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Pierre and Brigitte Van Den Boom

While perusing the French trade magazine Rouge et Blanc, Daniel was intrigued by an article on the new Loire appellation Saumur Puy Notre Dame and one of the properties mentioned was Domaine de l’Enchantoir. Tasting the samples that winemakers Pierre and Brigitte Van Den Boom kindly sent a few months later, we knew that this small domaine’s wines are the real deal — fresh and vibrant Chenin and Cabernet Franc that speak to the region’s terroir.

Pascaline Lepeltier, the Wine Director at New York restaurant Rouge Tomate who is well-known for her passion for Loire wines, explained her take on the difference between Saumur-Champigny and Saumur Puy Notre Dame:

I would say that Saumur Puy Notre Dame is more structured and tannic than Champigny — Champigny’s soil lies almost entirely on Turonian Tuffeau stone [a marine sedimentary rock dating from the late Cretaceous epoch] with Eolian sands, whereas Saumur Puy Notre Dame has more clay and limestone. Also, the winegrowers association in Saumur Puy Notre Dame wants to make denser wines with higher minimum alcohol, more vineyard density, requiring élévage of the wines, etc…

ImageUntil the 1960s, this region was planted in Chenin Blanc for sparkling white wine and in Cabernet d’Anjou, destined to be made into the sweet sparkling rosé that was in fashion at the time. It wasn’t until 1962 (at the end of the Algerian War) when the charismatic winemaker Henri Aupy moved from Algeria to Saumur and saw the potential for profound reds that the production of still red wine in the area saw a renaissance. He began petitioning the INAO to make Saumur Puy-Notre Dame its own appellation in the late sixties.

Recognized as an official French red wine AOC on October 12, 2009, Saumur Puy-Notre Dame is 20 km south of Saumur and can be produced in 17 communes. The vineyards within the new appellation are at an elevation of between 50-150m and the soil is largely ancient limestone. AOC laws stipulate that to qualify as Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame, a minimum of 85% Cabernet Franc must be used; the rest can be Cabernet Sauvignon. At harvest, the grapes must exhibit a potential for a minimum of 12% alcohol. Chaptalisation is not allowed.

ImageDomaine de l’Enchantoir’s Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Le Pied à l’Etrier” is a delicious example of this new appellation with bright, fresh red fruit and a savory twist that is unmistakable old-world Cabernet Franc. (While the appellation allows the blending of up to 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, the Van Den Booms’ Saumur PND is 100% Cab Franc because they own no Sauvignon vines.)

I could drink this wine by the bucketful!

The cuvée name translates to “foot in the stirrup” and both celebrates the Van Den Booms’ excitement with their new lives as winemakers and honors their past as horse breeders.

The Van Den Booms also make a Saumur Blanc that is equally delicious — textbook juicy, exuberant Chenin.

Read on after the break for a short interview with the Van Den Booms —

How many hectares of vineyards do you own?

We work 16 hectares of vines, 12 of which we own and 4 of which are rented. 10.5 ha of Cabernet Franc, 4.5 ha of Chenin, and 1 ha of Chardonnay.

When and how did you aquire the vineyards?

We bought the domaine in 2009, but we’ve always been interested in wine and specifically in viticulture since 2002, when we were looking for pasture for our horses. The land we bought had a small vineyard (7 x 200 m rows) planted with Pineau d’Aunis that had been abandoned for many years.

Instead of uprooting the vines, we decided to clean up the vineyard and make our own wine. Once we started our new life away from the city, we naturally decided to devote ourselves to winemaking.

What are the specific characteristics that make your vineyards unique? Location, slope, soil type, bedrock?

Of our 16 hectares, 10 are on a clay-limestone slope dating from the late Cretaceous period. The rest are at the foot of a well-draining alluvian sand and gravel slope.

The nature of the soil on the slopes forces the vines to burrow very deep to obtain the necessary nutrients.This brings a typicity which was recently recognized by INAO by the creation of the new appellation “Saumur Puy Notre Dame” for our rich and complex red wines that come from specific parcels.

What do you do in the vineyards and the winery to encourage the expression of the soil and terroir in the final bottle of wine?

We are not yet certified organic, but we believe in the benefits of agriculture that is as natural as possible.

In taking care of our vines, we try to avoid the use of chemical products as much as possible. The phytosanitary products we use are organic (copper hydroxide or sulfate, sulfur solution or powder). We don’t use insecticides (we rely on other insects for pest control) or anti-botrytis (grape bunch aeration and manual leaf removal help to control humidity).

There is grass between the vine rows which helps to maintain biodiversity and limit erosion. For now, we weed chemically underneath the vines, but we are beginning to weed mechanically this Spring.

In the cellar, we follow the same principles: few or no additives and a minimum of intervention, because good grapes always make good wine.

At harvest, we sort and destem, adding neither yeast nor enzymes. “Battonage” for the whites and rosés and micro-oxygenation for all the wines. Occasionally, to push along the alcoholic fermentation, we add a little nitrogen.

We ferment in cement tanks for an average of 3 weeks. During the reds’ fermentation, we punch down the cap, pump over a few times, and sometimes delestage. [Delestage is a two-step “rack-and-return” process in which fermenting red wine juice is separated from the grape solids by racking and then returned to the fermenting vat to re-soak the solids, resulting in a more fruit-forward wine.]

We generally avoid fining, unless really necessary in our whites and rosés. We don’t use metatartaric or ascorbic acids (we favor cold-crystalization of the tartaric). If there is no residual sugar, we lightly filter our whites. Otherwise, we sterile filter.

What is the long term vision and goals for your vineyards, your wines and the appellations that you represent?

In the short term, we would like to convert the vineyards to organic.

In the longer term, we would like to project an image of authenticity and perennial quality of our appellations. We want to continue to make an artisanal product that is estate-bottled and sold directly by us.

How do you envision your winery and your production in 10 years? Do you have children that are studying or working in the wine trade or in the vineyards?

For now, our children all work outside the wine industry, but one of them has shown interest in running the domaine once it’s time for us to retire.

What are your favorite food pairings with your wines ?

Saumur Blanc and smoked salmon

Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Pied à l’Etrier” and a Côte de Boeuf (rare, of course!)