Standing in the vines with Antoine Sanzay the warm summer sun began to lift the morning dew. The vines lapped up the solar energy, as indeed did all the natural flora growing between the rows of vines, the adherence to organic practices from the committed young vigneron certainly in evidence here. And having just undertaken a rapid tour of Antoine’s winemaking facilities, at the time undergoing a significant expansion to accommodate new vats, it was clear that he was as enthusiastic and committed to his vines and his wines as ever. Antoine Sanzay, who I first met just a little more than five years before this most recent visit, was still very much a name to watch in Saumur.
It was perhaps only natural after a walk through the cuverie and the vines that Antoine (pictured below) should invite me to check out his cellars; while the majority of his wines ferment in the ground-level chai Les Poyeux is treated to vinification en barrique in his subterranean cave, and so that is where we headed. We returned to his house and started down some narrow steps in the courtyard, turning a corner as we descended. Having just spent a couple of weeks in Vouvray visiting many of the top growers I had spent quite a lot of time in subterranean limestone cellars, from the dark, mould-dressed but precisely chiselled walls chez Philippe Foreau, to the elegant sweeping curves chez François Pinon, the limestone walls here a pure cream-yellow detailed only with a seam of jet-black flint. The experience chez Sanzay, however, was different.
Despite the gloom within I could sense that the floor of the cellar was sloping downwards at a considerable angle, the surface loose and dusty, making me unsure of my footing in the dim light. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness what I perceived was nothing like the subterranean tunnels of Vouvray. Here there was a giant cavern, the walls and ceiling curving round to meet one another; this was not a space excavated by the hand of man, be it for the vinification of wine (as is often the case in Vouvray) or to quarry rock to build grand châteaux (which is often the case in Saumur and elsewhere, the caves finding a new purpose as a wine cellar, mushroom nursery or even a silk farm only later). Such a space could only be the result of a long process of erosion, the water leeching away the soft limestone over the course of many years. It was a striking contrast, the sight of the dynamic young vigneron in his cave, centuries or perhaps millennia old. Thank heavens Antoine Sanzay rescued this domaine from co-operative ignominy.