A unique form of co-op has put Quincy and Reuilly back on the Loire map.
But are they now facing opposition from within their ACs
Local rivalries run deep – you only need to attend a football derby to know that. But they exist in the wine industry too, from Bordeaux’s opposing banks of the Gironde to the Tuscan one-upmanship of Montalcino and Chianti.
So it was surprising to sit down at Le Cave Romane de Brinay in Quincy in the Central Loire, to taste not only the wines of this AC but those of neighbouring Reuilly. It wasn’t Quincy first and then Reuilly, or visa versa. All the wines were mixed in together, presenting a united front for their appellations, seen as the smaller, lesser, almost-forgotten cousins of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Ménetou- Salon.
Appropriately, this was a tasting of wines from Quincy’s and Reuilly’s co-ops: not only do the winemakers of each AC need to work together but so do the two regions, if either is to be fully reinstated on the wine map.
All for one, one for all
Quincy and Reuilly have long and successful wine histories, thanks to their proximity to the Cher, a tributary of the Loire, where their Sauvignon Blancs were shipped to the Paris court and beyond, particularly to Belgium, the Netherlands and UK which today are still their biggest markets.
But when phylloxera destroyed the vines, and the livelihood of vignerons,
growers decided cereal crops were more profitable. There were a few who persevered with vines, and this, plus their former glory in Paris and abroad, ensured Quincy received its AC for white wines in 1936 (second only to Châteauneufdu- Pape) and Reuilly a year later.
In 1961 Reuilly earned its AC for its Pinot Noir reds and Pinot Gris rosés, but with the retirement of many of the remaining winemakers, its vineyards (and those of its neighbour) were fast disappearing; by 1977 there were only 48ha in Reuilly and not much more in Quincy.
Even if there were younger generations interested in making wine, what was being produced was acidic, heavy, oxidative and badly balanced; it was a wonder ACs were granted at all. ‘Viticulture was disappearing so fast that it seemed only historians would
speak about Reuilly’s great past as a winemaking centre,’ said Claude Lafond,
who is recognised today as the driving force behind the rejuvenation of his appellation.
‘It was then that some of us youngsters felt our vineyards could rise from the ashes and give us a future.’ The late 1980s and early ’90s saw a new generation of vignerons emerge:
cereal farmers attracted not only by the potential of wine in Reuilly but also the government subsidies that went with planting vines.
‘But they found themselves with a harvest to vinify, but no winery, equipment or the know-how to makewine,’ says Lafond. In 1991, Lafond was thinking of building a cellar. ‘But then I thought, “If I build a collective cellar with other growers we can be more of a force in terms of manpower and equipment.”’ In 1993, Le Chai de Reuilly was built in Lafond’s backyard. It started production immediately.
In Quincy, the farmers-turned vignerons also realised their AC would disappear if they didn’t do something, so they followed suit, renovating an old farmhouse in Brinay and creating Le
Cave Romane in 1993, harvesting 14ha from seven domaines the following year.
The aim of the co-op – as in Reuilly – was to share resources, not grapes. Jean
Tatin of Domaines Tatin, one of the seven, says these ‘material co-ops’ were the first of their kind in France. ‘Growers still pool funds to buy pneumatic presses, thermo-regulated tanks and a bottling line, but each grower manages his vines in his own way, works with a oenologist to vinify his wine to his instructions, and markets it under his own label.’
‘Our idea was met with scepticism by former growers and with incredulity by most locals,’ says Lafond. ‘So my biggest satisfaction was to see the number of people who started to believe again in Reuilly viticulture.’
Today, the Chai de Reuilly vinifies nearly half the appellation’s wines, representing
11 producers and 80ha. Reuilly has 200ha planted – half of which is Sauvignon Blanc – from 600ha of available AC land. Cave de Brinay, under consultant winemaker Virginie Bigonneau, has 17 winemakers working 100ha, representing 44% of the planted 236ha (of an available 1,000ha). Wines are also vinified out of a second site, La Maison Blanche.
Bigonneau, who has worked at the coop for four years but also makes wine with her father Gérard at the family domaine, said that, like any consultant, her aim is to create quality wines that express the terroir of each grower. ‘The co-op is not only a way for us to work together for Quincy, but for each winemaker to develop the best possible identity for themselves and their wines.’
Charles Sydney, who has been a wine broker in the Loire for 15 years, has charted the rejuvenation the co-ops have brought to the two ACs. ‘There are no other material co-ops in France of the level Quincy and Reuilly. In terms of building an entire operation, including getting in a consultant winemaker, they are unique.
It’s obvious what a success it has been; the quality of the wine has improved dramatically Without the co-ops, the ACs would likely have disappeared.’ Yet there are others – independent growers – who are less impressed with the co-ops’ influence, even though they admit their role in restoring much of the appellations’ former glory.
Philippe Pigeat, who works 7.5ha in Quincy, believes the co-op members are not winemakers, merely ‘agro-managers’ who pay others to grow their grapes andvinify their wine. Sydney agrees that the ‘peasant farmer mentality’ of many producers has not changed. ‘Quincy’s producers are still horticultural farmers, working on the premise that you sell by the bushel, and the more bushels you have, the more money you make.
They’re still peasant farmers, whereas in Reuilly they are more vignerons.’ Quincy’s sand and gravel terraces mean Sauvignon Blanc ripens earlier than in Sancerre, 40km to the east. Alcohol is higher and acids lower, so the wines – more approachable for early drinking – have a floral nose and elegant palate, with vibrant tropical fruit.
