Clos des Quarterons, the home of Domaine Amirault, lies on a road running parallel to the Loire in St Nicholas de Bourgueil, which used to be known as “Suisse-Océan”, underlining its position on a major east-west trading route. Wines have been produced here for at least 200 years, predominantly Chenin Blanc in the early days, later Cabernet Franc.
Digging inspection trenches to investigate the varying soils of vineyards has become almost commonplace in Chile, but this is the first time I have come across such an enthusiastic bit of trench digging in a French vineyard. Xavier Amirault is an organic and biodynamic grower who clearly understands the importance of what lies beneath and is keen to share his passion – you could even describe him as evangelical.
His 36 hectares of vineyard are spread across 33 different plots, so soils vary considerably, even in this relatively small appellation in the heart of the Loire valley. There can be up to 12 distinct layers below the soil that we can see on the surface. The appellation’s vines cover land that was once Loire riverbed (and long before that, seabed), resulting in veins of sand, gravel, limestone and finally clay and flint.
The luxuriantly coiffed Xavier Amirault showed us round some of his vineyards and then took us into one of their cellars, an old limestone quarry initially used to provide building materials for the village of St Nicholas. Now it houses Domaine Amirault’s wines, some in stainless steel tank which lie on their sides to maximise lees contact and which require no temperature control, as the cellar remains at a constant 13° C. There are also 500l barrels which are covered in a healthy crop of fluffy mould which thrives in the humid conditions.
There is no hint of mould in Xavier’s wines, though, which include a zero dosage Crémant de Loire, a barrel fermented Anjou Blanc (made just outside the St Nicholas de Bourgueil appellation) and a range of reds. His Les Quarterons Rouge, which accounts for 30-40% of production is from a variety of plots on the different soil types, designed to reflect the conditions of the vintage. His other red cuvées are from specific plots, plus a selection that goes to make Clos des Quarterons Vieilles Vignes.
I found Clos des Quarterons to be elegant, linear wines which reflect the appellation’s reputation for making rather lighter, perhaps more perfumed red wines than its near neighbour, Bourgueil.
A selection of Domaine Amirault’s wines are imported into the UK by Ellis of Richmond and The Vintner.