During our Loire valley tastings we try to include as wide a range of wines as possible. No easy task when you consider the huge range of wine styles, soil types and grape varieties. But that’s what makes the Loire such a great place for wine lovers – the diversity of its wines. In need of replenishing our stocks we decided to head west and collect our order from Jérémie Mourat, based in Mareuil-sur-Lay in the heart of Fiefs Vendéens. This appellation, which was granted in 2011 (it was a VDQS region beforehand), is one of the Loire’s lesser known names. All the more interesting for that, it produces a wide range of wine styles from a varied pallet of grape varieties. Whites from Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, rosés from Grolleau Gris and Pinot Noir, reds from Gamay, Pinot Noir and Negrette (Negrette normally hails from much further south near Toulouse). The estate is biggish having 127 hectares (67 of their own vineyards and a further 60 under fermage)
Mourat built a brand new production facility three and a half years ago just outside Marueil-sur-Lay. There’s a contemporary tasting room that’s open all year where you can drop in and taste before buying. Also stocked is a range of top quality wines from other producers around France so if you’re looking to stock up on some interesting bottles this is a good spot. Expect to find Vouvrays from Vincent Careme and Saumur Blanc from Guiberteau, Coteaux du Layon from Eddy Oosterlinck-Bracke and Anjou rouge from Domaine de Rochelles as well as a selection from the Languedoc. It’s possible to have a look around the production facility too but best to call in advance to be sure someone is free to show you around.
Part of the swish new set up includes a stylish area for bigger tastings and groups and underneath is an area dedicated to the vinification of Mourat’s organic wines. Here, nestling quietly in a blackened chai are 11 ‘eggs’. Six 1,600L, four 3,000L and one 600L egg are used for the Clos St André (our favourite white, 90% Chenin Blanc, 10% Sauvignon vinified half in egg and half in big oak casks ‘foudres’) and the Moulin Blanc. These eggs are a little surreal. Made out of concrete and clay they are polished on the outside and rough on the inside. The shape of them means that the wine inside moves in a circular motion keeping the yeasty sediment in suspension. The level inside the egg varies according to external temperature and barometric pressure.
Having retasted a range of wines we spent an hour or so driving around the vineyards to get the lie of the land. Here the soil is volcanic with loads of purple schist, rhyolites and quartz sitting among the topsoil. Our favourite rosé of the morning was one from the Moulin Blanc parcel so we headed off there for a peek and took some photos of the vineyard. Fruit set seemed a little uneven here but the grapes have already reached ‘veraison’ (the point at which black skinned grapes start to change colour). The windmill itself was burnt down during the Vendée wars but has been recently restored and now dominates the Lay and Yon valleys taking advantage of the Atlantic ocean breezes. It’s a 14 hectare parcel that’s mostly planted with old vine Pinot Noir with a little Chenin and Chardonnay. Chemical treatments are avoided here although when we arrived a rather large sprayer was treating for mildew. In viticulture some things can’t be avoided and treating vines with sulphur and copper for powdery and downy mildew is acceptable even under an organic or bio-dynamic regime. Minimum intervention is the key. There’s a whole world of difference between a conventional grower who has a regular spray program whatever the weather and a grower that only sprays when the weather conditions make it unavoidable.
Although only about 2 hours from us in Anjou, the feeling here is more Mediterreanean. Gone is the tuffeau that we see further east. The grass seems drier and more brown. Houses have terra-cotta tiles. It has a different feel about it.
Mourat has another tasting room in Mareuil itself – a compact building just by the bridge that straddles the river just by the family owned Chateau Marie du Fou. An impressive building that dominates the landscape, this chateau gives its name to another range of wines and we stopped to admire it before heading back to Anjou.
We also tasted a new range of Muscadets that has just been launched. Les Bêtes Curieuses is a joint venture pairing Jérémie Huchet, winemaker in Château Thébaud and Muscadet specialist and Jérémie Mourat, specialist in the Vendée. Together they have produced a range of wines from grapes planted in the newly created ‘cru communaux’ of Muscadet. These wines merit a separate post but suffice it to say that they bring a whole new meaning to the word Muscadet. These are serious wines that have had serious ageing.