Travelling Through the Loire Valley
Many years ago, driving through the Loire Valley, I was astonished at how many gorgeous buildings seem to appear out of nowhere…the Cathédrale de Chartres was one such building that suddenly appeared as I rounded a bend, towering regally above the tall field of wheat. Another such building appeared on the right bank of the Maine River flowing through the town of Angers as I drove slowly, one eye on a map and the other on careening scooters, trying to find my hotel.
I stopped and got out, staring up in awe at the ecclesiastical grandeur of the Hôpital Saint Jean d’Angers, inside which was the Hôtel-Dieu d’Angers, the town’s infirmary founded in the year 1153 by Etienne de Marsay, Henry II’s treasurer. Henry Plantagenêt, then King of England and Duke of Anjou, commissioned the hospital as atonement for his murder of Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury.
What does this have to do with wine, you may ask?
Well, where medieval healers were concerned, wine was always present. Wine was used for medicinal purposes, which is why so many vineyards were planted around the various Hôtels-Dieu around France during the Middle Ages.
As such, a few years after the Hôpital Saint Jean d’Angers was built and functioning, the monks who ran it established vineyards on the left bank of the Loire and that was the beginning of the Château de Bois-Brinçon in a hamlet known as Blaison-Saint-Sulpice.
The year was 1219, making the vineyard one of the oldest in the Loire Valley if not the oldest.
Six centuries later, as the power of the Church and aristocracy declined, and after the French Revolution of 1789, the property was sold off to the bourgeoisie and came into the hands of the Cailleau Family in which it remains today.
Xavier Cailleau is the current owner and winemaker who took over from his father in 1991.
“At the beginning, it was a real challenge to return to winemaking and the desire to make wines with a terroir identity,” Xavier acknowledges. “It was a steady evolution, first to organics, then biodynamics. And the vines responded and the grapes began to offer the true face of the soil.”
The wines of Bois-Brinçon are vinified by terroir. “The Anjou region is a mosaic of very varied and rich terroirs,” Xavier explains. “Being at the junction of the Armorican Massif and the Paris Basin, the Bois-Brinçon vineyards offer a rare diversity of soils and landscapes spread over six communes and eight different terroirs.”
Intervention in the cellar is minimal. “We accompany the wines without useless and traumatic interventions,” Xavier says, “like a parent who sees his children grow up and accompanies them so they take the right path.”
I first tasted the wines of Bois-Brinçon at a small bistro not far from Domaine, but I wasn’t a “wine person” back then…just a tourist but they stayed with me.
Five years ago, at a Christmas lunch with two other sommeliers, one of whom brought a bottle of “Les Saules de Montbenault,” one of their cuvées, I was blown away: the chenin blanc was laser sharp and sang from whence it came. And the red…the cabernet franc could not have come from anywhere, but this particular corner of Anjou.