Even though for many drinkers thoughts of sparkling wine naturally turn to Champagne, there are surely few who are unaware of the similarly sparkling wines of Saumur. The two regions are of course connected, it being Jean-Baptiste Ackerman who pioneered the production of sparkling wine in the region during the early years of the 19th century, having been inspired to do so following a trip to the Champagne region. One of the features that drew Ackerman to Saint-Hilaire-Saint-Florent, a small commune downstream of Saumur, was the huge network of caves and cellars hewn from the limestone rock, many of which lay close to the Thouet, a tributary of the Loire. These cool limestone cellars, created when the rock had been quarried to build the region’s many churches, abbeys, cathedrals and châteaux, were ideal for holding large quantities of sparkling wine as it waited to be disgorged.
Jean-Baptiste Ackerman is relevant to the story of Bouvet-Ladubay not only because it was he put Saumur on the sparkling wine map, and not simply because it was he who settled on the banks of the Thouet. He is also relevant because the founder of Bouvet-Ladubay, one Etienne-François Bouvet, was once an employee of his. Where Ackerman led, Bouvet followed, and as a consequence Ackerman and Bouvet-Ladubay stake their claims as the oldest and second-oldest sparkling wine houses in Saumur.
This profile looks at every aspect of life at Bouvet-Ladubay, not only the ancient cellars that facilitated Etienne’s meteoric rise to sparkling-wine stardom and wealth, but the many proprietors that have followed in Etienne’s footsteps, the modern facilities, as well as the range of wines produced here today. First, though, I look at its history. I have illustrated this profile with images from a Bouvet-Ladubay spectacle, a party in the cellars – the Cave des Moines – held every year during the Salon des Vins de Loire.