BACKGROUND

Jean Yves Bretaudeau is the 4th generation member of the same family managing Domaine du Colombier which is located in Tillieres, in west Loire Valley, on one of the highest hills of the town. This was the perfect place for pigeons and doves which were permanent guests in a magnificent dovecote until the original estate was destroyed. Hence it’s not mandatory to be a rocket scientist to understand the roots of this place name! The cellar, built in the 19th century, was at the time divided into two parts, one was the vault, the other was the stable. All this until the ‘80s when the entire building underwent renovations in order to create a modern state of the art equipped cellar and storage room. In 1996, when officially Jean Yves succeeded to his retiring dad, extra tech improvements took place.

The good news is that nowadays, pigeons and turtledoves are back there where they used to be, now using estate’s cellar roofs to nest.

VINEYARD LOCATION AND COMPOSITION

The Bretaudeaus own 30 hectares located on some beautiful hills above the Sangueze river, 36 kms east of Nantes and property vineyards are scattered in three different sub-areas.

  • 18 ha in Muscadet Sèvre et Maine and the grape variety cultivated is Melon de Bourgogne as a reference to Bourgogne area where this variety comes from.
  • 1 hectare in Gros Plant du Pays Nantais with its variety Folle Blanche.
  • 11 hectares in Vin de Pays du Val de Loire: this includes 4,5 ha of Chardonnay, 2 ha of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, 1 hectare of Gamay and 2,5 ha of Sauvignon Gris and Sauvignon Blanc
  • Since 2013, three new grape varieties are available: Pinot Gris, Colombard and Merlot.

Jean-Yves produces yearly between 80.000 and 90.000 bottles, including vintage Muscadet Sèvre & Maine sur Lie that are sold when aged, and a few other wines like Gros Plant in small quantity. He also sells part of his wines in Bag in Box for French bars and wine shops. The remaining production is sold as fruit or must to negociants. Jean-Yves’ father was the first in the family to start bottling his wines in the estate with his own name; Jean-Yves has developed pretty much this part of the work.
Needless to say Muscadet plays a major role in the domaine production. Within family vineyards the two far most points are located at 8 kilometers from each other. The common key element is that some of the vines are older than 50 years and planted on different type of soils. Basically two different soils are present in Colombier vineyards:

  • Light and pebbly soils (gneiss, gabbro) suitable for early maturity grapes producing fruity and straightforward wines;
  • Clayey soils: allowing longer maturity on the vines and giving way to wines more influenced by terroir, more structured, and with good length on the palate.

NETWORKING

Domaine du Colombier has joined a 1000 farmer network called Dephy Ecophyto which was established by the French government in order to reduce of 50% chemicals and systemic herbicides used on the vines with the goal to improve environment conditions by developing new sustainable methods.
Combining innovation and tradition in the cellar is definitely a remarkable passion sign here in Loire Valley where growers enjoy conviviality and gastronomy, often producing wines capable to great pairings and trying to respect, at the same time, basic organic rules pillars even when not certified. The estate has also been approving Vignerons Independants de France Chart for 25 years.

HAUTE VALEUR ENVIRONNEMENTALE

Since 2012, the Haute Valeur Environnementale (High Environmental Value) certification allows farms to assess their skills by respecting the territory while preserving a natural ecosystem. Regularly checked by an authorized third part institution, certification validity is for 3 years and It’s based on performance indicators for biodiversity, pest control strategy, fertilization management. Colombier is part of this program.
Biodiversity: The vineyard has everything to gain by developing in a varied natural system. Groves, hedges, banks, flowers, small rivers play a role in defense against pests and climatic hazards. These vegetative systems provide habitat for insects, but also birds and reptiles, which are natural predators of many pests of the vine.
Pest control management: The plant health strategy is developed in order to make every effort to reduce the use of chemicals sprayed on the vines. Among other treatments, a successful and risky technique implemented two years ago on some estate domaine vineyard greatly helped to reduce fungicides doses up to 40 to 50%. This technique is called “Sexual Confusion”.
How can we protect vineyards from the dreaded vine moth larvae without using insecticides? These larvae can cause significant damage to grapes and create gateways to disease. To contain the populations of this insect is used an approved for organic farming technique. The fight by “mating disruption” is the answer. In order to be fertilized, the female moths release of sex hormones (or pheromones) that enable males to locate them more easily. Every year, a number of diffusers are placed in order to release a high dose of female pheromones in the vineyards. These pheromone traps confuse male moths and prevent them from finding their mates. Since there is no mating, the eggs aren’t fertilized, and don’t hatch. This hormone is absolutely safe. In fact, it’s nothing more than a reconstituted “smell”. All this requires old agricultural wisdom, daily vines observation and strict support from biologists technicians.

