Domaine du Closel Savennieres

If gloomy April showers bring joyful May flowers, then this wine tastes like the very first day of May. It’s a glass full of clear skies, vibrant green hillsides dotted with wildflowers, and a crisp breeze lingering in the morning air. The allure here is in its unadulterated purity, with each sip leaving me energized and optimistic about what’s to come next.

With the arrival of spring comes a bounty of delicious vegetables - fresh asparagus, artichokes, peas, and radishes to name a few - nearly all of which are notoriously difficult to pair with wines! Artichokes can make wines taste shockingly sweet, asparagus tends to give wines green vegetable flavors and exaggerate any hint of oak, and spicy radishes can overemphasize everything from the feeling of the body, to the alcohol, to the tannins. On top of that, what do we love to do with spring vegetables? At least in my house, we make salads with refreshingly acidic vinaigrettes that can turn a normally balanced wine suddenly flat and flabby! Fortunately for us - and any other lovers of “wine killing” veggies and tangy dressings - this “Jalousie” from the Loire Valley is the perfect solution.

This Chenin Blanc works wonderfully with the toughest of spring vegetables, tangy vinaigrettes, and just about any seafood that asks for a squeeze of citrus as a finishing touch. It also is great on its own, as an aperitif.

When recipe testing with some of my favorite ladies in the wine industry recently, I loved how this wine paired with a salad I whipped together of arugula, chopped fresh mango, shaved carrot and radishes, a handful of fresh peas and edamame, all topped with goat cheese, macadamia nuts, and a simple lemon vinaigrette. I encourage you to be creative with the spring produce at your local farmers market as well, but in case you’d like a little inspiration, I’ve put together the following list of recipes that would make for some delicious pairings:  

Curious to learn more?

Domaine du Closel is located in the appellation of Savennieres in the Loire Valley of France, a region known for producing some of the most beautiful Chenin Blanc wines. The reputation comes from some seriously strict regulations concerning vinification. For example, Chenin Blanc is the only grape allowed in the region, all harvesting is done by hand, and the yield per vine is kept low to ensure optimal flavor and ripeness in each grape.

The property, originally Chateau des Vaults, dates back to 1495, making it the second historic property for our spring collection! What sets this domain apart though, is its uniquely feminine history. Michèle Bazin de Jessey inherited the chateau from her childless aunt, Madame du Closel, in 1962 and she turned the family estate into Domaine du Closel. At the end of her reign, she tapped her daughter, Evelyne de Pontbriand, the current winemaker and estate manager, to take over in the 1990s. One might imagine that these women were being groomed in the cellar from the day they could walk to take over the family business, but it’s quite the contrary! Evelyn had a full life as a French literature teacher in multiple countries and wasn’t asked to return to the estate until she was in her early 60s!

When Evelyn made the decision to start this new chapter as a winemaker in France, she immediately got to work converting the domain to organic and biodynamic farming, placing a renewed focus on producing terroir-driven wines that would taste uniquely of Savennieres. She instilled a practice of using only green fertilizers, allowing indigenous vegetation to grow, and establishing true biodiversity in the ecosystem to fight insects, pests, and disease. In the cellar, she maintains a very traditional approach, using only the indigenous yeasts from the vineyard (rather than commercially purchased strains), little to no sulfur, and she has a deep respect for the natural speed and rhythm of a given fermentation. She has become a true leader and inspiration to winemakers of the region and has even become the president of AOC Savennieres. Beyond her own wines, she’s dedicated to ensuring the quality and reputation of the wines from her region are upheld and respected throughout the world.

The property is so much more than a wine operation, just as Evelyne isn’t merely a winemaker. Her passion for gardens, literature, and taste can be felt on the grounds as well as in each bottle. You feel her appreciation for life and nature in every sip of her wines. Perhaps most distinctly though, you can feel her deep love of terroir-driven wines (wines that taste of a unique place and time) in the way she talks, the work she produces, and in the property she maintains. She likes to quote this sentence from Jacques Puisais: "Wine should have the face of its birthplace and the guts of the man who made it… At the bottom of the glass, I want to find the landscape of where I am."

I had the unique opportunity to ask Evelyne a few questions about her experience and her wines which I’d love to share with you:

A: You had a profession as a teacher abroad before taking over the domain. How do you feel that your "first life" has influenced your approach to winemaking and running a winery? Do you think you would have done things quite differently if you'd gone straight into wine right out of university?

E: Before being a teacher I graduated in Art and in Literature, and I have been a part-time journalist (cinema critic). I lived in different foreign countries and taught French literature to Foreign adults. All this Parisian life and then International life has influenced my way of looking at things. It opened my mind to the world, to other culture. Yes, it would have been totally different.

A: At what point did you know that your mother was going to offer you the domain? Was it a difficult decision for you once she did?

E: My mother offered me the domain around 1996. I was back in France and was very busy raising 4 children. Yes, it was a very difficult decision because it was a huge challenge for me. It took me 4 years to think about it.

A: I read (or perhaps listened) to your description that Savennieres as an appellation has had three phases: the monks who produced a more austere style, the bourgeoisie who were more classic in their approach, and today, the "author wines" that show personality. How does this new phase of wines with personality relate to your commitment to terroir? Do you find that expressing terroir and expressing personality are at odds?

E: We do not know what the middle age wines tasted like. Until the second world war, the wines were often sweet, sometimes demi-secs, seldom dry. After the 2nd World war, the AOC Savennières was created and gradually everyone vinified more and more dry, harvesting late with botrytis. They needed a lot of sulfite for this kind of harvest. The taste changed a lot around 2008 because people started to be interested in organic growing and using less sulfite in the wines. The science allowed us to understand better the process of maturity and influenced us in experimenting earlier harvest (climate change had a role too).

A: In your interview with Levi Dalton, you spoke about leading the AOC to create a common brand for Savennieres that everyone feels responsible for. What is that brand? How do you want the world to perceive AOC Savennieres?

E: The brand is AOC Savennières. Until then nobody considered it that way. We started slowly to manage it like a brand belonging to all winemakers.

A: You've described the Jalousie as being a wine to drink young, with fruity aromas that would pair well with difficult dishes like asparagus and artichokes, as well as white fish and chicken. Are there any favorite or specific recipes that you could share with us for a nice pairing? And is there anything you'd like to add about the way you describe this wine to someone who's never tasted it?

E: Jalousie is a very fresh, lively full of energy. You can drink it as an aperitif or with a meal. My favorite dish is white asparagus in the spring with melted butter (demi-sec).

A: What excited you about the future of the domain or the appellation? Are there any specific goals you are working on right now? And if you don't mind my asking, do you intend to pass the reins to your children someday?

E: MY children are living far away and have very good jobs that they love. They enjoy very much coming here and drinking the wines!!!! They are going to become owners of the domain within a few years. They do not wish to work here at the moment. Everyone agrees that we should have an employee to help me. I have hired a young woman called Paulin Lair, who is presently co-managing. I am very busy with organizing an International Congress on Chenin Blanc in July 2019:, so I am very happy with sharing the management with her.

        * Photos of Evelyn and the winery courtesy of Domaine du Closel