million hectoliters of wine per year, the Loire Valley is one of France’s biggest and most diverse wine-producing regions. The Lore Valley’s production ranges from every-day quaffable and unpretentious wine to some of the country’s finest whites and reds.
The Terroir of the Loire Valley
Upper Loire sub-region: continental climate, soils are mostly flint and limestone formations. This is the land of Sauvignon Blanc, with Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé being the most famous appellations (AOC).
Touraine sub-region: continental climate, soils can be clay with flint or limestone, and chalk. Chenin Blanc is the main grape varietal for white wines, with Sauvignon Blanc coming in second. Red wines are made mostly from Cabernet Franc.
Anjou sub-region: maritime to continental climate, crumbly and soft soil formation called tuffeau. Anjou is well-known for its Chenin Blanc wines, mostly dry although there are good examples of sweet Chenin Blanc in Coteaux du Layon.
Saumur sub-region: continental to maritime climate, soils are made of tuffeau limestone in this similar to Anjou sub-region. Chenin Blanc is vinified as a sparkling wine with the champenoise method, Cabernet Franc is made into light and peppery wines.
Pays Nantais sub-region: maritime climate, the region stretches to the Atlantic Ocean. Soils are rocky with granite formations. Muscadet is the main grape varietal of this area, known for wines that are mineral, crisp, and refreshing.
The White Wines of Loire Valley
White wines represent the biggest share with about 65% of the total production. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Melon de Bourgogne, and Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne are the most popular grape varietals in the region.
The Red Wines of Loire Valley
Loire Valley reds are very distinct in terms of their style. Light and lean, lively and fruity, easy-drinking and food-friendly, they are some of the best everyday wines on the market. Some of the best examples of this style are made from Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Malbec.