In 2009 you could probably have become a world expert on the wines of Châteaumeillant by spending a single day there. Today it will take a little longer before such a claim can be made as there are now 25 producers up from just the four or five in 2010.
Châteaumeillant, on the northern edge of the Massif Central, is very close to being plumb in middle of France. It is only 35 kilometres by road from Bruère-Allichamps, which claims the title of being the village that lies in centre of France.
Although there are 550 hectares classified as Châteaumeillant, there are only 86 hectares prestently in production with 3164 hectolitres made in 2013. At the end of the Second Empire (1870), however, there were 1200 hectares here before the region’s vines were badly hit by phylloxéra at the end of the 19th Century.
In 1965 Châteaumeillant became a VDQS and was promoted in 2010 to appellation contrôlée status when the VDQS designation was phased out. The only permitted grape varieties are Gamay and Pinot Noir along with Pinot Gris for rosés in the style of a vin gris. Due to the stupidities of the INAO the use of Pinot Noir is limited to 40% of the blend. In contrast pure Gamay is permitted. 98% of the production is sold in France with Belgium, Germany and Japan the principal destinations for the 2% exported.
Last week’s Salon des Vins de Loire was an excellent opportunity to catch up on recent developments in Châteaumeillant. I had been aware for a good couple of years that several Quincy producers now had vines in Châteaumeillant including Domaine Vincent Siret-Courtaud, who I think was the first to tell me of this interesting development. Vincent acquired three hectares of vines in Châteaumeillant in 2010 in addition to his 10 in Quincy.
Being able to make red and rosé wine is the obvious attraction for Quincy producers where Sauvignon Blanc is the only permitted variety. A good number of Quincy producers, like Jean Tatin and Chantal Wilk as well as Jacques Rouze, have vines in Reuilly but Châteaumeillant gives them another option.
As well as Vincent other Quincy producers with vines in Châteaumeillant include Domaine Jacques Rouze with 1.70 ha with 2012 as their initial vintage and Domaine Lecomte (Nicolas Lecomte) with three hectares and Domaine Roux (Albin Roux) with 3.3 ha.
One good innovation at this year’s Salon was to group a number of young producers together – several Châteaumeillant producers featured here. As well as Nicolas Lecomte, Vincent Siret-Courtaud and Albin Roux, there were two who are based solely in Châteaumeillant: Claire Goyer (Domaine Goyer) and Angelique Gabrielle.
Claire and Samuel, her husband, started their small domaine in 2013, so 2015 is their third vintage. Beginning with 1.3 hectares they have recently added a further hectare.
Angelique only started in June 2014 and has 4.44 hectares – 1.74 of Pinot Noir, 2.00 Gamay and 0.70 of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Her parents are vignerons between Chablis and Auxerre.
In contrast to those above, who all have quite small holdings, Domaine Nairaud is easily the largest concern with 20 hectares of vines and with its associated company Biturges Vins occupies the building where the former Cave Cooperative was based.
I was impressed by the general standard of these generally easy drinking wines, which should appeal to #winelovers who are now looking for lighter, less heavy reds. I am planning to visit Châteaumeillant soon, probably in June, and will then report back in more detail.
Fabrice Deterne, Domaine Nairaud