A French winemaker known as the “professor” has created impressive wines in a lesser-known area of the Loire. For publication in the week starting Monday 4 April 2016.
Frédéric Brochet has been passionate about wine for as long as he can remember. He produced his first wine aged 11 with two small tanks and three oak barrels.
In 1995, at the age of 23 and during the first year of his PhD studies in winemaking and vine-growing, he created Domaine Ampelidae at the family’s estate. He describes it as “the perfect association between my rural roots and my scientific pursuit of knowledge”. The estate’s name comes from the Greek “ampelos” meaning vine.
Frédéric flirted for a while with the idea of becoming an academic based on his range of qualifications, publications and scholarships – he completed his doctorate – but realised his heart was among the vines.
His passion for wine started early: “As a child, I remember family meals and perfumes. As a teenager, I discovered the magic of science and the wide range of [scientific] knowledge,” he writes on his web site. From the age of 14 Frédéric started keeping a cellar book of his family’s homemade wines and spent his weekends and school holidays tending vines in the little-known area of Marigny-Brizay in the Loire.
Frédéric describes his centre of gravity as the “terroir of Marigny”. The village of Marigny-Brizay has nine castles, built during the period of expansion of the wine business in the Middle Ages, more than 1,000 years ago. Ampelidae currently works with five domaines in the area, the eldest among them Manoir de Lavauguyot, one of several estates built in the fourteenth century on the route of the Pilgrims Way to Saint-Jacques de Compostelle.
The cellar contains a huge cave carved by monks from the nearby Notre Dame de Poitiers cathedral. It is believed to have been a place of worship for more than 1,000 years. During the 19th century Rodolphe Salis, the founder of the famous Parisian cabaret le Chat-Noir, spent much time there. After Salis’s death in 1897 his heirs called the wines of the estate Vins du Chat Noir and kept the label, one of the best known in France.
Ampelidae has a range of vineyards surrounding the Manoir of Lavauguyot and the Château des Roches in Marigny-Brizay. Wines come from about 115 hectares of vines. Many of the vineyards are organic.“All the different kinds of terroir are as much an expression of the grape varieties which make our range of wines so rich and diversified,” Frédéric writes on the estate’s web site. “Thanks to the geological structure of the vineyards we can work with various grape varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris, Pinot Noir as well as the two Cabernets.”
Ampelidae has five tiers of wines. Top of the range are the Grand Vins: single varieties of Sauvignon Blanc (Le S), Chardonnay (Le C), Cabernet Franc (Le K) and Pinot Noir (PN 1328). The current release is the 2014 vintage. The Chardonnay was recently voted the best chardonnay in France outside of Burgundy.
Frédéric associates herbs and animals with each wine. Thus the Sauvignon Blanc connects with the lemon essence of citronelle and the feline smoothness of the cat; the Chardonnay with banana sage and the bee; Cabernet Franc with violets and the stone curlew, and Pinot Noir with strawberries and the lark.
Frédéric says PN 1328 is “getting better every year”. It is a beautifully subtle and smooth wine that exudes sophistication and has a majestic length. The name comes from a combination of the initials of the variety and the number of the parcel of vines inherited by the family in 1809, though the current wine is made from vines planted in 1981.
By contrast the 2014 Le K is robust with masses of black fruit like blackcurrant, plums and a touch of coffee. It would be ideal with big meat dishes. It is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine spends between 12 and 18 months in new oak, depending on the vintage, and is the most powerful wine from the domaine.
The second tier are called Brochet and contain the winemaker’s signature as their label, a stylised B. These are excellent wines. Two of the wines, from Chenin Blanc, are made in another area of the Loire that specialises in the slightly sweeter style of this wine. The 2014 Brochet Quart de Chaume is luscious and golden in the glass and would match strong blue cheeses well.
The Marigny-Neuf range, available for 8 Euro at the cellar, represent exceptional value for money. The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc is one of the most pungent and pleasant wines of this variety we have tried in the past year. It is easy to understand why it is the company’s best selling wine, with its zingy acidity and pure fruit. As Frédéric noted on his web site “despite being beautifully dressed, it has a bit of bite”. It pairs wonderfully with goat’s cheese.
Almost a third of all the estate’s vines are Sauvignon Blanc and this grape is available in all tiers. The 2014 Trilogie is a collection of three wines made with this grape and represents the spectrum of flavours and nuances that a winemaker can achieve with this varietal.
Frédéric’s fifth group of wines is a pair of non-vintage sparklings: Armance B Blanc is made from Chardonnay and is zesty and mouth-filling. Armance B Rose is made from Gamay and Cabernet Sauvignon and is more structured and concise, with lashings of zingy strawberry aromas.
Ampelidae is an entrepreneurial company. Its brochure offers a range of activities for the public, including the chance to be a “winemaker for the day” for 400 Euro. Accommodation and meals are available in a range of styles and prices. The company exports to China, Japan, the Philippines and Sweden.