This article is the first in the series, Loire Valley Wines: Hiding in Plain Sight.
Our first full day in the Loire Valley greeted us with cloudy skies, cool breezes, and a GPS system that successfully found Domaine Michel Brégeon, a modest and unassuming winery located in the Cru Gorges area of Muscadet Sevre et Maine, part of the larger Pays Nantais, a region renown for its shellfish-worthy Muscadet made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. Located near the city of Nantes on the Atlantic coast, the Pays Nantais region is the largest white wine appellation in France and benefits from a moderate maritime climate with just enough rainfall to encourage grapes to thrive.
Upon our arrival, my husband and I were greeted by chickens in a coop and a garden of wildflowers close to the winery’s entrance. No fanfare at this portal…and I loved it!
Lailler arrived with a sincere greeting and an invitation to walk across the street to view 1.5 hectares of Melon de Bourgogne vines grown on gabbro soil (a blue-gree volcanic rock rarely found in vineyards). In all, over 8.5 hectares are located in the communes of Gorges (village label) on gabbro soils and Maisdon-sur-Sevre (Clisson village label) on granite soils; the average age of 80% of the vines is 65 years old. With Fred Lailler at the helm, grapes are hand-harvested, fermented using natural yeasts, and aged on the lees in underground, glass lined cuves before bottling…just the way he likes it. Domaine Michel Brégeon produces only 20-30K bottles per year with half of its production exported.
Vineyard strategies include lutte raisonnée, meaning“reasoned fight” (in French) or “supervised control” (in English). In general, this is a reaction “to the use of such chemicals, regarded as a pragmatic approach to farming, where chemical treatments are used only when absolutely necessary. Biodiversity in the vineyards is encouraged through the planting of cover crops, rigorous plowing of the soils, and the use of manures and natural composts to fertilize the vines.”
After our walk through the vineyard, Fred led us into the modest winery and through a warren of small rooms. The first housed a wine press from 1976, another was over the underground, glass-lined cuves (Fred explained that these tanks are only found in Muscadet), and the last was the small tasting room, a portion of which was constructed in the 15th century. There, Fred opened a few wines for tasting and what became a useful tool for both of us: the French-English wine dictionary, Lexiwine.
Produced at Domaine Michel Brégeon is wine from the Melon de Bourgogne variety, found in the Loire-Atlantique region under the labels Muscadet, Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine, Muscadet-Côtes-de-Grandlieu and Muscadet-Coteaux-de-la-Loire. Also cultivated at the Domaine is Folle Blanche, a white variety known for its fragrance and delicate profile, and Egiodola, a red grape offering plenty of color and generous tannins.
Muscadet wines, all of which were aged on the lees, expressed a range of fresh, floral and fruit notes on the nose. High acidity, of course, was present on the palate, as well as a round, flavorful, mineral-driven profile boasting complexity and breadth that can be attributed to the gabbro and granite soils. Fred Lailler shared that a large number of wine retailers bow to consumer perception that Muscadet should be opened young, but in his opinion “Muscadet should age”. Some of my favorites included Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2013, Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Reserve 2011 (aged for 40 months on the lees), and Muscadet Sevre et Maine “Gorges” 2013 (aged for 28 months on lies before bottling with the intention to be kept up to 20 years). We purchased two bottles of the “Gorges”, one to enjoy that night and the other to open upon our return home, but we’ll most likely open the bottle before 20 years has passed…
What I find compelling, is that the soils, grabbro and granite, boasting different mineral compositions and exposure to the sun, added richness, complexity, and structure to the wines, especially those of Melon de Bourgogne, often dismissed as a variety not worth a second glance (or sip) .
A delicious sparkling wine, Gai Perlé, was produced of Folle Blanche using the méthode traditionelle, the same technique used in Champagne. Honestly, I could almost taste the vibrant bubbles in the glass! A final surprise was the Cavodix, a rosé from the Egiodola grape. Only 400 hectares of this grape are found worldwide; Fred planted 500 vines at Domaine Michel Brégeon”just for fun”!
Unpretentious? Of course. In every way, our visit to Domaine Michel Brégeon with Fred Lailler was relaxed, informative, and replete with exceptional wines exuding a profile that excited the senses. It was an honor to visit a small, authentic winery that produces such incredible wines. With only half of its small production exported, the wines may be a challenge to locate, but promise to try.
And if you can, save Fred Lailler’s Muscadet for 20 years – you’ll be amazed at how unpretentious and authentic a wine from Domaine Michel Brégeon can be.