Les Cailloux du Paradis
Every wine region of France, from Alsace through to Roussillon, has its traditionalists, and also its groundbreakers. Every region has domaines that play it safe, ensuring yields are maintained with chemically dependent viticulture, the 20th-century norm. Alongside those there are always domaines where the methods focus more on the health of the land and its future. In order to achieve this some of these latter vignerons return to the methods of their grandfathers rather than those of their fathers, eschewing chemicals, perhaps moving to full organic viticulture, some even to biodynamics. With a handful, the tractor is parked up in a distant corner, and the horse returns to the vineyard.
The Loire Valley certainly has its fair share of domaines that lean towards these more ancient methods, vignerons who have chosen to be less dependent on chemicals in both vineyards and cellar. Indeed, I think it probably has more than its fair share. From Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé down to the Atlantic vineyards, this is a region rich in organically- and biodynamically-farmed vineyards, run by vignerons with naturalista tendencies in the cellars. Some names, such as Domaine Les Griottes and Olivier Cousin, are capable of sending shivers of excitement down the spines of all natural wine fans. A third name to add to this roll call is undoubtedly that of Claude Courtois, who has established his reputation at Les Cailloux du Paradis.
Today the domaine is increasingly under the control of one of Claude’s two sons, Etienne Courtois. Etienne (pictured above) trained alongside his father and did not study elsewhere, and so I am sure his taking on the mantle of responsibility here will not be associated with a major shift in philosophy. But before we get to any discussion of their methods, of their vines and the approach to viticulture here, we should look first at Claude’s story.