Capping off a day that started with a visit with Philippe Poniatowski at the Clos Baudoin, proceeded to the Montlouis estate of François Chidaine and continued with a stop at the Chidaine family’s wine shop, my group of weary travelers and I came full circle. With François and his cousin Nicolas Martin, we headed back across the river, back to Poniatowski’s property, to taste Chidaine's 2003 Vouvrays from barrel.
François had been hired by Poniatowski, as of the 2002 vintage, under a five year contract to handle both the farming and wine making practices at the estate. It had turned out to be a great decision as, after only two vintages, Chidaine, with the help of Nicolas, was already clearly bringing the wines to a new level of style, cleanliness, vibrancy and expression.
During those five years, François and Poniatowski would take a 50/50 share of the wines, each with the right to market them under their own respective marques but according to Chidaine’s newly implemented array of cuvée names. Chidaine’s contract included an option to buy the estate at the end of his five-year term. However, there was nothing to preclude Poniatowski, who was clearly in some measure of economic distress after weathering a difficult stretch of poor management in his vineyards and cellar, from entertaining other buyers in the interim. Chidaine’s no-nonsense stoicism and ambition combined with the Prince’s pride and urgency had made for an awkward marriage of businesses and personalities.
During our morning visit, Poniatowski had taken us for a walk through the Clos Baudoin vineyard and a tour of his bottle caves before settling down to the tasting table in the parlor of his old estate home. We’d passed the “winery” part of the cave with barely a glance. Little discussion of winemaking practices occurred. And our tentative questions about his partnership with Chidaine were essentially shrugged off or circumvented.
Later that day, Chidaine too was reticent to discuss any aspect of his relationship with Poniatowski (who did not join us for the tasting). Otherwise though, it would turn out to be a very different experience from our morning visit in the same space. François made it clear that his reasons for interloping in Vouvray – he is the first native Montlouis producer to also make estate bottled wines on the other side of the river – were motivated not solely by commercial desires but also by his farming and wine making passions. He does believe that the Clos Baudoin is indeed a very special terroir. He also confirmed our impressions that the Clos had been allowed to fall into a rather sad state after several years of less than fastidious farming. Already in the process of converting the vineyards to biodynamic principles, he felt strongly that the soil and vines would slowly but surely begin to return to their full potential.
With François, we skipped the estate’s bottle caves and headed straight into the barrel room where we proceeded, much as we had at his estate in Montlouis, with a discussion of the notoriously hot and dry growing conditions during 2003. Chidaine’s second vintage in Vouvray had been challenging. Yields at the estate were approximately 30% lower than normal, averaging 23 hectoliters per hectare as compared to 30 in 2002. On the upside though, yields were not nearly as drastically reduced as in Montlouis, where early-season frost had been a problem. As at his own Domaine in Montlouis, François elected to vinify every plot separately, so as to assess each lot’s special characteristics before blending into the final cuvée, a particularly prudent practice in a difficult year.
As we’d experienced earlier, tasting from barrel with François is a practice in precision, bordering on the clinical. My notes are regrettably sparse as a result.
- 2003 Haut Lieu
Harvested at 13.8% potential alcohol and still fermenting, this barrel was destined to become part of “Les Argiles.”
- 2003 Chatrie and Cabane
Chatrie and Cabane are both lieu-dits located on the plateau above the Clos Baudoin. Also destined for “Les Argiles,” these plots would often have been added to the “Clos de l’Avenir” cuvée in the Poniatowski years. Lively, redolent of peach nectar.
- 2003 Chatrie (Lot 2)
Drier, more mineral and higher acid than the Chatrie/Cabane blended barrel. Also destined for “Les Argiles” and likely to be finished with four to five grams of residual sugar.
- 2003 Plante Clos Baudoin
From two-thirds old vines (45 years) and one-third young vines (20 years), François’ estimation is that this is destined to be a good but not great wine, most likely to be almost completely dry when finished.
- 2003 Clos Baudoin Vieilles Vignes
From old vines only, this was still fermenting but already finer and more concentrated than the mixed-age barrel.
- 2003 Pichot
This was targeted for “Le Bouchet.” This normally demi-sec cuvée would most likely be fully moelleux in 2003 as evidenced by this plot, harvested at 16.5% potential and finished to 40-45 grams RS.
- 2003 Le Bouchet
From 70-80 year old vines in the lieu-dit of Le Bouchet itself, located across the road and down the hill from the estate. Richer and more complex than the Pichot, this showed fresh herbs, flowers and intense physiological concentration.
- 2003 L’Homme and Chatrie Vieilles Vignes
Also for “Le Bouchet.” Muscular and surprisingly well balanced.
- 2003 Tri du 13 Octobre
A late harvest for the hot season of 2003, this barrel would become part of the year’s Vouvray Moelleux. Low acid and intensely concentrated.
In 2007, his five-year contract finished and several business hurdles overcome, François finalized the purchase of Poniatowski’s property. Chidaine’s 2005 Vouvrays, now on the market, show intense concentration and potential longevity. As in Montlouis, his wines must already be considered among the top tier.