Domaine Richou, Anjou
|Country & Region||France, Loire Valley|
|Producer||Didier & Damien Richou|
La conversion en bio s’est accompagnée d’une progression en qualité, en régularité et en intensité d’expression des vins, qui place désormais le domaine parmi les meilleurs stylistes angevins. (The organic conversion has been accompanied by a rise in quality, regularity and intensity of expression, which now places the domain among the best Angevin stylists.)
—The Best Wines of France 2019, La Revue du Vin
The thing about the Richou wines is their purity and depth of fruit. If length in wine bespeaks elegance, then Richou’s wines come dressed in silk. They’re also beautifully transparent vis-à-vis their terroir: these are wines of Anjou; even more specifically, wines of Anjou’s schist soil.
Domaine Richou is managed by Didier and Damien Richou. The elder brother Didier took over the winemaking in 1979 after doing an internship in America with David Bailly (Bailly was a pioneering cold-climate winemaker in, appropriately, Minnesota). Since then the good-natured, intelligent and hard-working Didier has gained the respect of every critic who has been by to see him. “Didier Richou,” writes Jacqueline Friedrich, “doesn’t know how to make bad wine.” In 1993 Damien–seated left, below–came on board, and today he is responsible for the domain’s 74 acres of vines while Didier handles vinification. The domain has long eschewed chemical fertilizers and since 2000 tended its vineyards with the pragmatic philosophy of viticulture raisonnée (or lutte raisonnée). With the 2013 vintage it converted to organic viticulture, and now it is taking steps with biodynamic viticulture.
Founded in 1920, Domaine Richou is a modest place off a country road deep in the Anjou Noire, so called because of the preponderance of schists in the geological makeup of this section (the strata of schists passes under the Loire, running southeast to geologically connect the Savennières appellation with the Aubance watershed). Anjou is a big region, encompassing limestone chalk vineyards to the east in Saumur, volcanic schists in its center, and granite-based soils to the west near Muscadet. Saumur marks the border of the Paris Basin and its limestone; Anjou Noire, with its schists, is home to a much older geology. You cross an invisible line traveling through the region from white limestone houses to villages made of dark stone sheathed in slate.
It is this slate-like rock that gives AC Anjou wines their distinctive character, particularly in the meandering Aubance Valley and, on the opposite side of the Loire, in Savennières. Vineyards grow all over Anjou, but it’s only in this valley and in Savennières that schists own the ground. This volcanic rock gives Chenin Blanc layered intensity and finesse (Côteaux du Layon, Bonnezeaux, and Quarts de Chaume, by contrast, have a hodgepodge of soils and more clay, and their wines are weightier than their brother Côteaux de l’Aubance). In the same vein, the local Anjou Gamay, Anjou Rouge, and Anjou-Villages Brissac can thank this rock for their darkly colored substance and meaty intensity, qualities which can make their chalk-grown cousins in Saumur, Chinon, and even Bourgueil seem skittish.
|Anjou Blanc "Chauvigné" ||Chenin Blanc||The emphasis here is on freshness and minerality, with bright aromatics, lemon high tones, and richly long, elegant fruit. At around 1,700 cases, Chauvigné is the domain’s largest production. Two-thirds comes from a 7.4 acre vineyard named Violettes growing in volcanic schists soils, planted in 1980 (2.5 acres), then in 1986 (1.2 acres.) and 1998 (3.7 acres); and one third comes from their Rogeries vineyard, growing in a streak of glassy volcanic soil known as rhyolites. Harvest is by hand with two passes through the vines, and the wine is made mostly in tank, with some 20% done in older barrels. Malolactic fermentation rarely takes place because of Chenin’s innate acidity and Richou’s cold cellar.|
|Anjou Blanc "Les Rogeries"||Chenin Blanc||This is a dense, richly plump and honeyed Chenin lifted by driving acidity and minerality. It comes from a 10.4-acre vineyard growing in meager rhyolites soil. Harvest is by hand with two passes and the yield is quite low. The élevage lasts as long as 16 months on the lees in new and old barrels. RS is typically between 2.5 and 3.5 g/l. Production averages 500 cases.|
|Savennières "La Bigottière||Chenin Blanc||La Bigottière is the name of the three-acre parcel Richou farms in Savennières, right behind the Roche aux Moines cru. The soil here is sandy quartz overtop a bed of schist. The brothers acquired the parcel in 2009 and replanted it that year and the next. The wine ferments spontaneously and is raised in a mixture of 350-liter barrels (a small percentage of which is new) and amphora. Malo normally doesn’t take place. Production averages 550 cases.|
|L'R os é||Cabernet Sauvignon.||This is Richou’s top rosé, made with Cabernet Sauvignon with often a dollop of Cabernet Franc. Coming from low yields, it’s a substantial rosé, with spicy intensity and an excellent balance between sweetness and austerity. The lot number on the back label is the vintage year.|
|Anjou Gamay “Les Châteliers”||Gamay||This is a 5.4 acre parcel of Gamay growing in schists-quartz soil. Three-fourths is fermented traditionally, and one-quarter is fermented whole cluster. Yields are low, and production averages 825 cases.|
|Anjou Rouge "4 Chemins" ||Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon||This is full of fresh rich fruit and makes a terrific bistro wine. It is made in tank primarily from younger vine Cabernet Franc with a dollop of Cabernet Sauvignon. These varieties grow in Aubance schists in two parcels totaling 2.8 hectares, or nearly 7 acres. Ideal yield is around 40 h/ha and rough annual production is 1,250 cases.|
|Anjou-Villages Brissac||Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon||"Didier Richou," writes Clive Coates, "produces one of the best Anjou-Villages." A blend of roughly equal parts Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, this comes from two parcels in the Brissac Valley totaling just over seven acres (the Franc parcel is a tiny bit larger). The soil is based on gray schists and quartz, and the wine is raised in tank for around eighteen months before bottling. AOC Brissac was codified in 1998.|
|Les "D" en Bulles||70% Chardonnay, 30% Chenin Blanc||The D stands for Didier and Damien, and the bulles refers to bubbles. This is a métholde ancestrale pétillant made without any of the three additions of sugar (no chaptalization for fermentation, no sweet yeast starter at bottling, and no dosage at disgorgement). The wine rests eighteen months on its lees. Production averages 750 cases.|
|Dom Nature Crémant de Loire Brut||90% Chardonnay, 10% Chenin Blanc||The blend is 90% Chardonnay from their best parcel of this grape and 10% Chenin from the Rogeries vineyard. It is made in older barrel and rests on its lees for three to four years before bottling. This is also a méthode ancestrale wine made without any sugar additions, and without fining or filtration.|
|Côteaux de l’Aubance "Les 3 Demoiselles"||Chenin Blanc||Les 3 Demoiselles is only made in years of great botrytis. It is, as Andrew Jefford writes in The New France, “almost always one of the appellation’s best wines.” Most of this wine comes from a 2-acre parcel planted in 1924. This is one of those rare late harvest Chenins with great complexity and great elegance. If you want to understand why Côteaux de l’Aubance is so prized for the lift and finesse inherent in its late harvest renditions, this would be an excellent education.|