Coralie et Damien Delecheneau "Trinquames" Loire Valley, France 2022
Coralie et Damien Delecheneau "Trinquames" Loire Valley, France 2022
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From Jenny & François:
Age of Vines: 40 years old
Soil: Clay and limestone
Varieties: Sauvignon Blanc
Vinification: Fermented with indigenous yeasts in concrete and fiberglass tanks. Elevage on fine lees for 4-5 months.
“It could be a bird, a leaf, a plant… all of these things, really,” Coralie Delecheneau casts a loving, enigmatic smile on the La Grange Tiphaine sign hanging in their tasting room when asked about the meaning of their logo. “The main symbolism here is that Damien and I added our own contribution to the image of the parchment sheet that traditionally featured on the label of Grange Tiphaine wines.” It is a fitting metaphor indeed – the couple definitely left their mark after taking over the historical family estate, founded by Alphonse Delecheneau as a mixed farm at the end of the 19th century. Not only did they make the decision to focus solely on wine production, they also doubled their vineyard surface and started a négociant project (more on that later); however, the first and essential change happened in treating the vines.
When Damien took over in 2002, at only 22 years old, he started right away to reduce the chemicals used in the vineyard, encouraged by his experience and exchanges with other winemakers in his belief that there was another way of working with the soil, “like using homeopathics instead of antibiotics for humans”. Starting with herbicides and progressively eschewing all systemic chemicals, they’ve been working fully organic since 2005. (The official certification came in 2008, prompted by Coralie; since 2014 the winery is also certified biodynamic by Biodyvin.)
The beginnings were tricky: “The soil has a good memory – the first and second year without chemicals it works as if nothing happened, but you have to pay attention and not be too lazy. When the soil finally starts to wake up and forgets the chemicals previously sprayed into it, weed and crazy herbs take over and you risk having weak vines,” they recall. The cure? “Working with compost as nutrition from the very beginning. Even though we had zero experience with it compared to now,” Coralie evokes yet another dimension in which time and observation are priceless for the grower. “Nowadays, with 10+ years of experience, we make our own biodynamic compost, witness its increasing quality and know exactly how to apply it in order to achieve the best effect.”
Luckily for them, the succession from father to son didn’t add other challenges to the task, as Damien’s father Jackie was at peace with the move and let the youngsters have a go at it, offering advice only when asked. “I think it’s due to multiple things – we bore no judgment towards the way he was working before, understanding that this was simply the trendy way of working back in his day, marketed to vignerons as ‘more results with less pain and less hard labor’, very attractive to guys like him with a substantive amount of vines and crops to look after,” Coralie empathizes. “And then, he witnessed how the path we chose was gentler to the environment, the soil, the people, and that Damien’s wines were getting better and better, and sold easier than his own.” Unfortunately, Jackie got sick in 2009, not unlikely because of the viticultural chemicals and little protection used in his time, and passed away not long afterward. “But I’m sure that now he’s just looking at everything from above us, thinking ‘you’re doing well, kids’,” Coralie smiles.
He most probably is – Grange Tiphaine now definitely counts among the most respected estates in the Loire, thanks to both their community engagement (Damien teaches at a nearby lycée viticole and presides over the Montlouis-sur-Loire appellation, one of the most dynamic in the area) and the quality and consistency of their wines. Plus, Coralie and Damien gradually doubled the surface under their care to the current 16 hectares, with roughly half in Montlouis (100% Chenin Blanc, the darling versatile grape) and half in Touraine, dedicated mostly to reds. And thanks to Damien’s meticulous care, the vines are visibly singing, including the gnarly Côt (the local name for Malbec) plants next to the winery that are more than 120 years old.
Their range has something for everybody: there are methode ancestrale pet-nats in both colors, vivid and authentic; diverse styles of whites from dry to sweet yet refreshing botrytic ones, courtesy of the successive picks and sorting of their Chenin grapes; reds from juicy to age-worthy vieilles vignes from the aforementioned old Cot. Their flagship cuvées called Clef de Sol – French for “treble key”, showing the couple’s passion for music, but also a pun on the literal meaning “key to the soil” – truly represent their signature terroirs in both red (Touraine) and white (Montlouis). Their natural acidity also offers a wonderful aging potential, as the magnums of 2011, 2013 and 2015 generously shared with us over lunch show – no signs of fatigue, just salty mineral sap and gentle tannins, confirming Coralie’s assertion that “all our wines age well”.
In 2011, the couple started a négociant label “Coralie & Damien Delecheneau”, under which they produce succulent, easy-drinking and well-priced wines like Trinqu’ames, Tournage Riant or AdLibitum. Made from locally typical grapes like Sauvignon, Grolleau or Cab Franc, they are sourced from Grange’s own sites or from local growers working in long-term partnership with Damien. Supporting these farmers in the transition towards organic viticulture is one of the motivations of the project; the other is the fact that the Loire Valley is unfortunately no stranger to spring frosts. As the “tour anti gel” (wind turbine) in the middle of Grange’s old vineyard or the impressive wall of anti-frost candles in the tractor shed nearby quickly reminds you, disaster here looms more often than not.
“We had 6 frosts in the past decade,” Coralie counts, and recalls how they manage to partly save some of the more recent vintages by the use of helicopters, advocated by her husband. More often than not, however, the freezing temperatures of late spring are quite devastating to the yield, and having this extra security of purchased fruit farmed according to Delecheneau’s guidelines and harvested by their own crew comes very much in handy.
All the wines, regardless of whether domaine or négoce, are processed in Tiphaine’s winery and receive a very similar, simple treatment – gentle slow pneumatic press, overnight settling (débourbage) in concrete tanks, then fermentation and aging in concrete, clay or neutral oak barrels in the underground cellar, with the time and type of vessel depending on the wine. The whole structure is smartly designed on several levels in order to avoid pumping, which would oxidize and damage the wine, and everything is moved around by gravity. “Be it Trinqu’ames [well-priced négoce white] or Les Épinays [single-vineyard Chenin from a top-notch plot, one of Damien’s crown jewels], we do the same work, apply the same rules in the winery,” Coralie emphasizes solemnly, “there’s no way we would have super good wine in the higher-price range and average wine on the lower end. We’re not cheating, there’s the same amount of love in each cuvée. Our aim is to have fair wines.”
This runs in many senses of the term, one of them being the fact that Coralie and Damien are absolutely open about their operation – during our visit, they let us wander just about everywhere in their winery and house while they and their 5-strong team were busy bottling – and were happy to answer any questions about their process. Sulfur? Yes, usually twice: the grapes are sulfured a bit at pressing to have clear settling and good pure juice for fermentation (although Damien, in his typical ever-curious fashion, is currently looking at some new ways to reduce this amount for Chenin, and there are some experimental cuvées and batches completely without), and then just before bottling. “We always put a bit of the wine in a bottle and taste it together over a few days – morning, evening, morning, evening, until the wine is not good anymore. Depending on how many days it keeps well, we define the amount of sulfur added, to be sure to use only the minimum needed,” Coralie describes their pre-bottling testing routine.
Native fermentation? Of course, helped by the use of the same concrete tank for starting all the fermentations, to avoid slow fermentations and the risk of the acetaldehyde notes they might cause.
Fining? Never. Filtration? Yes, lightly through a layer of mineral diatomite (terre diatomé or kieselguhr) for the dry wines, in order to get the desired brightness of the reds and purity of the whites. (Wines with residual sugar undergo a sterile filtration which avoids using a high amount of SO2 to protect them.)
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