MUSCADET, THE WORLD IS NOT JUST AN OYSTER

Nantes is a bit the French version of Seattle: green and rainy with streets packed with gastropubs and modern places where to eat Brittany oysters. There is a distinct pride in producing Muscadet although this variety has had a bit of a branding problem. It has always had that reputation of pairing well with all kinds of seafood (and oysters more than other), but because of overproduction, poor quality, and careless negociants, the region exported an inferior product for years so its status has been on the wain. The good news is that like most regions in France that have suffered a similar fate, there are holdouts and new recruits that are turning out very high quality wines that could be some of the best value you’ll find. Colombier wines are under the spot light for never being affected by a mediocre curve in the level production, a problem that hits especially entry level wines from many local producers. Commitment to consistent quality is everything to Jean Yves since its first steps at the helm of the winery.

MOUZILLON-TILLIERE CRU

For a region as misunderstood as west Loire and its Muscadet, the implementation of a cru system may seem a little over ambitious but this was the only way to revitalize the stagnant situation. The idea was to create a “quality pyramid” for want of a better expression. Generic Muscadet forms the base, with Muscadet from the regions of Sèvre & Maine, Coteaux de la Loire and Côtes de
Grandlieu providing a middle and finally the new crus communaux being the apex wines.

At first only 3 crus have been recognised by the INAO in 2011. Situated in the Sèvre & Maine sub-region of the Nantais, they cover the villages of Gorges, Clisson and Le Pallet. Than 4 more villages in the area had been recognised 3 years after - Goulaine, Monieres-St-Fiacre, Château Thébaud and Mouzillon-Tillieres, while another two are beginning the process and will not be recognised for several years yet – La Haye Fouassière and Vallet.

Jean Yves and his father committed in this new appellation development already 15 years ago with the aim to get the local terroir recognized. First step was to show how specific were the cuvées the domaine developed: It all starts with selected plots, marked by real soil complexity, typical from their terroir, capable to produce wine with ageing potential. The Muscadet Mouzillon-Tillière was born on hills above Sangueze river, on gabbro and amphibolites subsoil. Gabbro is a magma rock with exceptional density. Settled on this sub soil, our vines take time to get ready: winegrowers from this place are most of the time the last ones to harvest Muscadet from Sèvre & Maine area! This is absolutely necessary to obtain plain maturity of grapes. For the same reason, Colombier wines require a long maturation time on the lees, to fully express their typical minerality. Jean Yves Mouzillon-Tillières is an elegant and powerful wine, with thyme and spices notes.

SAUVIGNON GRIS

Thought to be an older version of the Sauvignon Blanc varietal, though there is some conjecture as to which is the chicken and which is the egg. Sauvignon Gris has more of a pinkish hue to its skin (it is also known as Sauvignon Rosé) and has similar levels of acidity as that of Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon Gris does produce fruit with higher sugar levels than its cousin, which contribute to greater aromatics and a more rich and round feel to the wines. At one point these wines were highly prized yet due to the ridiculously low yields that the grape produces it almost became extinct. Currently it is enjoying a small revival in the Loire valley and in the Graves region of Bordeaux. This particular mutation of Sauvignon Blanc is also known as Fié or Fiét.

STATUS QUO

In a nutshell Steep Hill imports 6 wines from Domaine du Colombier: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, the unusual Sauvignon Gris, Cabernet Franc Rosè, plus the entry level Muscadet “Cuvee des Deux Colombes” and the cru Mouzillon-Tillieres 2007.

In a nutshell

  • Who: Domaine du Colombier
  • Where: Loire, Tillieres
  • What: Muscadet (Melon de Bourgogne), Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay
  • Hectares: 30
  • Quantity: 90,000 bottles
  • Plus: Organic producer (not certified)

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