Few domaines in the Loire Valley are as legendary as Clos Rougeard, led by brothers Charly and Nadi Foucault. These no-nonsense, straight-talkers are now in their sixties but took over the domaine from their father in 1969. They are the eighth generation to farm these 10 hectares in Chacé, within the appellation of Saumur-Champigny. Once a sleepy AOC, in recent years it has become an incubator for younger vignerons eager to bring the terroir back to life through organic farming and natural winemaking practices—all heavily influenced by the Foucaults. In the short film La Révolution du Clos Rougeard by Laurent Maillefer, Nadi modestly claims, “The only thing that’s revolutionary [about us] is that we’ve never changed.” And as some in the wine community slowly return to ancestral practices, the Foucaults have remained exactly the same, treating their four superb bottlings, “Clos Rougeard,” “Les Poyeux,” “Le Bourg,” and “Brézé” with an almost Burgundian intensity and approach as they have done for generations. “Clos Rougeard” is their domaine bottling, a blend of several emblematic terroirs. “Les Poyeux” and “Le Bourg” are two lieux-dits, and their Saumur blanc hails from the village of Brézé. While nine of their ten hectares are planted to Cabernet Franc and only one to Chenin Blanc, they are considered masters of both varietals.
In the 1960s and 1970s, as the rest of their peers gravitated to synthetic chemicals to treat their vines, the Foucaults were mocked as “utopians” for farming naturally. They still consult the journals of their grandfather and great-grandfather for advice. They plow between vineyard rows regularly, a challenge in their shallow, rocky soils. Applying only biodynamic remedies, they perform a green harvest and achieve very-low yields—sometimes as low as 25 hl/ha in their 80-year-old Le Bourg vineyard. The grapes are harvested by hand, sorted and entirely de-stemmed.
Their rustic cellars are a labyrinth of tunnels cut into the tuffeau below their home and house a fantastic collection of old vintages—many of which are well over half a century old and still drinking marvelously well. Most importantly, the cellars offer a steady temperature control which facilitates the long élévages. The reds ferment on their native yeasts in open-topped cement vats for anywhere between four to six weeks. The must goes through daily punch-downs (sometimes by foot) and pump-overs to achieve optimal extraction of color, tannin and aromas. Malolactic fermentation occurs in barrels. The wines are aged from 18-24 months in oak, bottled unfined and unfiltered and rest for yet another year in bottle before their release. The Foucaults never bottle their vin de presse, but sell it off instead, which gives these wines a Burgundian texture and aromatic profile, even in a leaner vintage, without any astringency that you would normally get from Cabernet Franc from the Loire. While intense and unabashedly tannic in their youth, the structure of the wines at Clos Rougeard allows them to go the distance, which Nadi and Charly enthusiastically cellar for future generations to enjoy.