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). In 2010 it begin a conversion to organic viticulture—certification will come with vintage 2013—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.
- Anjou Blanc “Chauvigné”: Chenin Blanc. The emphasis here is on freshness and minerality, with bright aromatics, lemon high tones, and richly long, elegant fruit. At around 1,700 cases, Chauvigné is the domaine’s largest production. Two-thirds comes from a 7.4 acre vineyard named Violettes growing in volcanic schists soils, planted in 1980 (2.5 acres), then in 1986 (1.2 acres.) and 1998 (3.7 acres); and one third comes from their Rogeries vineyard, growing in a streak of glassy volcanic soil known as rhyolites. Harvest is by hand with two passes through the vines, and the wine is made mostly in tank, with some 20% done in older barrels. Malolactic fermentation rarely takes place because of Chenin’s innate acidity and Richou’s cold cellar.
- Anjou Blanc “Les Rogeries”: Chenin Blanc. This is a dense, richly plump and honeyed Chenin (from ripe fruit, not sugar) underpinned by lingering minerality. It comes from a 10.4 acre vineyard growing in meager rhyolites soil, which imparts minerality. This parcel had supported vines in the 16th century and was more recently planted in 1989-90-91. Harvest is by hand with two passes and the yield is quite low (normally 32 hectoliters per hectare); élevage lasts as long as 16 months in new and older barrels on the lees. Between 400 and 600 cases are made each year.
- L' R osé: This is Richou’s top rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon. Typically made from low yields of 45 hectoliters per hectare, it is weighty, with a terrific balance between sweetness and austerity, spice, and stone. The lot number on the back label is the vintage year.
- Anjou Gamay “Le Champ de la Pierre”: This comes from Les Chateliers, a 9.6 acre parcel of Gamay growing in schists quartz soil. From this parcel comes a base cuvée of Gamay (named after the vineyard), and this top cuvée from a subplot of Gamay growing on high ground. Three-fourths is fermented traditionally, and one-third is fermented whole cluster (carbonic). The year depending, 250 to 400 cases are made—and only in good years is it separated out from the Chateliers cuvée.
- Anjou Rouge “4 Chemins”: Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This is full of fresh rich fruit and makes a terrific bistro wine. It is made in tank primarily from younger vine Cabernet Franc with a dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon. These varieties grow in Aubance schists in two parcels totaling 2.8 hectares, or nearly 7 acres. Ideal yield is around 40 h/ha and rough annual production is 1,250 cases.
- Anjou-Villages Brissac: "Didier Richou," writes Clive Coates, "produces one of the best Anjou-Villages." A blend of roughly equal parts Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, this comes from two parcels in the Brissac Valley totaling just over seven acres (the Franc parcel is a tiny bit larger). The soil is based on gray schists and quartz, and the wine is raised in tank for around eighteen months before bottling. AOC Brissac was codified in 1998.
- Les "D" en Bulles: The D refers to Didier and Damien, and bulles refers to bubbles. This is a méthode ancestrale sparkler, made without any of the three additions of sugar (no chapitalization for fermentation, no sweet yeast starter at bottling, no dosage at disgorgement). The blend is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Chenin and the wine rests eighteen months on its lees. Between 700 and 800 cases are made each year.
- Dom Nature Crémant de Loire Brut: The blend is 90% Chardonnay from their best parcel of this grape and 10% Chenin from the Rogeries vineyard. It is made in older barrel and rests on its lees for three to four years before bottling. This is also a méthode ancestrale wine made without any sugar additions, and without fining or filtration.
- Côteaux de l’Aubance “Les 3 Demoiselles”: Chenin Blanc. Les 3 Demoiselles is only made in years of great botrytis. It is, as Andrew Jefford writes in The New France, “almost always one of the appellation’s best wines.” This wine comes from a 2 acre parcel of Chenin planted in 1924 in the Violettes vineyard, and a smaller parcel (Grand Vau) planted in 1988 that grows on the domaine’s best slopes.