On a wine trip to Sancerre it is not wise to limit oneself simply to the town of Sancerre itself. While numerous domaines can be found tucked away in the backstreets of this hilltop hamlet (actually, a bit more than a hamlet, but I liked the alliteration), some of which occupy the top tier within the appellation’s quality ladder, many of the greatest vignerons are to be found turning the soils around nearby villages. Immediately, certain names spring to mind. There is Chavignol, and its famous vineyards of Les Monts Damnés and the Cul de Beaujeu. Here we find winemaking giants such as Henri Bourgeois, but also much smaller but equally noteworthy domaines such as François Cotat and Clos la Néore. And not far away is Bué, rich in notable vineyards, including Le Grand Chemarin, Le Petit Chemarin, Le Chêne Marchand and the Clos de la Poussie. Here we find Vincent Pinard, Pierre Morin and François Crochet.
One other quality hotspot that has grabbed my attention recently is in the other direction, north-west of Sancerre, in the commune of Sury-en-Vaux. Here in the little hamlet of Chambre (and this one really is a hamlet) we find Vincent Gaudry. And just next-door (well, close enough) is the domaine of Claude Riffault. Although I recall tasting some of the Riffault wines many years ago and being unmoved, it is clear that in recent years things have really changed for the better here. There is now a new generation at the helm, a reorganisation of the portfolio, and a shift towards organic viticulture. Some or perhaps all of these developments have surely been important steps in what seems to have been a revitalisation of the domaine.
Henri and Claude Riffault
The current incumbent is Stéphane Riffault (pictured above), but he is the in fact the fourth generation to take the reins, and the domaine has considerable history. His great grandfather established it during the 19th century, and he worked the land, but as was commonplace at the time he ran a smallholding rather than a vineyard. There were undoubtedly vines planted, but they provided just one crop out of many, being tended alongside fruit trees and arable crops.