The Domaine Girard is run by parents, Fernand and Monique, and son, Alain. They come from several generations of winemakers in the tiny village of Chaudoux, located a few miles northwest of the town of Sancerre and directly north of the famous town of Chavignol.
They tend 12 hectares of vines in total, sell some cuvées to négociants and bottle only a portion of their production under their own name. Their La Garenne cuvée comes from a 2.5-hectare vineyard of that name, a plot on a steep east-facing slope with a very rocky limestone soil. The chalky soil brings out the characteristic flinty, mineral and green notes of Sauvignon Blanc. On La Garenne’s well-drained, warm slopes, the grapes achieve exceptional ripeness and fruit.
Compared to those in other viticultural regions in France, most of Sancerre’s vignerons have stricter than usual standards of cellar tidiness and hygiene. It might be the influence of the local goat cheese making, which was traditionally done on a very small, artisanal scale, by people who knew the importance of a pristine environment.
The Girards have an impeccable cuverie and vinify with modern technology: a pneumatic press, stainless-steel vats, a temperature control system during fermentation, and an air-conditioned space for aging in vats and stocking bottles. They counterbalance technology by practicing old-fashioned vineyard work, where herbicides and treatments are used sparingly, and by never adding commercial yeasts to induce fermentation or add flavors.
Their Sancerre is everything one hopes for when thinking about Sancerre: it is bright, lively, pleasantly aromatic, has zippy acidity but low astringency. It is a wonderful food wine that is as versatile as it is easy to drink.
This visit with Alain Girard took place in January, 2015.
Words by Jules Dressner, photos by Noah Oldham, David Sink, Patrick Capiello and Hadley Foss.
Someway somehow, I'd never visited Alain and Fernand Girard. I'm not really sure why; we've been working with them so long that they definitely fall into the "We are going to drag 5 year old Jules and 3 year old Alyce all around France and bore them to death by visiting vignerons for two weeks straight." era of Louis/Dressner Selections. You see, there was a time when Joe and Denyse would spend their entire summers in France visiting growers. And because we were too young to stay at the house by ourselves, that meant we were obligatorily included in these insanely boring road trips. Plus French TV in the summer only played reruns of MacGyver and Knight Rider (aka K-2000)!
So yeah, I wasn't the biggest fan of summer vacation growing up...
But I'm not here to bore you with the past. I'm here to write about WINE STUFF.
Before heading to the vines, Alain Girard gave us a quick introduction to the estate. He took over from his father Fernand about 20 years ago, and is the fifth generation working his land. Here's a great picture from that era:
14 hectares of vines are spread over five communes with three distinct terroirs: gravely soils, flint and heavy clay.
We began the visit checking out the flint soils of Saint-Satur:
This next picture isn't really necessary, but I like how it highlights my R698 EVO's:
Louis/Dressner Selections: We Wear Nice Sneakers™
Alain explained that these soils have much later maturities than the others, bringing roundness and tension to the final blend.
Next up, the caillottes, or gravely soils:
The caillottes were formed millions of years ago when the land the vines grow on was an ocean. This terroir brings fruit to the blend.
Last but not least, we visited the beautiful coteaux of Verdigny to check the grosses terres, or heavy clay:
Back in the nineties, the village of Verdigny decided to completely redo this hillside in order to make larger, more regular plots with better drainage. This was done to avoid flooding of the town on the bottom of the hillside (which you can spot in the pics). Prior to this change, many owners had micro-parcels all over the hillsides like in Burgundy. But in order to make this restructuring work, vignerons had to exchange parcels so that their land was more coherent.
After a lovely tour of the vineyards, we got to check out the cellar. As it is so happened, a shipment was on its way to our NY/NJ/PA distributor David Bowler wines!
We began by tasting from many pre-blended 2014 tanks. Alain co-vinifies parcels with similar characteristics in stainless steel vats:
That's right: Alain owns a parcel called "piss pot".
2014 was a tough year due to a very rainy summer. Fortunately, an Indian summer in the fall saved the crop, and the wines have proven very satisfactory.
While tasting these distinct, unblended terroirs, I asked Alain's father Fernand if he'd ever considered making single vineyard or terroir driven cuvées.
- Why not?
- The blend is nice.
-But you never felt some parcels could make a great single vineyard wine?
- I like the blend.
- Have you ever been to the US?
- Have you ever wanted to visit?
Fernand Girard: a man of conviction. A man of few words.
We also got to do a fun flight of Sancerre from the last decade:
As well as this special treat:
Before leaving, we had to pet Alain's girlfriend's dog Gypsy.
A.O.C Sancerre "La Garenne" White
Soil: mix of stony and calcareous soils, clay, limestone and silica.
Grape: Sauvignon Blanc
Vinification: Pneumatic press,then fermented and aged in thermo-regulated stainless steel vats.