2018 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Rouge "Belles Dames", Loire Valley, France
ABOUT THIS WINE
Fruit from Pinot Noir vines at an average age of 50 years old grown in flint soil. Farming is DEMETER certified biodynamic. The fruit is hand harvested, natural yeast fermentation in French oak vats, pigeage (grape treading), and a 30 day maceration. The wine is aged for 12 months in French oak barrels then 12 months in 25hl oak casks.
Most people, when tasting the Belle Dame, a cuvée of 50 year-old vines of Pinot Noir grown on pure flint soils, compare it to Burgundy. It understandable and unfortunate at the same time as this is a terror quite distinct from anything in Burgundy – further north and on hard flinty soils. Before phylloxera, Sancerre was renown as Pinot Noir country, and justly so. Sadly, there are few producers, like Vacheron, who care enough to prove just how amazing Pinot Noir can be from this part of the Loire. It is a singular wine, and the benchmark Sancerre Rouge.
ABOUT THIS PRODUCER
Domaine Vacheron is one of Sancerre’s elite properties, producing white and red Sancerre of amazing purity and definition. The Domaine has been completely transformed over to biodynamic farming (certified by Biodyvin in 2005) with two young cousins, Jean-Laurent and Jean-Dominique Vacheron, at the helm. No synthetic material is used in the vineyard, harvests are carried out exclusively by hand, and the only fertilizer used is produced from the compost pile. Yields are kept extremely low. Having inherited some of the most coveted parcels in the appellation (and being smart about current land purchases), the cousins are trying a Burgundian approach to Sancerre winemaking, with parcels being vinified by terroir and blends varying from year to year. Pinot Noir is not an afterthought chez Vacheron, but a focus, and on soils just a couple of hours west of Burgundy, the cousins are making grand, expressive bottlings from the varietal.
Vacheron is primarily a “silex” producer. Silex (flint) is found primarily in the eastern part of the appellation (and across the river in Pouilly Fumé). Almost all of Vacheron’s holdings are on this hard minerally soil type. Flint produces vertical, long-aging Sancerre bottlings and the Vacheron boys’ biggest aim is to let this shine. The “basic” Sancerre blanc from the property comes from vines planted on the fault line between silex and Caillottes (hard shards of limestone).
Jean-Dominque and Jean-Laurent currently farm 34 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc and 11 hectares of Pinot Noir. Starting with some rows in the famous Les Romains vineyard, the property has slowly begun acquiring small amounts of vines in the most coveted lieu-dits in the appellation, including Guigne Chèvre, En Grands Champs, Paradis, and Chambrates.