Charlie’s Road Trip to the Loire - 1/3
Posted on May 06 2021
After a restful night in central Nantes, we are ready to hit the road early. Our designated driver is at the wheel of the minivan, and is on the street waiting for us as we emerge from our first continental breakfast of the trip.
First stop is Muscadet. We cross over the Loire via the Pont Georges Clemenceau and jump on to the D58 heading South East, following the River Sèvre. We’re taking the scenic route to visit one of the most charismatic winemakers in the Muscadet region, Jo Landron.
Our journey sees us crossing the pretty river Sèvre twice along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of the pretty town of Chaussée des Moines to your left as we cross over back to the north bank of the river. We’re almost there, and only on the road for 20 minutes!
Cut a left by an old rusty corrugated shed, and there it is, right ahead, with a pristine welcome hut just beyond, a little out of place surrounded by the old farm buildings.
We’ve arrived at the Domaine! Just 25 minutes from our starting point in the centre of Nantes.
It’s time to take our liquid brunch with Jo, who greets us himself, beaming smile beneath his iconic greying handlebar moustache. He sits us down, and entices us to taste through his Muscadets. The perfect wine to wet the appetite before lunch.
He talks us through the history of the Domaine, which dates back to 1945 when Jo’s uncle and father bought three hectares of land in Muscadet and planted the vineyards.
Jo joined his father in 1979, and together purchased more land. Then, in 1988 they started to export their wines to the UK.
They started on the path to organic viticulture in 1999 and achieved certification in 2002. Then began Jo’s exploration with biodynamic farming, achieving certification with Biodyvin and Demeter in 2011.
Jo is a devoted farmer, and has dedicated the last 40 years to recognising the different terroirs, and has vinified each vineyard plot separately, focussed on extracting the characteristics of each plot.
He talks us through the differences of style his wines express because of this, and it truly is remarkable how different they are from each other.
A restrained, delicate floral aroma leads on to a mineral-driven palate with flinty, stony flavours, and a very floral nuance adding an intriguing complexity. It shows good substance, and there is some grip and structure to it as well. It is well composed, with a zesty, integrated acid backbone, and a nice finish that brings out the more toasty notes from time maturing with the lees (sediment left over from the fermentation).
After a happy hour hanging out with Jo, we head on our way to the next stop. Domaine de la Pépière. The journey sees us crossing back over the river Sèvre, and heading due south along the D70, through the village of La Métairie, surrounded by vineyards which sprawl ahead of us as we cut due west on the D174.
Eventually we arrive at the photogenic river Maine, surrounded by woodland and green fields. We follow it south until we arrive at our destination. A mere 15 minutes from Jo Landron’s estate.
The estate is a stone’s throw from the river Maine, on its East bank, putting us in between the Sèvre and the Maine, which converge to the north before joining the Loire.
Marc is there to greet us, red cheeks, big beard and hearty belly, eyes wrinkled with delight.
“You look thirsty, you’ve come to the right place!” are his words of greeting, which is followed by a below of laughter.
A bit weird, we think, until we learn that the name of the estate ‘Pépière’ takes its name from ‘Pépie’ which is an old French term for ‘thirst’.
The man is the definition of a bon vivant, and we find he has already poured us a generous helping of his first wine.
The estate was established in the mid-80s, and has a philosophy very much aligned with Jo Landron’s. Focussed on low intervention in the winery, expressing different terroirs and biodynamic practices.
Made from vines over 60 years old, from a hillside plot of just 3 hectares. This has a sharper nose by comparison to the Clos la Carizière, with green apple, citrus, and crunchy pears. Underneath this though, there’s a lightly creamy, honeyed, brioche character. The palate shows a good concentration, with a salty twang that runs throughout, melding with citrus at first, which gives way to a riper pear fruit flavour. The finish shows glorious toasty, creamy notes. It is bone dry, with a clean acidity that drives through the salty, citrussy flavours beautifully, and leads in to the wonderful long, savoury finish.
A great follow on from the more delicate floral example from Jo Landron.
Marc from Domaine de la Pépière
By now, we’ve worked up an appetite and are ready to find some hearty French fare. Marc points us a few doors down to Restaurant Maisdon La Table. We take full advantage of their seafood offering, ordering fishy starters with more fish for main. Taking on board more Muscadet to accompany.
