Deep under the streets of the Loire Valley town of Saumur, miles and miles of caves wind their way through the soft limestone that was used to build so many Loire châteaux. Carved centuries ago, many were dug with prison labor (often by men caught for smuggling salt) under the direction of the king of France. There are so many “streets” underground that they outnumber the actual streets in this beautiful town. This extensive network of caves has been used throughout the centuries as places to live, hide, store food and age wine. In this regard they are similar to the caves found under the city of Reims in Champagne, even more so today, as both are now filled with bottles of sparkling wine.
One of the last remaining family-owned sparkling wine houses in Saumur, Louis de Grenelle, owns about 2 kilometers of these caves. All of the sparkling wine produced by the property is stored in these cool caverns, many of which were used during World War II by the French resistance. If you are lucky, you will one day get to sit in the king’s chair in the secret cave at the end of one of these caverns. If you speak the correct words, and drink the correct amount of sparkling Saumur in the allotted time, you might find yourself inducted into a secret society. Only if you’re lucky.
The grapes used to produce the sparkling Saumur and Crémant at Grenelle are grown on the hillsides surrounding the town and in the small hamlets just outside of Saumur. At the heart of the vineyards, from where they source their grapes, is La Durandière, a 40 hectare estate Françoise Flao owns with her brother Antoine Bodet. Growing their own grapes gives Françoise and Antoine unique insight into the varieties or the region, the terroir, and the importance of sustainable and organic farming. They use this knowledge to ensure that the grapes they purchase from their neighbors are a good as the grapes they grow themselves. For their wide range of sparkling wines they rely on three primary varieties: Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.
They consider Chenin Blanc the “great grape variety” of their region. Flexible in terms of winemaking styles and adaptable to a wide range of terroirs, it can make riveting dry wines, vivacious demi-secs, opulent late-harvest wines as well as age-worthy bubbles. It provides structure, freshness and fruit to the wines of Louis de Grenelle. Chardonnay, while grown throughout the Loire Valley, is viewed as somewhat of an interloper, but it takes to the soils around Saumur providing minerality and finesse to the sparkling wines. Lastly is Cabernet Franc, a variety responsible for the finest Loire valley reds of Saumur-Champigny, Bourgueil and Chinon. It is used at Louis de Grenelle to make a remarkably savory and supple sparkling rosé.
The winemaking as Louis de Grenelle is quite minimalist, the fruit is pressed and flows by gravity into underground tanks at the winery. All of the wines are made in the Champagne method and are aged for their allotted time in the cellars beneath the streets of Saumur. They are bottled with little dosage to preserve the freshness of the Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc Chardonnay varieties.
Louis de Grenelle is offered through Verity exclusively in Pennsylvania.