Olivier Cousin is something of a free spirit, a man who sailed the Atlantic in his yacht before he ultimately settled down in Martigné-Briand, taking in hand the domaine of his vigneron-grandfather in 1980. His grandfather had tended these vines for a long time, always eschewing the use of chemicals, and so Olivier inherited a very clean vineyard, blessed with rich soils full of vigour, and healthy vines. Olivier built upon this strong start, cultivating the vines using ecologically sound methods, ultimately converting his entire vineyard over to biodynamics. Eventually, in his search for harmony and reflecting his love for animals, his tractor was sold and replaced by a horse. Today he has a team of four such horses, and he and his domaine have gained a reputation – at the very least national, if not international – for his environmentally sound approach to viticulture and winemaking, and of course the quality of the wines.
It seems reasonable to expect that one of the Loire’s leading ‘natural’ vignerons – a man who has forged ahead on a course of self-sustainability for over three decades, tending the vines he inherited with just as much care as he does his vegetable garden – should be best known for the quality of the vibrant and lively wines he produces. And yet, I suspect, with Olivier Cousin, this is not the case. For despite the fact that Olivier’s name and face seem to hold a place in the heart of many advocates of ‘natural’ wine, and many vignerons both close by and distant who aspire to the way of life he has carved out for himself, beyond this circle of eager acolytes the man in question is probably best known for his protracted, David-and-Goliath-style battles with the vinous authorities. Sadly it is this sort of activity, rather than bottling a killer cuvée of Grolleau, that gains the most column inches in today’s wine press. His face was most recently in the news thanks to his undertaking a high-profile tussle – reported on numerous blogs as well as in the mainstream wine press – over the labelling of his wine.
If they achieve nothing else, the actions of Olivier Cousin (pictured above) at least tell us that here we have a quietly passionate and committed man, one who is prepared to act according to his beliefs, and not simply take the easy way out. And yet the man himself is charming and more gentle than he looks (I have found that to be often the case when it comes to some of the Loire Valley’s seemingly larger-than-life characters). Nevertheless, before exploring this side of Olivier any further, and before I detail the domaine, the vineyards and the winemaking, it seems appropriate that we should first take a look at one or two of his most notable ‘run-ins’ with the local wine police.