Muscadet’s fresh, saliva-inducing acidity, and the combination of salty, toasty, citrussy flavours work so well with fish, especially oysters (also a Nantais delicacy)!
Filled up on fish and drowsy from wine, we set off on the long journey east to Saumur. We had no time for dessert, but the van is well provisioned! As a sweet little snifter for the journey, we crack open a bottle of Demi-Sec Vouvray, and whack on some music.
With rock music blaring from the stereo and an energising glass of Demi-Sec, the post-food coma is quickly left behind, along with Muscadet.
This is a delicious off-dry style of Chenin Blanc with aromas of just-picked walnuts, a hint of lime and a sappy melon skin note. The palate is honeyed with cooked apple and agave. The sweetness is perfectly integrated and balanced, resulting in a refreshing wine with good length. The perfect digestif.
We are soon back on the outskirts of Nantes, and zooming east along the Loire river’s North bank on the A11.
We arrive in Angers at 5 PM, just in time to look around the famous castle in the heart of the city.
This austere-looking fortress was built in the 13th Century by King Louis IX. It is a dramatic contrast to the tranquil grounds inside the castle walls and the pleasant gothic-era buildings constructed to house the Dukes of Anjou. At the same time, terraces and gardens were laid out, galleries built and the gateway erected to create a more welcoming atmosphere for the Anjou court. Tucked inside is the incredible Tapestry of the Apocalypse, woven in 1375. It is an astonishing 104 metres in length! That makes it the world’s largest medieval tapestry.
Angers Castle, the Apocalypse tapestry © Philippe Berthé / CMN
We get carried away with the time, absorbing the castle’s strange atmosphere and staring in awe at the apocalypse before us. It is suddenly five past seven, and we’re late for our restaurant reservation. Thankfully, it is a short five-minute walk away, and we hasten out of the castle for the restaurant, stomachs grumbling in anticipation.
Our destination is Rōnin. This is a restaurant that focusses purely on organic vegetarian foods, sourced locally, and following the seasons. Boy do they know how to cook it! Even the hearty carnivores amongst us were impressed, and fully stuffed after the eighth course was polished off.
The Wine Highlight? Naturally, we started with a sparkling wine – La Dilettante, by a producer we will be visiting along the way – Catherine et Pierre Breton. A delicious, crisp, pithy, apply, mouth- watering sparkling Vouvray which went down so easily, we had to order another! After a day of crisp whites though, we were all excited to get on to something red.
Loire Valley Cabernet Franc is one of the ultimate food wines, its fresh acidity and wonderful structure, along with delicate yet concentrated red fruit and herbaceous undertones complement almost anything you put in front of it to perfection. The veggie food was no exception to this, going with both the more vegetal, spicy, and smoky dishes wonderfully, eating up anything fibrous with its own tannins and lip-smacking acidity.
Our server knows the Domaine well, and fills us in with some history regarding the producer.
It turns out that the estate dates back to the early 1600s, and has been in the family the whole time! They focus solely on Cabernet Franc, and are based in Bourgueil, a mere 80 KM east on the Loire’s North bank. They follow a philosophy rooted in the vineyard, and practice biodynamics. They have several cuvees of Cabernet Franc, their Diptyque being the ‘vin de soif’ of the range.
Sadly, we learn of the passing of Stéphanie Caslot, the family winemaker only a couple of months ago. She was a driving force for progress on the estate, and had recently overseen the planting of some Chenin Blanc vines with her brother.
We toast to the great vigneron’s life, and the incredible, world class Cabernets Francs she left behind for us to continue to savour and enjoy for years to come.
From left to right, Emmanuel and the late Stéphanie and Pierre Caslot (2012)
After having spent a happy three hours munching, drinking and chatting, we roll out of the restaurant and waddle over to our hotel to catch a good night’s sleep before our early start tomorrow, which will see us venturing deeper in to the Loire, and trying a diverse array of different wines including sweet wines, dry whites and reds. We will learn of the sheer diversity of styles Chenin blanc is capable of producing, and discover more of the purity and delight Cabernet Franc can inspire.
To be continued…