Domaine FL is both ancient and modern, an Anjou domaine of two halves united during the early years of the 21st century by Philippe Fournier. The ancient half lies on the north side of the Loire, a venerable estate in Savennières, Château de Chamboureau, one of the original grandes dames of the appellation which should be considered alongside Domaine du Closel, Domaine aux Moines and the like. The more youthful half lies on the south side of the river, a collection of vineyards in the Anjou and Coteaux du Layon appellations, parcels of vines that came in part at least from the original Jo Pithon domaine. It is here, on the side of the road as it climbs out of Rochefort-sur-Loire, that Philippe has financed the construction of one of the Loire’s newest wineries, a rather block-faced edifice (pictured below) which might lack any sense of beauty but which gives the team, now run by Philippe’s son Julien Fournier, all the modern facilities they need.
This profile explores the history of the domaine in detail. On the Anjou side it is short but tempestuous, the Anjou vineyards coming under the Fournier family’s control only as they were lost by Jo Pithon. On the Savennières side it is lengthy and involves some of the Savennières appellation’s most famous names. I will begin with the former, before looking to the history of the latter on the next page.
Philippe Fournier and Jo Pithon
Before Jo Pithon teamed up with stepson Jo Paillé to create Pithon-Paillé he ran an eponymous domaine, and it was during this time that Jo established himself as a cult figure for Loire Valley wine, loved by many. The respect shown him by so many was a consequence of his uncompromising work in the vineyard and the array of richly characterful wines that resulted; I can still recall with great clarity, despite it now being some years since I dispatched the final bottle from my cellar, the taste of his 1997 Coteaux du Layon Beaulieu, a wine that seemed to me to define exactly what this appellation was all about. Unfortunately Jo had also garnered something less welcome than the adoration of Anjou acolytes; as a result of his uncompromising standards the domaine also carried more than a little debt and it was Philippe Fournier, chairman and managing director of Afone, a French telecommunications company with its headquarters in Angers, who stepped in to provide some much-needed financial muscle.
Philippe Fournier therefore acquired the Jo Pithon domaine in 2005, but Jo naturally stayed on, as it was he who provided the viticultural and winemaking expertise. Fournier’s intent, initially at least, seems to have been to build upon Jo’s groundwork and reputation. The following year Philippe subsequently acquired Château de Chamboureau, expanding the domaine across the river, so it seems he was also ready to invest, expand and improve. That in 2007 he also engaged the services of Stéphane Derenoncourt as a consultant to the domaine, Derenoncourt’s first time working with a predominantly white domaine, says as much. It also explains why my first encounter with Fournier’s wines was during the Bordeaux 2007 primeurs when the wines were offered for tasting at La Grappe, where Stéphane shows wines from all the domaines where he consults. Indeed, I have also tasted the wines since at Domaine de L’A in Castillon, and there was a time when I encountered the wines in Bordeaux more often than I did in the Loire Valley. This is certainly no longer the case though, as Derenoncourt no longer consults here (more on this development below).