The Chateau du Petit Thouars is the sort of place we have wanted to take clients for ages but somehow or another it never worked out. Finally, at the beginning of June, we had clients who wanted to visit the Chateau of Azay le Rideau, a goat cheese producer and taste some red wine. Because the goat cheese producer we were going to was Le Vazereau, near Chinon, I immediately thought of Petit Thouars for the wine.
The chateau is genuinely a family home, as well as offering holiday accommodation. It is run by Sébastien du Petit Thouars and his Canadian wife D'Arcy. Their winemaker came from one of the most famous estates in the area, and they have 16 hectares of chenin blanc and cabernet franc vines. Sébastien's father, the Comte du Petit Thouars is the former director of Baccarat Crystal and his mother was a wine journalist. It is really they who revived the life of the chateau as a vineyard when they inherited the property in the 1970s. Sébastien and D'Arcy left their careers in Paris and came down to enter the family business from 2008.
The 17th century chateau du Petit Thouars.
I thought D'Arcy provided one of the best tours of the vines and winemaking facility that we have experienced. She was very knowledgeable about how the grapes are cultivated and the various problems and environmental conditions that must be dealt with as part of the seasonal cycle. For example, she thought to mention that it is not permitted to irrigate vines in France, which French winemakers always forget is a revelation to American and Australian visitors.
The vines look out over the Vienne river down in the valley, and across to the nuclear power station with its dramatic plumes of steam. Sébastien sits on the board of local winemakers and is doing his best to influence the AOC to allow new and better practices. He was instrumental in their area being granted Chinon AOC status rather than having to label their wines as merely Touraine. His argument is that they are a long way from the nearest other Touraine wineries and had little in common with them. It was absurd that they could see Chinon wineries from their vines, but not be allowed to label their wines with the higher status appellation.
He is also arguing that a different pruning method known as Poussard which appears to help against the fungal disease esca should be allowed. At present, the AOC is discreetly turning a blind eye to those who use the new technique, but it really needs to be enshrined in the regulations to allow everyone to feel comfortable and to manage the vines sensibly. Their vineyard is in the very early stages of converting to organic, a process their winemaker is not entirely convinced by, so they are taking it slowly and gently. But, as D'Arcy pointed out, they have two small children. Of course they don't want to be exposing them to agricultural chemicals unnecessarily.
Our clients posing in front of the chateau with Sébastien.
D'Arcy had to head off to town after our vineyard tour, but Sébastien took the tasting with our clients. He took us through a series of reds from different years which was an excellent exercise in terroir. Hint: their 2015 red is very good and developing into quite a complex wine. I personally liked the 2014, because it was a bit lighter on the tannins and I'm not a huge fan of tannins. I thought the chenin blanc was good too, especially in comparison to other Chinon AOC chenins I have had (Vouvray is really the heartland of this grape and it often feels like a bit of an after thought in Chinon).
Both Sébastien and D'Arcy were charming, skilfully blending candid personal details of their lives running this small beautiful estate with a professional level of marketing and business savvy. I hope we get the opportunity to visit them again.
D'Arcy (right) with one of our clients in the vineyard.