Domaine de l’Ecu
The process of discovery in the Loire will without doubt vary from one person to the next, but my personal wine history begins with Sancerre, followed by the red wines of Saumur, Chinon and Bourgueil and the other appellations of the central vineyards. Later came Vouvray, and perhaps a rediscovery of Saumur, as I realised not only just how delicious these wines can be in warmer weather, but also that there are a few really top-drawer domaines turning out world class wines, such as Clos Rougeard and Château de Villeneuve. Muscadet also came later, and for many years I held the mistaken view that this appellation provided only simple, painfully rustic wines which were of no structure or substance; an appellation where you should always drink the youngest available, usually without any undue fuss. This is of course a view of which I have long since disavowed myself. Muscadet is a source of some brilliant wines; the best examples can be structured and racy, they partner many foods superbly, and they can perform brilliantly in the cellar. There are a number of domaines vying for top spot in the appellation. For many years Domaine de l’Ecu was one of these domaines.
Today the long-term proprietor Guy Bossard, a doyen of biodynamics within Muscadet, is gradually releasing his hold on the domaine. The arrival of an associate, Frédéric Niger, who stepped up to the plate when it became apparent none of Guy’s offspring were interested in taking on the running of the domaine, was the beginning of this process. With Fred’s arrival there also came some dramatic and sweeping changes. Before we come to this turning point in the domaine’s history, however, we should first look back at Guy Bossard’s story.
Guy Bossard is the fifth generation of his family to turn his hand to viticulture and wine, and he is based in a little hamlet named La Bretonnière near Le Landreau, in the Sèvre et Maine region of the Muscadet appellation. The domaine has long been well regarded in the region, and Guy states that his father and grandfather were seen by all as the best winemakers in the village; he may well be right of course, although I am not in a position to judge, and no doubt – knowing a little of the politics of La France profonde – some of his neighbours might disagree with this less than impartial judgement.
Guy (pictured above) converted the vines he inherited to organics in the early 1970s, and later he turned to biodynamics. I have asked Guy why he decided to go down the organic-biodynamic route, but his response seemed vague, and I wondered if any memory of his original rationale has been lost to time (or, just as likely, maybe he just didn’t understand my French!). Whatever his thinking, by 1972 the domaine was organic, and during the 1972 and 1973 seasons he felt he had more failure than success; this he ascribes to inexperience with the new methods he was using. The absence of any mentor also made things difficult; there was nobody else locally working in this manner, and every new problem he encountered sent him running to the organic literature, to see what could be done.