Loire native Benoit Courault grew up the son of a horse trader before setting his sights on winegrowing. He enrolled in oenology school in Beaune and was taught the full roster of conventional techniques: systematic sulfuring at harvest, fermentation by lab yeast, etc. But after discovering the wines of so-called naturalists like Yvon Métras, he knew he wanted to adhere to a different set of rules—those that focus on soil health, a view of the vineyard as part of a harmonious ecosystem, and winemaking free of synthetic entrants. He followed up his studies with apprenticeships at L’Anglore in Tavel and Domaines des Sablonettes in the Côteaux du Layon before finding a humble 12-acre plot in Faye d’Anjou planted to vines, with an old shed he could transform into a winery and an airstream trailer he could call home.
Courault farms his Cabernet Franc, Grolleau and Chenin Blanc meticulously and is quick to tell any visitors that it took years for the soil to recover from the use of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers and regain life and its natural balance. He also keeps an entourage of farm animals, including a draft horse that helps with plowing and transporting harvest bins to the winery. And in another bout of bootstrap ingenuity, he set up a cooperative with Olivier Cousin and other local growers to share the cost and use of expensive farm tools.
All of Courault’s grapes are hand harvested and pressed using a manual vertical press. The wines are racked into used barrels once the fermentation has started and are bottled after just over a year of élevage with little to no SO2, depending on the cuvée.
Les Guinechiens Vin de France
variety: chenin blanc soil type: clay & schist avg vine age: 60 years
Perhaps the most intensely mineral of Courault’s Chenin Blanc-based wines, Les Guinechiens comes off a small plot of low-yielding old vines near the town of Montbenault. It undergoes a very long, slow fermentation using only native yeasts and ages 1.5 years in used barriques.
Les Rouliers Vin de France
variety: cabernet franc soil type: clay & schist avg vine age: 40 years
Les Rouliers comes off of a northwest-facing slope in the “Vieux Moulin” lieu-dit. It undergoes a 10-day whole-cluster maceration, fermenting with only native yeasts, and is aged for one year in neutral barrels before bottling. No fining or filtration.