france: loire_valley

Domaine Richou, Anjou

Domaine Richou, Anjou

Nous continuons notre chemin vers des vins toujours plus élégants et pleins de fraîcheur!
-Elisabeth Richou, May 2013

The thing about the Richou wines is their purity and depth of fruit.  If length in wine bespeaks elegance, then Richou’s wines come dressed in silk.  They’re also beautifully transparent vis-à-vis their terroir: these are wines of Anjou; even more specifically, wines of Anjou’s schist soil.

The domaine is managed by Didier and Damien Richou.  The elder brother Didier took over the winemaking in 1979 after doing an internship in America with David Bailly (Bailly was a pioneering cold-climate winemaker in, appropriately, Minnesota).  Since then the good-natured, intelligent and hard-working Didier has gained the respect of every critic who has been by to see him.  “Didier Richou,” writes Jacqueline Friedrich, “doesn’t know how to make bad wine.”  In 1993 Damien came on board, and today he is responsible for the domaine’s 74 acres of vines while Didier handles vinification.  The domaine has long eschewed chemical fertilizers and since 2000 tended its vineyards with the pragmatic philosophy of viticulture raisonnée (or lutte raisonnée). With the 2013 vintage it converted to organic farming, and now it is taking steps with biodynamic viticulture.

Founded in 1920, the domaine is a modest place off a country road deep in the Anjou Noire, so called because of the preponderance of schists in the geological makeup of this section (the strata of schists passes under the Loire, running southeast to geologically connect the Savennières appellation to the Aubance watershed). Anjou is a big region, encompassing limestone chalk vineyards to the east in Saumur, volcanic schists in its center, and granite-based soils to the west near Muscadet.  Saumur marks the border of the Paris Basin and its limestone; Anjou Noire, with its schists, is home to a much older geology.  You cross an invisible line traveling through the region from white limestone houses to villages made of dark stone sheathed in slate.

It is this slate-like rock that gives AC Anjou wines their distinctive character, particularly in the meandering Aubance Valley and, on the opposite side of the Loire, in Savennières.  Vineyards grow all over Anjou, but it’s only in this valley and in Savennières that schists own the ground.  This volcanic rock gives Chenin Blanc layered intensity and finesse (Côteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux, and Quarts de Chaume, by contrast, have a hodgepodge of soils and more clay, and their wines are weightier than their brother Côteaux de l’Aubance).  In the same vein, the local Anjou Gamay, Anjou Rouge, and Anjou-Villages Brissac can thank this rock for their darkly colored substance and meaty intensity, qualities which can make their chalk-grown cousins in Saumur, Chinon, and even Bourgueil seem skittish.

The domaine acquired a three acre parcel in Savennières in late 2010, on the plateau just behind the Roche aux Moines vineyard. Replanted in 2008, this parcel produced its first wine in the 2012 vintage.

The Wines: