Belargus: the Heresy of Dry Wine in Quarts de Chaume

The domain was originally the Pithon-Paillé domain, owned by renowned winemaker Jo Pithon, known especially for his dry Chenin Blancs, and in particular for the heresy of producing dry white wine from vineyards in the Quarts de Chaume appellation for sweet wines. In 2018, Jo retired and sold the domain to businessman Ivan Massonnat, who has continued and expanded the heresy. Winemaker Adrien Moreau joined the domain for the first vintage.

Jo Pithon sold it in 2018 because his sons weren’t interested in taking it on. Ivan is in private equity and had helped his friends to buy land. “Ivan knows Burgundy but did not know this area,” Adrien explains. “He looked at Vouvray but the appellation is very large and does not have any similarities to Burgundy. But here there are small AOPs and estates and there’s something of a hierarchy. Jo brought Ivan to the Coteau de Treilles vineyard and Ivan said, ‘that’s my grand cru’.”

Coteau de Treilles was abandoned after the second world war when viticulture moved from the coteaux to the flat lands. Jo bought 70 plots from 25 owners, cleared the land, and planted vines, starting in 2000. The 2.7 ha are long and narrow with slopes from 30-70%. It’s actually in a 15 ha nature reserve.  “We say that there’s  Mediterranean micro-climate here, with unusual flora and fauna. It’s the habitat of the blue butterfly, Belargus, which gave its name to the domain.”

Coteau de Treilles vineyard is on the right. On the left, the land is in its original state.

The premises haven’t changed at all since this was Domaine Pithon-Paillé. The exterior is still quite shabby, consisting of old buildings on a corner lot, dating from the 1970s. The plan is to build a new winery. “We found a clearing near here and we’ll build a winery just for vinification and aging. Logistics will be elsewhere. The present building (designed for half the vineyard area) is never big enough,” Adrien says.

“The domain is 100% dedicated to Chenin Blanc,” is the motto at Belargus. The estate started with 9 ha, but is now 21 ha, with the major expansion coming from purchase of Château de L’Écharderie (one of the original estates in Quarts to Chaume). Ivan also added 3 ha in Savennières. There are now 15 cuvées. The holdings in Chaume and Quarts de Chaume are about half of the total, but most of production is dry, although proportions vary widely from year to year—in 2018 25% was sweet, because of frost there was no sweet wine in 2019, in 2020 there was 5% Coteaux du Layon, but it was only 5%, In 2021 there were two (not complete!) barrels of sweet wine.

Only one cuvée is a blend. Anjou Noir comes from a series of plots along the Layon river, ages in stainless steel, and offers a fresh fruity impression. The other cuvées all come from single plots and age in barriques for one year, two years for the top plots, and three for Coteau de Treilles, on the full lees. There are 3 passes through the Quarts de Chaume for dry wines and 2 passes for sweet wines. Grapes go into a pneumatic press, are left exposed to oxidation—“Chenin Blanc fights oxidation very well. My philosophy is that a molecule has to oxidize every week in the press so it doesn’t oxidize later”—and then start fermentation. New oak is a bit higher in current vintages because of the expansion of the domain. “When we went from 9 ha to 21 h we had to buy some new barrels. I would like new oak to be about 10%. It was 20% in 2018.”

Ronceray(named for the abbey that owned Quarts de Chaume in the Middle Ages) comes from several plots in Quarts de Chaume, and three cuvées come from single plots with different soil types and exposure. Rouère faces southeast, with its surface covered with pudding stones. Vines are 35 years old. “Wines from the pudding stones are always larger,” Adrien says. Le Veau faces southwest and is on schist with very little soil. The wine is much tighter. Les Quarts is south-facing on schist but with 20-30 cm of loam on top.  The style is “almost at the middle between generosity and tension.”

Ruchères in Savennières  is 0.4 ha in a southwest-facing amphitheater. It’s on purple schist (due to manganese). The wine has more amplitude than the cuvées from Quarts de Chaume. Coteau de Treilles spends two years in a mix of barrique, 400-liter barrels and demi-muids,  and then one year in stainless steel. It’s fine and silky with herbal intimations.

In the sweet wines, Les Quarts offers a classic impression of the Quarts de Chaume, with the balance between passerillage and botrytis depending on the year, but always showing depth. Rouère adds an extra layer of complexity.

Pithon-Paillé produced about an equal amount of wine from the domain and from a negociant activity, but Ivan has segregated the two activities and kept the name Pithon-Paillé for the negociant.

Tasting Notes on Barrel Samples

Anjou Blanc, Anjou Noir 2021 
2022-06-18     Very nice Anjou Blanc, quite fruity, still with just a touch of sweetness (it will be dry when fermentation completes).   87 Drink -2024

Anjou Blanc, Le Veau 2021 
2022-06-18    Nose is tight, almost austere, quite a contrast with Rouère, with a steely if not quite mineral impression on the finish. Quite a sense of tension here.   92 Drink -2028

Anjou Blanc, Les Quarts 2021 
2022-06-18    Almost smoky impression on nose, reserved and almost austere. A distinctly dry style, and at least at his stage, the most reserved of the trio.   92 Drink -2028

Anjou Blanc, Roncerets 2021 
2022-06-18    Faintly savory intimations to nose. Much more reserved on palate than Anjou Noir. Quite a subtle impression. Savory impressions strengthen on finish.   89 Drink -2026

Anjou Blanc, Rouère 2021 
2022-06-18    Barrel sample, with 1.5g residual sugar as fementation not finished yet. tone fruits on nose follow to palate, no perceptible sweetness but some softening from the residual sugar but “wines from the pudding stones are always larger,” Adrien says. 14.0%   90 Drink -2028

Quarts de Chaume, Les Quarts 2021 
2022-06-18    Very complex nose mingles smoke, spie, honey, enormously flavorful, sweetness cut by a little piquancy. Very honeyed but still offers a pure expression of Chenin Blanc. Very long finish redolent with figs and apricots. 190g   94 Drink -2035

Quarts de Chaume, Rouère 2021 
2022-06-18    Herbal notes of sweet thyme and rosemary add to the white stone fruits of Les Quarts. “Les Quarts is more strightforward,” Adrien says. Melange of spicy fruits, bitter orange, and marmalade. 210g    95 Drink -2040

Anjou Blanc, Coteau de Treilles 2020 White
2022-06-18    Reserved nose is faintly smoky. Ripe fruits are very fine and silky on palate, with stone fruit impressions favoring peaches, and some herbal impressions adding complexity.   Belargus 93 Drink -2028

Savennières, Ruchères 2020 White
2022-06-18    Spicy nose leads into slightly spicy, slightly smoky palate, fruits showing more as whit stone than citrus. Good expression of the appellation.   Belargus 91 Drink -2028

Vin de France, Voile 2019 White
2022-06-18    Unclear actually what category this would be if it’s ever commercialized. It started out as a dry Quarts de Chaume before it continued development under a layer of yeast (the voile). Powerful nose in style of sherry or vin jaune. Palate has more softness than either of those as it seems to have more glycerin (perhaps difference is due to whatever particular yeast form the voile here). It’s quit subtle on the palate but shows some force retronasally. 16.5%   Belargus Drink -null

1 thought on “Belargus: the Heresy of Dry Wine in Quarts de Chaume

  1. I believe that Ivan Massonnat will be the engine that the rest of Anjou Noir will attach themselves to. Walked to the top of Coteaux de Treilles with Ivan in 43°C heat. What a great location for a vineyard, just not so great for the vineyard workers.
    By the way, perhaps you got a bit confused with Volnay Ronceret premiere Cru, but the wine is Ronceray, not Roncerets.

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