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Clos Rougeard, the refound nobility of Saumur-Champigny

Clos Rougeard, the refound nobility of Saumur-Champigny

Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2010-02-09

The Foucault brothers, eighth generation winegrowers, have made their estate a symbol of the great red wines of the Loire, with the best vintages capable of rivalling the greatest crus classés of Bordeaux.

All wine buffs are familiar with Clos Rougeard. This article is, therefore, aimed not at them but at those victims of fashionable prejudices who will still regard the wines of the Loire as “second class”, no matter what people say…
 
Let’s begin with an anecdote. In 1993, a big blind wine tasting of 1990 Pomerols was organised in Paris, bringing together the biggest names of the appellation such as Château Pétrus, Le Pin, La Conseillante and Trotanoy. The mischievous organisers came up with the idea of including an intruder (another 1990 vintage): the Le Bourg cuvée from the Clos Rougeard estate, Saumur-Champigny appellation, 100% Cabernet Franc grape variety. And which came first, to the amazement of all the wine tasters? You’ll never guess! Since then, Clos Rougeard has been one of those “secret” wines that connoisseurs snap up, occasionally succumbing to a real speculative frenzy (Le Bourg 1990 now fetches over €600 a bottle in salerooms).
 
And so you will find all the nobility of the Loire, the cradle of French viticulture, in the Foucault family’s discreet estate in the village of Chacé, between Tours and Angers. Moustachioed and stocky like Napoleonic grenadiers, Nady and Charlie are the eighth generation of winegrowers. Their oldest parcel of land, Les Poyeux, has been cultivated since 1664 and produces very fine wines that occasionally veer towards the specific raspberry and cherry aromas of the Pinot Noir grape variety and are comparable with the finest Chambolle Musignys.
 
The great strength of this vineyard, covering barely 10 hectares, is that it has never followed fashion. “In the 1960s,” explains Nady Foucault, “when our father saw weed killers and pesticides turning up, he immediately understood the danger they posed to health and soil life. In the early 1970s, organic farming wasn’t recognised by the ministry and most winegrowers thought we were mad. Today it’s the opposite! When you ask them, all winegrowers champion organic farming, and even biodynamics, because it’s all the rage. We refuse to be pigeonholed. We’ve been working in the same way for centuries! We don’t want to take advantage of this organic craze; our priority is for wine lovers to acknowledge that our wines are good. That’s all.”
 
So, with clayey limestone soils untouched by the slightest drop of weed killer or chemical fertiliser, the Clos Rougeard wines express a rare minerality and complexity that give the somewhat overused concept of “terroir” – or sense of place – all its meaning.
 
Yields here have always been below 40 hl/ha which is around 6 bunches of grapes per vine. Let’s just remind you that the yields authorised by the INAO (French National Institute of Appellations) since 1972 are 72 hl/ha in Saumur and Saumur-Champigny! This is how the red wines of the Loire have made a reputation for themselves as light, fluid, diluted little wines that are best drunk chilled…
 
The other distinctive feature of Clos Rougeard is to have perpetuated the tradition of “lieux-dits”, or “climats” as they say in Burgundy. Each of these micro-terroirs produces a unique and particular wine which is matured separately. The estate’s most well-known wine, Le Bourg, comes from two little half-hectare parcels at the heart of the village of Chacé. The 70-year-old vines stand just above mediaeval caves hollowed out of the tufa. It’s a great wine for keeping: colourful, bright and intense, it can keep for a century (the oldest vintages date back to 1900 and are still delicious).
 
To reach their full potential, the wines must not only be made from perfect grapes but also left to mature for a long time in a cellar. The Foucault brothers’ cellar is a labyrinth hollowed out of the rock, lined with age-old yeasts and somewhat reminiscent of the legendary Tokay cellars in Hungary. At a constant temperature of 10 or 12° C, the wines develop very slowly here, which is why they take so long to mature (over two years).
 
Like their ancestors, Nady and Charlie use casks from the Loire that have been air-dried for at least three years, never a stainless steel vat!* A new cask enables an exchange of air with the wine through the wood and also offers soluble tannins. “The aim is to achieve fine, concentrated wines. And since we are lazy, we interfere as little as possible during vinification.”
 
Because that’s what Clos Rougeard is all about: letting the terroir speak and allowing the wine to take its own direction, with a little guidance from time to time but no tricks to dress it up.
 
* The first stainless steel vintage appeared in France at Château Latour in the Médoc in1964. Until then, the red wines of the Loire were matured in barrels.
 
Clos Rougeard
15, rue de l’Église
49 400 Chacé (the estate is 5 km south of Saumur, on the D205)
Tel: +33 (0)2 41 52 92 65
The great vintages cost between €35 and €45 a bottle at all good wine merchants.

The Foucault brothers, eighth generation winegrowers, have made their estate a symbol of the great red wines of the Loire, with the best vintages capable of rivalling the greatest crus classés of Bordeaux.

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