Château de Fesles
Unlike the ancient châteaux of Graves and Sauternes in Bordeaux, for example, a number of which can claim Medieval origins, in some cases evinced by the presence of castellated towers and turrets, there are few such estates in the Loire Valley that can boast a similarly rich and ancient heritage. Looking at Anjou in particular, although a source of superb wines – including some iconic styles from appellations such as Quarts de Chaume and Savennières – the region’s history tends to be one of pastoral servitude rather than the acquired or inherited wealth we might more readily associate with Bordeaux.
Here in Anjou viticulture tended to focus more around fermage, or crop-sharing, in which a mere handful of wealthy landlords rented out their land to the local peasants in return for a share of the harvest. Baron Brincard at Château de la Bizolière, at one time the proprietor of vast tracts of the Savennières appellation, is perhaps the most obvious example. The traditional payment was a quarter of the harvest, a fact reflect in some familiar Anjou names, both the appellation of Quarts de Chaume, and also some cuvées, such as the Quarts de Juchepie cuvée from Eddy Oosterlinck. For this reason there are few grand estates with long and noble histories here. There are one or two though, and on the whole they can be found dotted along the course of the Layon, a fact that has led some to refer – at least half-jokingly, I think – to this little stretch of land as the ‘Loire Valley’s Médoc’. One such property that awaits us here is Château de Fesles.
Château de Fesles has a grand and impressive history, one to rival any in Bordeaux. The origins of the estate date back to at least 1070, although information about the early centuries – how the land was used, and when the vineyards were first planted, for example – is not known. Despite this remarkable heritage there is little evidence of this history apparent to the eye today. There are no ancient ramparts or battlements, the original buildings having largely been lost, and what stands on the estate today dates only from the 19th century. The estate’s life story – in particular, details of who owned and tended the vineyards – only really begins to take shape with the arrival of the Boivin family, also in the late 19th century.
The Boivin Family
It was François Boivin who acquired the estate in 1870, although he was an uncle rather than a direct ancestor of the Boivins who ran the estate during the following century. It came to the line that carried through to the 20th century when François sold the estate to his nephew, Florent Boivin, who acquired the estate from his relative for a song, vineyard prices having plummeted in the wake of the phylloxera epidemic. Having replanted the vineyards using grafted Chenin Blanc, the estate then passed from Florent to his son, Amboise Boivin, who by all accounts lived a colourful life. During World War I he ran the château as a jail for German prisoners of war, and later on in life he suffered from mental illness, treated with electroconvulsive therapy. Upon his eventual death the estate was divided between his four children, the Napoleonic laws of inheritance having put an end to primogeniture.