As part of the Samhain festival in Clonakilty a few years ago, Manchán Magan
performed his ‘Arán agus Im’ show. During the performance, he made sourdough bread, and spoke about the connection to the ‘other world’ which he believes is always present in the Irish language. ‘Scim’, a word which means both a dusting of flour on a surface, and the thin veil between the corporal and spiritual worlds, illustrated the magic of sourdough, which, using unseen elements in the air, seems to rise of its own accord.
I’m reminded of this in the cellar of Chateau de Montdomaine
as Louisa Plou describes the wine which evaporates during the winemaking process as ‘The Angels Share’. The magic of natural yeast, like sourdough bread, comes from these invisible particles with the power to transform grapes into wine, bringing the history of all previous vintages with it.
Louisa and Fred Plou make their wines in a centuries-old cave, hewn out of the tufa stone for which the Touraine region is famous. The cellar becomes a library of yeast, so this environment is unique to them, and their wines. The atmosphere in the cave is carefully minded, and they are slow to introduce other yeasts which might upset the balance. Fred has in the past made a tank of Gamay, not to make into wine, but to strengthen the good yeast in the air against bad bacteria which could take over.
On this point, Louisa says they are practical, not hard-core. They sometimes need to add selected yeast to the red wine if the fermentation is too slow, and Fred ruefully accepts that if you have too high an opinion, you sometimes have to climb down - ‘mettre de l’eau dans le vin’.
Having a restaurant has also given them another perspective as wine buyers. While they make their wine in a natural way, the wine must be good. They have heard the excuse for wine where the bad bacteria have overpowered the good that ‘it’s natural wine, you just don’t understand it’. They do. If the wine doesn’t taste good, the customer won’t buy it again.
Their restaurant, Chez Bruno in Amboise, named after Fred’s late father, and on the site of the pub where Louisa, visiting from England, met her future husband, is a joyful place, buzzing with conviviality, and a great place to enjoy the Montdomaine wines with excellent local food.
When Fred’s father died, he worked with his uncle in the family vineyard, but it soon became clear that they had different views. Fred wanted to work in a natural way, more interested in quality than quantity. With a family winemaking tradition going back 500 years, Fred and Louisa began their own domaine in 2015, buying Chateau de Montdomaine, and 15 hectares of land which had belonged to Fred’s father.
In the cave, Fred talks about the oenologist approach to winemaking, which advocates a higher temperature to extract certain aromas and flavours. He disagrees. Having this ancient cave with it’s naturally low temperature allows him to ferment at lower temperatures and he has no problem with the fermentation taking longer. This gives a true expression of their terroir, and the ambient temperature, whether warmer or cooler, is the expression of the vintage. This is not something they want to manipulate, but work carefully and meticulously to ensure a good bacterial load in the cave.
As vignerons, they are at the mercy of nature, and Fred and Louisa have introduced other elements to their business, such as the wonderful Chez Bruno restaurant, a wine shop in Amboise, and vineyard visits which can include lunch or a specially packed picnic to enjoy in their beautiful garden. While a springtime visit ‘á vélo’ is in my sights, for now, I’ll pour myself a glass and breathe in the unique atmosphere of Montdomaine at my own kitchen table.