Meet the Winemaker: Marie Thibault, Azay le Rideau, Loire

Hello Marie, where are you from? From the Loire.

What do you enjoy in life? I like the living world around me. I like to eat Mathieu and Mathilde’s vegetables, Nanou’s cheeses, the pork pâtés raised by Nanou and Adrien. I like to drink the good wines of my friends.

And what don’t you enjoy? I don’t like bullshit of any kind.

MARIE, HER WINES, HER WORK

Why did you move to Azay le Rideau?
For the Chenin, which is planted here on a cooler soil than the schist of Anjou.  The Angevin limestone in the Saumur region was financially inaccessible and outside the family… 
And then, I love Touraine. I find the Loire river there, that I can see whenever I want, just a few kilometres from home.  I feel like I’m on holiday when I see it flowing. 

When did you decide to settle on your own estate? 
In 2003 but it’s an idea I had in mind for a long time.  It took me 7 years to dare to realize this dream. 

Why do you make natural wines? 
It’s part of my daily logic: “as few inputs as possible, especially E- something (artificial food colouring, chemical preservatives, additives, etc.)!”  

Which vintage did you like to vinify and why? 
The 2012 for both white and red wines; it is without a single doubt, the best vintage I have vinified so far and which is tasting marvellously at the moment.  I wish 2019 would be as good in 8 years! 

HER VINES, HER DOMAINE

Your vineyard is planted with Chenin, Gamay and Grolleau, can you tell us more?
I have an early vineyard, exposed to the South, which is not easy with the current climatic evolutions because it buds early and can be subject to late frosts. So I prune as late as possible to slow down the vine’s budburst. It is a poor, very siliceous terroir, the soils are acidic and all the wines produced are wines for laying down which open up and become more complex with time.

I have always had a lot of pleasure working the Chenin vineyards. I came across them when I was a child because we lived south of Angers in the heart of the Chenin vineyards. I used to spend my time, as a child, in the surrounding vineyards. I have 1.70 ha of old vines and I recently replanted 0.5 ha. All the vines are adjoining except for 0.30 ha of Chenins planted on more clayey soils. It produces different, more robust wines. 

I discovered Gamay on the estate because there was Gamay when I took over the former owner’s vines, and recently I took over 1 new ha which I have to work on because the vines were in poor condition. It’s not a very demanding grape variety with a thin skin, so I manually destemmed it with a basket to keep the integrity of the berries. It is early, low in tannins and very fruity. However, on my estate, on these poor and acid flinty clay soils, the Gamay grapes also give wines that can be kept for a long time. A little like the Granit in the Beaujolais Crus. Today the 2012 is fantastic to drink!

The estate also has Grolleau, a grape variety originally from Saint Marc la Pile, 5 km from my home. It is a rustic grape variety that adapts well to different terroirs including poorer, siliceous soils like here. The Grolleau gives wines with notes of wild red fruits, more reductive notes. I vinify it whole cluster, over a very short maceration period – 10 days – then the maturing period in tanks is also short since the setting is done in spring. The idea is to preserve the fruit and the result is that this wine is indeed fruity but it also has depth and complexity. I don’t make “thirst-quenching” wines, I don’t have the terroir for that.

Does the climate complicate organic growing methods?
The evolution of the climate is upsetting all organic and non-organic growing methods! We have to adapt as best we can very quickly and permanently: to each season and to each vintage. This is true for the vine but also for all other crops…

What are your current and future projects?
Transhumance (sheep in the vines eating winter’s crop covers)! And the new gamay plot!
I would like to buy a wooden truncated cone maceration tank for the cellar and a wind turbine to protect the vineyard in case of frost … I have to win the lottery for that ! In the meantime, I’m getting ready to spend a few difficult nights as frosts are announced for this weekend. So I’ll be in the vineyard from 3 o’clock in the morning. 

What are your current and future projects?
Transhumance (sheep in the vines eating winter’s crop covers)! And the new gamay plot!
I would like to buy a wooden truncated cone maceration tank for the cellar and a wind turbine to protect the vineyard in case of frost … I have to win the lottery for that ! In the meantime, I’m getting ready to spend a few difficult nights as frosts are announced for this weekend. So I’ll be in the vineyard from 3 o’clock in the morning. 

HER WINES TODAY, AND TOMORROW

For a few years now, you have been vinifying your Red Wines by practising very long macerations (upto 7-8 months) after fermentation. How and when did you come up with this idea?
I first did it on Sauvignon Blanc in 2011 and 2012 so I asked myself the question “why not do it on Gamay as well?”. The grapes are hand-destemmed with a basket on arrival at the winery. I keep them under the skin cap, and on lees, for 9 months.  Then I gently rack the wine off in the summer when I have time again for the cellar!  I don’t want to touch it the first winter to avoid handling the wine during the cold. Then comes Spring, a season when I have too much work in the vines and everywhere. With this logic, it leads me to rack in the summer. There is no pressing, I put the free-run wine in a concrete maturing vat until the following winter when it is robust enough to withstand bottling despite the cold.

Where did you get the idea to make pétillants naturels sparkling wines? 
I like to drink them, when they are well made. The bubbles are finer and more elegant in its youth than traditional method sparkling. These wines need less aging to be ready to drink. It’s possible to make pet-nat with longer ageing, but that changes their aromas, they become more vinous and less fruity.

What do you expect from a wine?
That it is good when I drink it; a well made wine is good right away even if it will be even better several years later!

Which regional dishes do you recommend with your wines?
Any assorted pork pâtés, sausages or cured pork charcuterie (Cochonnaille) from Nanou and Adrien Baloche, the farm in Plateau à Rigny Ussé.

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