This is just the sort of initiative that the beleaguered Muscadet region needs: a hand-crafted, hand-sold, small-lot, high-fashion item. It's the work of Christelle Guibert who works for Decanter magazine in London and her sister Corinne, both from the Vendée just south of the Muscadet region.
Based on vines planted way back in 1954 on gneiss (a new entry in the new Oxford Companion to Wine that should be up on this site any minute now), the wine was made in a concrete egg (another new entry). In fact, let's face it, Christelle made this wine last year as a promotional tool for our new book.
Or perhaps not. She was inspired to make it by seeing so many derelict vineyards in the Muscadet region at the same time as an increasing number of wine producers keen to express terroir in their wines. Christelle has teamed up with Vincent Caillé of Domaine Fay d'Homme in Monnières and treks back there regularly from London to check on her concrete egg-shaped tank full of wine.
The grapes for this 2014, a particularly good Muscadet vintage in the end thanks to a fine end of season, were grown biodynamically and picked on 18 September with the unusually low (for Muscadet) yield of 35 hl/ha. Ambient yeast transformed them into a particularly expressive wine of 12% alcohol that was aged on the lees with minimal sulphur before a light filtration and bottling last June. Just 1,899 bottles and 172 magnums were produced (which explains its limited distribution, I'm afraid) and they are labelled smartly in an ultra-modern idiom and finished with a rather annoying wax seal.
With its label declaring it as Vin Artisanal, it bears remarkably little relationship to common or garden Muscadet. I tasted it once at home and then again at last weekend's Wine Car Boot where it managed to impress me again, despite the cool conditions. It manages to be intense and vital in the way of so many biodynamic wines, with strong, ripe apple fruit as well as density, a truly satisfying texture and a hint of this season's most fashionable ingredient, salinity. But the long finish is satisfyingly dry and I'd be happy to recommend it for drinking over the next year or even two. Although £20 is a lot to pay for any old Muscadet, it seems a fair price for this particular wine. You can also read Julia's tasting note from bottle and Richard's tasting note from a pre-bottling magnum brought over to London last May.
Christelle is not the first person to label a Muscadet by soil type of course. See this 2008 wine of the week . But this particular wine signals a more profitable way forward for growers of Muscadet's better vines. We don't want them all to pull them out, do we?
She says, 'I'm delighted with the first vintage and the response from trade and consumers has been overwhelming. When I started this venture with Vincent Caillé, one of my goals was to show people that you can produce a serious Muscadet with attention to detail and time in the vineyard. Whilst the majority of growers in the region are still driven by low prices and high volume, there is a clutch of quality-conscious producers making outstanding wines of real character and I really believe that the future of terroir-driven Muscadet is bright. How many white wines are bone dry, with alcohol levels rarely above 12% and have fresh, pristine acidity and great ageing potential? Perhaps only one, Muscadet.'
There are plans for exports to other countries but for the moment it's available only in France and the UK where the importer is Carte Blanche Wines. So far it's available at Butlers Wine Cellar of Brighton, Caviste, Handford, Mission Wines of Cornwall, Philglas & Swiggot of London, Salut Wines of Manchester and Winemakers Club in London.
As an extension of her Vine Revival project, Christelle is hoping to revive more vines on other soils in the Muscadet region.