The fiefdom or stronghold of Vaults is mentioned in early documents beginning in 1495, where there were already vineyards, orchards, and gardens. The current Château des Vaults dates to the 18th century and the magnificent surrounding gardens were first laid out in 1850. In the late 19th century, the estate was inherited by Emmanuel de Las Cases, Napoleon’s biographer, and has belonged to his descendants ever since. The strong lineage of women running this estate began with his wife Marque de la Cases épouse du Closel, whose niece Michèle Bazin de Jessey would go on to develop the vineyards and winery, Les Vins Domaine du Closel. Michèle’s daughter Evelyne de Pontbriand took over the estate in 2001 following an earlier career teaching French literature around the world.
Savennières, one of the most prestigious and storied appellations in France, is quite small, covering only 156 hectares (390 acres). The AOC is located on the schist-based hills above the Loire on its north bank just northeast of the charming village bearing the same name. The historic Château des Vaults vineyards lie on the slopes running perpendicular to the river and are ideally situated, facing southwest. The soils are made up predominantly of purple and green schist, with some sandstone. Shallow and very warm, they provide a lively subsurface population of flora and fauna, which enhance the expression of each unique terroir. By decree, Chenin is the only varietal planted in the AOC Savennières.
Evelyne brought with her a passion for plants, gardens, and nature in general and quickly became the driving force in transitioning the estate to organic and bio-dynamic farming. Her belief is that through these techniques combined with planting cover crops where needed, allowing the natural growth of indigenous ground cover, mechanical plowing of the soils and an overall respect for the natural balance of each site, that the terroirs of Savennières are best revealed. She has returned to the ancient gobelet or head pruned form of training the young vines as it provides support to distribute the bunches more evenly around the vine and protects the bunches from extreme wind and sun exposure. She has mostly eliminated shoot-thinning to preserve the integrity of the foliage and allow for more shade protection for the grapes during extreme heat.
In the cellar, her team’s approach is based on minimal intervention: picking perfectly mature grapes, using only minimal doses of sulfur, using only indigenous yeasts during fermentation, and minimal use of new oak. The natural rhythm of the wine is respected throughout the aging process which runs from 12-26 months, depending on the wine and vintage.
In her own words…
Our family winery, DOMAINE du CLOSEL, is located at the Château des Vaults, in Savennières, Grand Cru of the Loire Valley. We shape, manage and develop the biodiversity in our vineyards by respecting and preserving the natural cycles in the ecosystem. The authentic and lively wines we produce are expressions of our land, our work in the vineyard, and the harmony we strive to maintain.
We are artisanal winemakers, artisans of taste and the art of French living. To visit and discover our dry white, red, rosés and sparkling wines is to taste Chenin Blanc from Savennières and Cabernet Franc from Anjou, feel under your feet the slopes of our slate hillsides warmed by the sun of Anjou, be dazzled by the light of the Loire, inhale the fragrances of old roses, hear the ocean breeze rustling in the foliage of the park’s old trees, experience a beautiful page of history in a traditional Anjou mansion.
Evelyne de Pontbriand
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