- Initially the domaine was to be called Bel Argus it will now be just one word – Belargus
Last Thursday (3rd January) we had a very useful and interesting journey and visit to meet Ivan Massonnat at the winery of Pithon-Paillé in Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay. During last year Ivan bought Jo Pithon’s vineyards, Pascal Laffourcade’s ten hectares of Quarts de Chaume and nearly three hectares in Savennières – creating his new Domaine Bel Argus, which I think is an exciting project for both Anjou and for Loire Chenin Blanc, the new domaine’s sole focus.
We met Ivan and his new winemaker 24-year-old Adrien Moreau. Ivan explained how the new venture had come about.
« It had been intended that Jules, Jo Pithon’s son and his partner Tania, would take over Pithon-Paillé. However, Jules and Tania separated and Jules decided against taking over. Jo and Isabelle, Jo’s wife, decided to sell as they were ready to retire. Because of the frosts 2016 and 2017 had been difficult for Jo. »
For a number of years Ivan has had a house in Champigny-sur-Veude to the south of Chinon. « For a long time I have been looking to buy a domaine in Anjou. I am particularly interested in single varietal wines and am a lover of those from Burgundy and have a passion for Chenin Blanc. I have often spoken with Patrick Baudouin. Last February I was with Patrick at the Salon des Vins de Loire. He told me that Jo Pithon’s estate was up for sale. I had never heard of Jo. »
Patrick took Ivan to meet Jo at the Salon and early next day he was with Jo visiting the steeply sloping Clos des Treilles. There were a few others interested in acquiring Jo’s domaine but Ivan soon emerged as the front-runner and the deal was completed on 6th June. Ivan explained that the Clos is not in the best state with some vines missing. The financial restraints imposed by the two successive years of frost would have made it difficult to do all the necessary replacements.
Generous 2018 crop @l’Echarderie
At the same time Ivan bought Pascal Laffourcade’s ten hectares in the Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru. These ten hectares are in one sole block around Pascal’s Château de l’Echarderie. This represents a quarter of the appellation. I mentioned that I had been been walking in the Quarts de Chaume in October last year and had noted that the vines around l’Echarderie were carrying a considerable crop. « We made mostly dry wines from these grapes, » said Ivan.
More recently Ivan has bought nearly three hectares in Savennières adjacent to the Roche aux Moines. This brings his new domaine up to 26 hectares.
Ivan encouraged Adrien, the young wine-maker, to introduce himself. « I joined in October for the end of the harvest. » Adrien said. « I come from the Beauce and my parents are cereal farmers. I studied wine-making at Paris and Montpellier along with spells at Cheval Blanc, Haut-Brion and Harlan Estate in the Napa Valley. In April 2018 I joined Roederer in Champagne and was there for the harvest, which was exceptional. I was very interested by the Roederer’s vine collection and especially the work on Pinot Noir sélection massale, »
« What I like about Adrien, » added Ivan, « is that he is more than a technician. Adrien is passionate about wine, a good taster and very keen to learn. »
« 2019 will be a year of reflection, » explained Ivan. « This is a collective adventure – it is not about my ego. Anjou is not well known. Wine amateurs are becoming aware that Anjou has some grand terroirs. » Ivan is keen that the general wine drinking public discover Anjou’s potential. The current winery in Saint-Lambert will be considerably improved. It hasn’t been decided whether to demolish the old building and start again. Possibly they may decide to build a new winery elsewhere.
Other details of Domaine Belargus were covered in an earlier post here.
After introducing the project we went down into the cellar to taste the 2018 Chenins from barrel. Covering dry wines from Savennières, Les Bonnes Blanches (Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay), dry Chenin made in the Quarts de Chaume and Les Treilles. We finished with the sweet wines – delicacy and finesse from Belargus, Les Treilles (tiny production), 1er Cru Chaume Coteaux du Layon, and two parcels in the Quarts de Chaume – Les Rovers et Les Quarts with the latter currently more expressive. Ambroisie (35.5˚ potential) from Quarts de Chaume set us up for our return to the Cher Valley. These wines are all still babies but 2018 looks very promising, very precise and well balanced.
Jo Pithon joined us part of the way through the tasting. He looked very relaxed – retirement is clearly suiting him! It was also apparent that he and Ivan have a mutual respect.
Ivan and Jo
Suffice to say that I was very impressed by Ivan and his Chenin Blanc project. Ivan stressed that this is very much a nine-strong team of mixed ages from Adrien in his early twenties to Jo at retirement and Guy Bossard, as the consultant for helping the entire domaine to become biodynamic. Interesting and encouraging that Ivan has persuaded Guy to take Bel Argus on as his only consultancy, choosing someone who knows the Loire intimately and not plumping for a ‘stellar’ consultant from Bordeaux or elsewhere and who already advises a large clutch of domaines.
After the harvest all of the team piled into mini-bus and headed to Côte Rotie where they visited a number of vignerons that Jo knows well. In addition to this team building Ivan stressed that they all meet regularly and that everyone is kept informed about what is happening in all aspects of the domaine.
Jo’s last business partner – Philip Fournier (Now Domaine FL) turned out to be a distressing disaster. I hope and think it very likely that that this new project will work much better and Jo will see his work, particularly on the Clos des Treilles, carried on and taken to the next level.
I asked Jo how this new partnership compared to his previous business arrangement. Diametrically different was the response……
Ivan, Jo and Adrien