François Chidaine is one of the Loire Valley’s great success stories. After finishing viticultural school in the mid-1980s, François went to work alongside his father, Yves, who had only four hectares of rented vineyard land in the appellation of Montlouis, in the Touraine. When Yves retired in 1989, he passed the torch to François. Early on, François developed clever contracts with the owners of the vineyards he worked, allowing him an option to buy should the property ever come up for sale. In 1999, his wife, Manuéla, joined him and set up La Cave Insolite, a tasting room and wine shop. Soon after, he started experimenting with organic and biodynamic farming, and by 2003, he was certified in both methods of farming. When in 2002, he and his cousin Nicolas Martin bought Vouvray’s prestigious Clos Baudoin, and in 2006 he bought several of the parcels he had been renting, this small artisan farmer became one of the Loire Valley’s most serious players.
The majority of François’ terroirs are situated in Montlouis, with more in neighboring Vouvray, and additional land in the Touraine appellation, totaling more than 30 hectares. Before Montlouis had earned its own AOC in the 1950s, it was considered the lesser part of Vouvray due to the higher quantities of gravel and sand in the soil. In truth, there is a striking minerality derived from the flinty soils of Montlouis that has since given the appellation its own reputation for excellence. While François is a darling of the organic and biodynamic movements, he is by no means interested in indicating as much on the labels. Instead, he focuses on keeping his 40- to 80-year-old vines healthy and yields low, averaging 35 hl/ha. He follows the almanac developed by biodynamic legend, Maria Thun, which looks at both the solar and lunar calendars to establish the best timing for specific vine treatments. He and his team harvest the entire crop by hand.
The grapes are pressed gently and are vinified on wild yeasts in both barrels and demi-muids. François seeks slow alcoholic fermentations that last all winter long, and avoids malolactic fermentations when possible. The cold limestone cellars allow the wines to develop more layers of complexity, which are simply unattainable when the process is rushed. Slow cuvaisons produce an antioxidant blanket of carbon dioxide, which allows the winemaker to put off adding sulfur to the wine, thereby lowering the total amount needed. Many of the wines age for 12 months on their lees before bottling. The sparkling Montlouis Brut also goes through alcoholic fermentation in demi-muids over five to six months, after which it is bottled and aged on its lees for 12 months to produce a delicious Chenin Blanc likely to impress devoted Champagne drinkers. In addition to their Montlouis and Vouvrays, the Chidaines also produce some stunning red and white wines from their Touraine vineyards just outside the Montlouis AOC. With such special care given to every step of the process, it’s no wonder that they sell out their stock within just a few months of bottling. We are lucky to receive these wines, as they remain some of the best values on the market today.
For more information, please see: www.francois-chidaine.com