Marc Plouzeau: A Chinon Treasure, Waiting To Be Discovered By America
I have a vivid memory of walking with Jean-Luc Le Dû through the aisles of our store as he selected the wine he was going to bring to a dinner that evening. We strolled around the store discussing wines that we had recently brought in, he would periodically point out producers that he thought I should become more familiar with, or wines that he thought had been made particularly well in the given vintage. We walked past bottles with big price tags, notable prestige, and an underground cool factor, but he continued walking past each of these, evidently looking for something else to bring to a party of his close friends.
Finally, we stopped in front of our Loire Valley section. The Loire Valley held a special place in Jean-Luc’s heart, as it was the region that was closest to his home region of Brittany. While he had maybe spent more time overall in places like Burgundy or Bordeaux, it was in the Loire where he most often got to explore wine with his family and loved ones. Many of his most treasured memories probably involved wines from this place. He pointed to a bottle of Marc Plouzeau Chinon and said “You know, I think this man will be the next Clos Rougeard.” Without another word, he grabbed a bottle, shoved it in his bag and walked straight out of the store. Surely I thought, as he strolled away from me humming some Stone Roses riff, people would have noticed by now if the wine was that good.
To give you some context as to the profundity of this statement, Clos Rougeard is undoubtedly the most prestigious, sought after, and expensive wine produced in all of the Loire Valley. Sommeliers, according to Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal, approach bottles of Clos Rougeard “on bended knees.” It was not always this way for Clos Rougeard, however, Jean-Luc later explained to me. During his days at Daniel and the first few years of the wine store, the Clos Rougeard would languish untouched, unwanted. It was not so long ago, he explained, that Clos Rougeard was readily available and ignored across the city, its greatness unrecognized. In part because he loved the wine so much, and in part because he might have seen our philistinic neglect of such a sacred wine as an insult to french taste (the wines have always been worshipped on the other side of the Atlantic), he started just keeping it all for himself. And so it is maybe a little easier to see how he could so casually proclaim the next Clos Rougeard, as he remembers when it was just like the Plouzeau, another wine sitting on the shelf waiting to be discovered.
The Plouzeau family have been making wine in Chinon since 1846 when they purchased Château de la Bonnelière, a much older estate that sits on the north side of La Vienne, a tributary of the Loire River that runs through the heart of Chinon. The Plouzeaus’ winemaking has remained classically driven throughout the winemaking fashions of the ages, avoiding the overextracted and oaked wines of the Parker era while remaining steadfast against some of the more extreme tendencies of the “natural” wine movement that has taken such a strong hold in the Loire Valley especially. They focus on farming the best possible fruit using organic methods and then preserving the integrity of that fruit and essense of the terroir in the winery.
Plouzeau makes small quantities of a wide variety of wines (12 different wines out of just 19 hectares of vineyards), but their most profound come from two tiny vineyards of Cabernet Franc planted on clay and flint soils that are slightly removed from the central estate in Touraine. The first, Parcelle YB38, is a vineyard of just .3 hectares of 90 year old vines. The second, Clos de Maulevrier, is also just .3 hectares in size, but is populated with a small plot of ancient, 200 year old vines that survived the scourge of phylloxera and remain on their own rootstock. Both of these wines are made in minute quantities, and both are outstanding, perhaps even profound, expressions of their land and culture.
Parcelle YB38 makes the more “typical” Cabernet Franc of Plouzeau’s two old vine vineyards, with bunches of dark fruit, flinty earth, and spicy pepper that place it comfortably within the genre. But there is an intensity to this wine, a density of aroma that propels away from the quotidian towards the exceptional. That density of fruit and earth is balanced beautifully with a generous acidity, lifting the wine and ensuring that it is a marvel that can be comfortably consumed, rather than become overwhelming and cloying after a few sips. The value that this wine provides, however, might be it’s most exceptional attribute. What could be better than finding such a cherishable wine at such an everyday price point.
As vines get older, the character of the wine they produce starts to change. Within the normal range of old vines, let’s say 70-100 years, the wines tend to become more mineral focused, inflected by the earth that raised their vines to maturity. When vines get enormously old however, such as the 200 year old vines that populate Clos de Maulevrier, that mineral character becomes so expressive so as to fundamentally change the character of the wine (at least I would assume that to be the case more generally, I cannot pretend to have much experience with vines quite that old outside of this very wine). Whereas Cabernet Franc typically plays off of organic earthiness, dark fruits, and funky pepper, all recognizably speaking for themselves, in this wine those notes of typicity seem to melt into themselves, becoming an echo of a whisper of an old story that lingers ceaselessly on the palate after each sip. That is not to say that this is a subtle wine, just that its intensity instead takes on the characteristics of what I can only assume are the vineyard: wet flint rocks on a cool fall morning, overgrown wild grasses and flowers, sweet tobacco from a vineyard worker’s hand rolled cigarettes, freshly picked blackberries, some of which have just broken their skin. The structure of this wine, with soft but generous tannins and bright acidity, hints at a long life ahead.