I had a rather stuttering beginning to my knowledge of François Chidaine and his wines. It all started with a series of dissatisfyingly brief encounters with François at tastings, or near misses, but never an in-depth meeting. An appointment to meet and taste at his shop La Cave Insolite, in Montlouis, which I had to call off, is one example. A chance encounter at Château Fonroque, in Bordeaux, when looming appointments at Cheval Blanc and Le Pin prevented any lengthy discussion, is another. At other times I have been thwarted by throngs of eager tasters all keen for their share of François and his wines, preventing any meaningful discussion of the wines on show. Fortunately, since those early encounters, I have managed to talk with François at more length about his winemaking philosophy in Montlouis and Vouvray, both face to face – most commonly at the Salon des Vins de Loire where François is a staunch exhibitor, usually pouring upwards of twenty wines – and also by email. This profile is a distillation of these encounters, and encapsulates all I know about the man, his vineyards and his wine.
François Chidaine’s wine history is strongest on his father’s side; his paternal grandfather lived close to Montlouis, to the west of the town, and tended a 20-hectare smallholding planted largely with fruit trees, but also some vines. His mother’s family, meanwhile, hailed from Ambert, a town more-or-less midway between Limoges and Grenoble, a long way south of the Loire. Neither, then, could really be labelled as a vigneron. The first generation where such a description might be appropriate would be Yves, François’s father. He left behind the smallholding downstream of Montlouis and established himself in Husseau. This he achieved with the help of his brother-in-law Claude Levasseur, a well-known vigneron in the region, who once tended the vines now in the ownership of Ludovic Chanson.
François Chidaine (pictured above) started out working on the family domaine, but without responsibility for any specific plots of vines. Essentially he learnt the ropes, and he was able to put what he had learnt into practice in 1989 when he took on 4.5 hectares of his own. Of these vineyards, 3 hectares came from his father, while the other 1.5 hectares he purchased. Within a few years it was clear that he was moving towards more organic philosophies, and away from the conventional methods he had learnt at his father’s side. This was really the beginning of the François Chidaine we know today.