One of the great wonders of France is of course – wine! Wine is produced in almost every region – even in the far north where some adventurous growers have started to plant vines on the old coal slag heaps of Lens.
Another of the many splendours of France is chateaux.
The region of the Loire is particularly famous for its wine production, historians believe that the Romans were the first to plant vines here in the 1st Century AD and the practice certainly caught on. The Loire is also famous for its chateaux – an area favoured by Kings for centuries in what is called the Garden of France.
The famille du Petit Thouars have been making wine since the 17th Century at their Chateau in the Loire and continue to make award winning wines to this day. We talked to Sébastian du Petit Thouars whose ancestors started the process so many years ago.
He told us that the Chateau has been in his family since 1634 “and there have been vines and winemaking for centuries… my parents Yves and Marguerite du Petit Thouars replanted new vines in 1975 and the following years and built a modern winery and cellar, transforming what was a small growth destined for personal consumption into a thriving business, producing thousands of bottles and exporting around the world”.
The latest generation certainly seem to be following the adventurous footsteps of their ancestors. Sébastien tells us that Aristide Aubert du Petit Thouars (or Dupetit Thouars as it was spelled during the French Revolution) fought in the American War of Independence, sailed the seas seeking La Pérouse and died heroically in the Battle of the Nile (Bataille d’Aboukir) during Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign in Egypt.
Captain of the “Tonnant” he had his right arm shot away, then the left and finally one of his legs was taken off by a cannonball. Refusing to give up command, he insisted on being put in a tub of bran that was on deck and led his men until he collapsed from blood loss. One of his final orders was to nail the Tricolour flag to the mast so it could not be taken down in surrender.
His brother, Aubert, was one of the first botanists who travelled to Mauritius. He was appointed director of the royal nursery and became a member of the prestigious Institut de France. Abel, their nephew, established a French protectorate on Tahiti, his nephew, Abel-Nicolas Bergasse du Petit Thouars, whom he adopted, also became an admiral. He notoriously protected Peru from an invasion attempt by Chile, and sailed as far as Japan in 1868, where he managed to serve the French interests amidst revolutionary times.
Undertaking many projects in the new millennium, the latest generations of the family du Petit Thouars show how true they are to their ancestors. Sébastien’s parents planted and developed from scratch a new vineyard in 1975 and passionately look after the family patrimony, particularly the elegant castle built in the typical architectural style of Touraine with its octagonal tower of “tuffeau stone”.
Do you feel the pressure of your illustrious ancestors bearing down on you?!
Only in a good way, because I think maintaining a family estate generation after generation and through the present times is a really honourable occupation, one that is far from being disconnected from the real world, yet that goes beyond a certain materialistic definition of success.
My parents plan to open a museum where manuscripts, travel diaries and souvenirs, scientific books as well as models of the ships on which they sailed will be exhibited – at Easter the first part will be open to the Public!
Can you give us an idea of what sort of wine you make, from which vines etc…how big your vineyards are…
We make 100% Cabernet Franc red, rosé and sparkling wines (brut blanc and rosé) from the grapes harvested on our 15 hectare (about 30 acres) of vines. We have also planted 0.75 hectare of Chenin (a typically local white wine varietal) but the first harvest will only take place in 2014.
Cabernet Franc is the quintessential red wine grape varietal of the area situated between Chinon, Saumur and Bourgueil, where we are located. It produces reds with lots of freshness and character, strong tannins and rich aromas, with flavours of red fruit and just the right amount of acidity allowing them to age beautifully.
To showcase all these aspects of Cabernet Franc we produce three different red wine cuvees. The Cuvée “Selection,” which is light and fresh — all about thirst-quenching, fun-sharing, fruit-centred goodness. The “Reserve,” aged for 18 months in oak barrels that have been used for 2 to 3 wines prior, and which is a richer, more complex and accessible food wine, that reach their full potential 3 years after bottling and age up to 10 years. And finally the Cuvee “Amiral” (Admiral in French), which is only made of exceptional vintages such as 2009 or 2010, and is exclusively from the press wines of those specific vintages. Aged for more than 24 months in oak barrels that have been used for 2 to 3 wines prior, the Cuvee Amiral wines have superb concentration, complexity and a very lengthy finish. They are tailored for a long keep.
Are the vines planted in the grounds of the chateau?
The Vines are planted in and around the walled grounds of the Chateau. We are very lucky for that matter, because all the plots are grouped in one location, which makes our winemaker’s work slightly easier and differentiates us from other vineyards in the region.
Can you tell us about the awards your wines have gained and where you export to?
We started submitting wines to the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) and the International Wine Challenge (IWC) in 2009. We have gained commendations at the 2009, 2010 and 2012 IWC and at the 2010 and 2011 DWWA.
Before we were only submitting our wines to traditional French regional competitions such as the Concours des Vins de Mâcon, Bordeaux and Montreuil Bellay for which we have won several medals.
We do export our wines: to the United States (Colorado and Pennsylvania), to the UK, Belgium and a little bit to China (Shanghai). This is something I’m really working to develop further and we’re will also be in Australia later this year too!
After a hard day’s work – what do you like to drink?
It depends on the circumstances. I like a glass of dry Chenin blanc (can’t wait for our first harvest next year!) or some bubbles, whether a glass of our Crémant de Loire Brut or a nice glass of Champagne such as Billecart-Salmon, or for special occasions, like the birth of my daughter, the Bollinger Grande Année 2002. But I also enjoy a nice pint of beer when I’m in London, or a good Gin and Tonic. Some friends introduced me recently to the Sipsmith brand and I really like it!
Wines evolve, and it’s a fascinating thing to see how the food and wine pairings change over the course of the years. My wife and I love to cook and explore all the various possibilities. Depending on the vintages, young Cabernet Franc wines tend to pair well with charcuterie, white meats (chicken, pork etc), some game, and certain cheeses, local Sainte Maure de Touraine, some Comté. When they age and, depending on the vintages once again, you can pair them with a leg of lamb, a nice prime rib cut or filet of beef for example.
Visit the Chateau du Petit Thouars: they are open to the public year-round for tastings and have a shop where you can purchase wines. Groups can book a special visit of the cellar and they can also organize picnics, lunches and dinners for parties of up to 50 people.
You can find out more about special events, promotions and Open House days and follow the Chateau du Petit Thouars on their blog: http://chateaudupetitthouars.wordpress.com/
Château du Petit Thouars – Wine, Museum, Garden
Saint Germain sur Vienne (La Chaussée)
37500 (10 minutes from Chinon)
Château: + 33 2 47 95 96 40
Facebook : Château-du-Petit-Thouars-Loire-Valley-Wine / Twitter: @chateaudptwines