Return to the Vineyard: Vineyard Tour with Marie Thibault, Azay-le-Rideau, 2020

The door of the cellar of the old vintages … tucked away in the tuffeau caves. 

November 2020

Our visit to Marie Thibault happens at a more peaceful moment in the winemaker’s calendar: the fermentations in tanks are finished, and those fermentations in barrels are quietly gurgling away.

This 2020 vintage will have been one of surveillance: first, with early mornings in April to watch over the vines, armed with candles in the vineyards to protect the vines from frost, and then again of surveillance for these same young vines during the summer heat wave.

All this necessary extra attention paid off – 2020 had a beautiful harvest with a rather expressive vintage.

In this report you will read about:

  • New Vines for the Domaine
  • How to Adapt to Climate Change
  • And in the Cellar?
  • Range of Wines Available
  • New Cuvées Coming Soon

The inhabited vineyards

During the Autumn, Marie’s vines are inhabited by sheep. A flock of 21 ewes and its 4-paw guardian quietly graze on the grass. Every 10 days, the electric fence enclosure is moved to a new hectare.  

Thus, in a month and a half, the 5 hectares will have been “mowed” and the soil naturally enriched.

This is the 4th year that Marie puts sheep in her vines and she is very happy with the result: organic matter and micro-organisms are brought in simultaneously and the vines are more and more beautiful year after year in spring and summer.

New (old) vines for the Estate

In 2019, Marie recovered 1 ha of old Gamay vines – 55 years old – adjacent to her plots. Expecting a low production of these old “untrained” vines, she knew that it would be with time and soil work that she could obtain a good result within 2 to 3 years.

For 2020, she received a nice surprise with a very good qualitative and quantitative production this year. 

The only hitch: the difficulty in harvesting the vines, which are very low and not trellised. With the back bent down, the vine shoots had to be lifted to pick all the grapes, making this one of the parcels that took the longest time to harvest.

The next work will involve trellising these vines so that the shoots can be lifted.

**New Parcel Alert** Untrained Old Vine Gamay that Marie has taken over

The massal selections of Chenin planted in 2019 continue to grow very well.

To test, Marie left 1/3 of the vines ungrafted, and 2/3 grafted. She is very sensitive to leaving as few pruning wounds as possible on her plants and wanted to be able to compare the result of production of her grafted and ungrafted new plantings – while remaining aware of the risk linked to phylloxera, which is always active.

In the video below, she explains her pruning tasks for next Spring to “form” the vine stock. In order to minimize pruning wounds, it is the vine shoot from the lowest part of the vine that will be kept. It is also the one that is the most aligned, in which the sap will circulate well from the roots without detour inside the vine.

Marie giving pruning lessons.  She will delay this as late as possible in the Spring, 2021, in an effort to avoid any potential frost damage.

How to Adapt to a Changing Climate

1) Frosts at the start of the season – the new normal

Marie’s vineyard is an early bloomer, and the risk of frost is a sensitive and real issue. Spring frosts have been frequent on the last vintages and she has had to adapt to these climatic changes.

First of all, the young vines. Here Spring frosts are even more risky for two main reasons :
– they always burst earlier being more vigorous in their youth.
– the plants are still short in height, and therefore low, and close to cold soil.

This year the bud-break was particularly early because of the lack of winter, so Marie installed candles and heated the vines during the most critical nights. 

For the old vines, on the other hand, Marie adopted a different strategy. She does not start pruning until April 1st. On her 5 hectares of vines, she needs an efficient team to prune quickly. But the idea is to do it as late as possible and to prune in about ten days. 
She also observes that the vine regulates itself, as if it was also postponing its budburst.

2) Looking to the Past to adapt to the Global Warming future

Recent years have seen an increase in sugar concentrations and decreases in acidity in the grapes. 
To obtain a good wine that will evolve well over time, balance is needed. Acidity is the backbone of white wines in particular, but also red wines.

Marie Thibault and Franz Saumon – her companion, who is also a winemaker in Montlouis – are interested in the old local grape varieties that have been abandoned for years, especially those that used to produce grapes that were too acidic or not rich enough in sugar.

This is the case of the Pineau, a white grape variety native to the Loire and Cher, rustic and well adapted to the climate of the Loire. It corresponds a little to its indigenous counterpart the Grolleau, yet in the “white” version it produces wines with low degrees of alcohol, chiselled. It is rarely found as a solo-cuvée, and often blended.

Franz has replanted a small quantity of it for the moment to test it. The first vinifications in bubbles (and in blending) give a lively, fresh, taut wine that is very pleasant.

And in the Cellar…?

Two Happy Winemakers: Marie Thibault & her partner Frantz Saumon

Since she moved to Vallères, Marie has had three magnificent tuffeau cellars to work in. 
This place has THE ideal conditions of temperature and hygrometry for the maturing of wines in barrels, concrete vats or jars.

Marie also works with Franz Saumon, her companion, and part of her vines are vinified in the range “Un Saumon dans la Loire”. 

Range of Wines Available

la roue qui tourne 2019

The bubbles of Chenin 2019 knows how to make you wait, but we can never say it enough, the terroir of Marie Thibault is favourable for ageing wines. Even the bubbles have everything to gain from a longer maturation – 1 year here for this natural sparkling Pet Nat wine.

A vinous cuvée for this sparkler which shows fresh notes of lemon, pear and acacia. 

The 2019 vintage was very sunny, resulting in slightly higher alcohols than in 2018. The musts were well balanced and the fermentations went well – regular.
It is a very nice vintage that combines maturity and a nice acidity that we didn’t have in 2018.

le grolleau 2019 – 100% Grolleau

Vinified in whole harvests, and macerated for 10 days. The wine is then pressed and the fermentation continues in tanks. The wine is bottled the following March.

A fruity wine, we see that 2019 was very sunny here, it’s ripe! On the nose, we find redcurrant, blackcurrant. The tannins remain fine thanks to this short vinification approach.
A perfect wine to accompany the charcuterie of Touraine or elsewhere.

Les grandes vignes 2018 – 100% Gamay

The Gamay remains under maceration (presence of the cap) during 8 months. The devatting takes place a little before bottling, where the wine is drained from the tank, between the cap and above the lees.  The cap is not pressed.
A wine still a little discreet on the aromas but we find notes of rhubarb, red fruits, the tannins are very fine, well integrated to the wine.

Cuvées Coming Soon 

premier nez 2019

The blend was made in August 2020. One part has been aged in barrels and the other in jars (we can’t talk about amphora here because the vats are made of sandstone, and not terra cotta).
The vintage is very intense, we find on the nose notes of pineapple and exotic fruits. On the palate we find these aromas again, and a salty hint which balances the freshness.
Beautiful length – excellent!

le zézé 2020

In 2020, le zézé makes its return!
To avoid risks of rot, the early harvest has oriented the vinification of Grolleau into rosé due to the higher acidity and lower maturity.  The 100% grolleau was direct pressed for this vintage.
The wine has a beautiful raspberry color, is still in vat and not yet very expressive on the aromas. We can detect some raspberry and wild strawberry, the mouth is tense and refreshing.
Great potential!

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