In Reuilly, the Kimmeridgian clay and chalk slopes give nettley, herbal, mineral Sauvignons that are more ageworthy, though perhaps not as immediately friendly. The Pinot Noirs are light, firm and cherryish, but better in Sancerre, and the Vin Gris de Pinot Gris rosés are characterfully peachy and spicy.
Pioneers Tatin and Lafond put the qualitative improvement in the wines down to investment in the vineyards (better clones, smaller yields) and cellar (improved hygiene, newer equipment) as well as experimentation in everything from vinifying in oak to organic farming.
Sydney believes improvement is partly due to a younger generation of winemakers. ‘They’re the first who really see themselves as vignerons, not peasant farmers. They want to know what’s going on outside their own region. They are travelling more, studying more, tasting more…’
Matthieu Mabillot is a good example. Now working at his father Alain’s winery in Reuilly, the 30-year-old followed up his wine studies in Bordeaux working first at Lynch-Bages, then at Cain in California’s Napa Valley and Torbreck in Australia’s Barossa. ‘It’s allowed me to return to France with an understanding of the world of wine and how to use that to help my family domaine.’
The next step
Today it is quantity, not quality, that is concerning producers. For so long, Quincy and Reuilly have been treading water in the wake of other Central Loire ACs that many believe it is too late. ‘Our regeneration came on the back of Sancerre, but now we are stuck,’ says Tatin. ‘Merchants say our wines are great, but because they aren’t as well known as Sancerre they won’t sell as well, so they don’t take them.
We need to find sales networks motivated enough to take on new wines based on quality, not just notoriety.’ Sydney agrees: ‘A good Sancerre is worth paying for, but a good Quincy or Reuilly will be less expensive and better value than an average Sancerre.’ Lafond has a unique way to look at it:
‘The Central Loire train’s engine is Sancerre. The coaches are, by order of recognition, Pouilly, Ménetou-Salon, Quincy and Reuilly. I’m not jealous of Sancerre – quite the contrary. Reuilly exists thanks to the development of names more famous than us whose recognition has then filtered down.’ Pigeat credits Sancerre négociants Henri Bourgeois and Joseph Mellot for aiding the Quincy revival.
Mellot has been vinifying musts and buying wines from the appellation since the ’80s, with its owner Catherine Corbeau-Mellot saying the wines ‘are a good complement’ to the domaine’s Central Loire portfolio, but admitting the bulk of sales still lies elsewhere in the region. She and others such as Hélène Mardon at Domaine Mardon say their exports of Quincy are at 30%, but figures from the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins du Centre
put the average for Quincy and Reuilly at just 10%.
Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé each export 40% of production.Exports, tied in with improving their domestic and global profile, is the hurdle on the path to a brighter future for these
reborn appellations. Pigeat believes that it is only when less emphasis is placed on co-ops and more given to independent growers that the ACs will really flourish.
‘Quincy is too small for a co-op that represents 60% of the vineyard as a means of sustaining our name,’ he said. ‘Co-ops block the growth of small-scale farming
and the creation of independent wineries. Our sustainability will be assured only when people understand that to be a vigneron is to put passion before trade.’ ‘The concept of a co-op is key from a financial point of view but can also be a brake from a commercial point of view,’ said Mardon.
‘Growers now working in the co-op will end up being independent to gain flexibility.’ And that seems not too far away: Bigonneau, the Cave de Brinay’s consultant winemaker, has already indicated her desire to take over from her father.
Lafond, whose daughter Nathalie has succeeded him at the family estate, sees a benefit in consolidating the plantings of existing small domaines rather than increasing the area under vine. ‘The aim of a co-op is not for the winemakers to make every last bit of wine from the AC, but for the co-op to evolve along with each of the domaines that forms part of it. That’s our future.’
A fresh look at the Loire:
Domaine Jacques Rouzé, Vignes d’Antan, Quincy 2007 ★★★★
With yields of 35hl/ha from 70-year-old vines, this is a serious
Sauvignon. A grassy, nettley nose leads to a long, characterful,
autumnal, palate. From 2009. £9.75–£12; Ben, Evy, Had, Whb
Domaine Claude Lafond, La Raie, Reuilly Blanc 2007 ★★★
From the man who brought Reuilly back from the brink, this
has bright grapefruit and gooseberry perfume, and a lovely
balanced palate. From 2009. £8.80–£10.50; Por, SHJ, Wdr, Wea
Domaine de Reuilly, Reuilly Blanc 2007 ★★★
Zingy, herbal nose with a touch of Loire Sauvignon cattiness.
The acidity is refreshing, and the palate tight and dry, with
ripe gooseberry fruit. From 2009. N/A UK; +33 2 54 49 35 54
Domaine du Tremblay, Vielles Vignes, Quincy 2007 ★★★
Vines aged 35 to 50 years old give this a focused mineral and
tropical nose. Juicy nectarines on the palate and a musky
apricot finish. From 2009. £9.75–£13; Evy, GWW
Domaine Jacques Vincent, Reuilly Rosé 2007 ★★★★
Pinot Gris is only 15% of Reuilly’s production, but worth seeking
out. A peachy, leafy nose leads to yeasty, smoky melon fruit
and vibrant acidity. Long. From 2009. N/A UK; +33 2 48 51 73 55
Written by Tina Gellie