Claude Papin is a natural teacher whose academic and practical knowledge of terroir is unrivaled in the Anjou of the Loire Valley. Since taking over his family’s estate in 1990, he has become an ardent defender of region’s terroir and one of the most highly respected producers in three of Chenin’s greatest appellations: Quarts de Chaumes, Savennières and the Coteaux du Layon. As the President of the Quarts de Chaumes Syndicat and the head of the Centre Technique Interprofessionnel de la Vigne et du Vin, he has been a powerful advocate and the leading force behind the INAO’s decision to bestow the Quarts de Chaume with grand cru status and the Coteaux du Layon with premier cru status in 2011.
Claude, his wife Joëlle, and their two sons, René and Christophe, farm 54 hectares of vines located on the steep, south- and southwest-facing slopes of the Layon River and the gentle slopes of Savennières. With morning mists, plenty of sun and a perpetual breeze along the sleepy Layon, conditions are ideal for the development of botrytis, the noble rot that turns Chenin Blanc into liquid gold. While they use many organic and biodynamic practices in their vineyards, they would more likely describe their vineyard practices as lutte-raisonnée, believing that some vine treatments, when used in moderation, can be extremely helpful in staving off vine disease and mildew. Growing under such conditions can be a tricky balance, and the Papins are careful to pick the grapes when they reach optimal maturity. At this point, it becomes a wait-and-see game for botrytis to begin forming: they believe that if the process is too prolonged, the sugar levels begin to mask the nuances of terroir in the wines. That is why Claude and his son Christophe make regular passes through the vineyards over two months, so that they pick the grapes at just the right moment. Their soils are composed of schist, quartz and spilite—an oceanic basalt.
The white grapes are pressed gently and then fermented in stainless steel tanks and oak vats, with nothing but their wild yeasts and absolutely no chaptalization. In recent years, Claude and René have been experimenting with longer élévages in both oak and stainless steel. They bottle the Coteaux de Layons by single vineyard to express the unique character of each studied terroir. The Savennières from the Clos du Coulaine property shows razor-sharp precision and classic Chenin flavors of quince, wet stone and pear. The Papins also bottle two Anjou rouges made from Cabernet Franc, Gamay and Cabernet Sauvignon that display wonderful depth and structure.