Winemugs is touring through the Loire valley in France and we’re on the lookout for crispy refreshing wines and new faces in the winemakers world. The 28 year Luc Prieur from Sancerre is definitely a producer to keep an eye on in the future. Since 7 years he’s the head winemaker of the long running Domaine Paul Prieur & Fils in the village of Verdigny. His uncle Philippe often drops by to take a look over his shoulder. How does a winemaker like Luc relate to strong established wine traditions, his family and his own ambitions?
Luc doesn’t meet the expectation of the dusty vintner image, thanks to his short trimmed beard, hoodie and a casual contemporary pair of jeans. He receives us in a rustic tasting room and speaks English fluently. It’s a big relief after our struggle with the French language over the last few days. After a brief introduction we’re ready to put our feet in the mud en end up in the vineyards receiving our first terroir college of the day. ‘Wine nerd alert!’ We’re looking towards Les Monts Damnés; the classic, renowned area for the most beautiful Sancerre wines of the village of Chavignol. The soil contains a mixture of clay, limestone and fossils also known as kimmeridge clay. This is estimated to be 140 million years old and could be one of the first slopes planted with grape plants in Sancerre. We have to admit that it requires a lot of imaginative power to see the beauty of a vineyard in mid winter. No, it’s not spectacular, we see flat land and the trimmed thin grape plants remain in a deep hibernation.
In essence it’s all about sauvignon blanc for the white wines in Sancerre, the plants are not only deeply rooted in the soil but also in a rich history of the region. Domaine Paul Prieur et Fils possess some of the best vineyards and terroirs of the region including Monts Damnés, Les Perriers and Piechaud. The pinot noir grapes are harvested from the lower vineyards around Verdigny.
Never far from the grape
One would think that Luc was born with a silver spoon in his mouth in such a prestigious appellation in a winemakers family but it’s a big responsibility says Luc. “When I was younger I discovered my passion for winemaking but it’s definitely a tough job to keep a family business running. I rely on the people who work for me and they rely on me, I feel very responsible. Regarding the vinification, it’s not something that is strictly related to traditions, it wouldn’t be sustainable to do so, at the same time I need to develop my own signature. Therefore it’s important to stay in touch with other producers in the region and beyond. You need to broaden your horizon. Of course there are strict rules within the appellation system of Sancerre and the most important tradition for us is the focus on ‘terroir’, it’s something I have to respect.”
Luc: “During my studies I learned a lot in the Beaune region in Burgundy. Whilst in South-Afrika I wanted to see the mass productional side of wine production, I wanted to see something completely different. I worked for an estate that used over 40 different grapes in the same vineyard on one specific soil type. It’s an opposite of our working method, we only use two grape types on a diverse selection terroirs. I love to travel and do it often. Because of this I gather knowledge about wine production and have the possibility to taste different types of wine around the world. I mean it’s utterly boring to only taste your own wine. It’s a challenge in France to find wines from other countries. Chauvinism is a reality here but I do prefer to drink riesling from Germany.”
“It’s utterly boring to only drink your own wines.”
Sancerre de Luc
According to Luc a classic Sancerre should be a blend of sauvignon blanc coming from different parcels. A combination of limestone, silex and flint for example. A Sancerre tastes fresh and has a natural acidity and ripeness in the taste, the finish is mineral. The elegance of this wine made Sancerre a worldwide superstar, people often forget that it’s the sauvignon blanc grape. According to Luc you have new-yorkers, who love Sancerre but have little interest in sauvignon blanc, not knowing that it’s the same grape… It’s a funny conclusion. Luc:“The explosive tropical character you often smell and taste in sauvignon blanc remains restraint in our wines. The grapes need poor soil for good mineral expression. It’s the reason it tastes so different compared to sauvignon blanc from warmer climates.”
Don’t expect a Grand-Cru system in Sancerre, the quality of the wines is related to the terroirs. However, some parts are of course Grand-Cru worthy. You can read more terroir geekiness in the article we wrote about the Pouilly-Fumé superstar family Redde&Fils.
“If you don’t mind, I need to bring this bottle to my grandmother.”
No bumps on the road
We wouldn’t leave Luc before trying some of his excellent wines. Our tour goes further through a professionally organised cellar and it’s hard to spot any dust particles here. It typifies the style of wine too, pristine, crisp and well balanced. We settle down near a small table in between of their private stock of vintages. Les Pichons, the Sancerre Rouge is getting a bit of air and check before being served to us. Luc raises his eyebrows when he smells and tastes the wine. “I think this isn’t exactly as it should be.” He opens a new bottle to be sure the guests (us in this case) taste the best. In the meantime, we share a wine experience from the day before. We bought a bottle of Hautes-Côtes de Nuits (pinot noir from burgundy) in a local supermarket and it turned out to be a big disappointment. Luc tells us we’re at the right address for pinot noir, and in his opinion it’s even better than an average red Burgundy. Luc:”pinot noir is doing well in Sancerre, I truly believe that there is a bright future for this grape in the region.”
People expect a light red wine when you mention Sancerre Rouge but they are definitely mislead by this one. The tannins are firmly present and in the mouth it doesn’t have an average pinot noir structure. We’re looking at a deep intens red colour with a high viscosity. Let’s hope on a small breakthrough of pinot noir from Sancerre on the market, we’re already standing in line for these robust and sophisticated wines. Very refreshing.
One of the absolute highlights by Prieur was yet to come, a dessert wine produced in a small batch made from late harvest grapes. It’s not for sale and only for small group of locals. The tiny bottle looks sexy and elegant and has a silky soft sweet concentrated taste with refined fruits. We’re floating away on a new level of sweetness and Luc changes to the practical mode. “If you don’t mind, I need to bring this bottle to my grandmother. I’ve made a promise that if we open a bottle she’ll be the person to drink it after us.” Grandmother Prieur is lucky today!
A good food combination according to Luc: grilled octopus with Les Monts Damnés.
Visiting Sancerre anytime soon? Go to the restaurant called Momento Sancerre to taste this delicious combination.
Wines from Domaine Paul Prieur & Fils are available at different wine stores around the globe.