Domaine Henry Natter, Sancerre (Montigny)
|Country & Region||France, Loire Valley|
|Producer||Henry, Cécile, Mathilde & Vincent Natter|
Henry and enologist Cécile Natter started Domaine Henry Natter in 1974 from scratch, beginning with a family hectare in Montigny. They married, planted half of that hectare on a hillside running up behind the village, and started a family. This was in Sancerre’s southwestern heights, an area widely planted to vines before phylloxera. Afterward, apart from a few scattered vineyards, the viticultural reconstruction generally passed these hillsides by and the area became a breadbasket for the local grain farmers. The Natter family domain was the first on this side of the modern appellation of Sancerre and remains the only winemaking domain in Montigny, a terroir noted for its preponderance of terres blanches, or Kimmeridgian Marls. (Kimmeridgian makes an arc from the northern hilltops curving around to the western edge of the appellation; caillottes, or Oxfordian limestone, is found in the center of the appellation; and flint or silex is found along the fault line running north-south through the town of Sancerre itself.) This soil gives great power to the wines, and a remarkable ability to age without oxidation. Stored properly, a top twenty-year-old Natter Sancerre retains astonishing freshness while evolving down to its elemental, mineral base. Almost no one thinks of old Sancerre, which is a shame because the good ones can amaze.
Today, Henry and Cécile farm 23 hectares (57 acres) of vines. The breakdown is 19 hectares (47 acres) of Sauvignon and 4 hectares (10 acres) of Pinot Noir for red and rosé. From the beginning in 1974, farming and winemaking practices here have been noteworthy. Organic composts and homeopathic applications have always been used in place of chemical fertilizers (the right is reserved to use synthetic fungicides in particularly difficult years—above all, for example, during a wet year after hail damage when rot could ravage an entire crop). Fermentations are routinely made in huge old wood casks (foudres) normally with indigenous yeasts, which stands in contrast to the far more typical production of Sancerre in steel or fiberglass tanks with commercial yeasts. Sancerre, chez Natter, is made the way it used to be made.
Henry manages the vineyards while Cécile manages the fermentations and the upbringing of the wines. These days they’re helped by daughter Mathilde. A Hmong is also full-time in their employ. He is the nephew of a married couple who had been relocated from Laos to a Hmong refugee camp near Bourges in the 1980s. This couple originally came to the domain as vineyard workers, and they stayed on for nearly a decade before their nephew assumed their responsibilities. Many more Hmong come to help during the harvest.
|Sancerre blanc||Sauvignon Blanc||This is the domain’s horse, a wine that never fails to make the cut for Bettane & Desseauve’s annual Guide des Vins, France’s most serious guide. The Guide notes the "perfect maturity" the Natters obtain from their grapes, and that maturity, coupled with native yeast fermentation in foudre, accounts for the intense aromas and rich texture of the wine. It spends a minimum of six months aging in the big casks. Production averages 8,500 cases.|
|Sancerre Cuvée François de la Grange||Sauvignon Blanc||This is both a vineyard selection and a cellar selection. The base for this wine always comes from an old vine parcel of 50+ years, and a culling of foudres takes place in the cellar. The wine that is bottled under this label undergoes a nine to twelve-month élevage entirely in the big casks. Production averages 1,650 cases.
As for the name, according to Cécile Natter: "At first, François de la Grange (1554-1617), Baron of Montigny, was in the personal service of the King Henri III. He then became governor of Berry, Blois, and Gien, Knight of the Order of the Holy Spirit, and Marshal of France in 1595. His influence was of great importance in the development of the village of Montigny. It is therefore in homage to this powerful historical figure that we dedicate this cuvée; it, too, possesses a certain power and a large personality."
|Sancerre rosé||Pinot Noir||About half of this wine undergoes élevage for three months in foudre before bottling. Cécile did part of her winemaking training at Domaine Ott in Provence, and she knows how to make rosé! This is one of the best of the appellation.|
|Sancerre rouge||Pinot Noir||The alcoholic fermentation is made in tank, then the wine is racked into barrels (mostly older wood) for aging. This is the only wine to undergo malolactic fermentation at the domain.|