Domaine des Hauts Baigneux
I have visited many cellars in the Loire Valley and in Bordeaux (and one or two other regions, believe it or not) and many have a cathedral-like tranquility to them. And some of them, in Bordeaux anyway, are no less spacious. Row upon row of barrels rest together, slumbering peacefully for months on end without being disturbed. The vats, stainless steel, wood or cement, lie empty for much of the year. Tools, hosepipes, pumps and more are hidden from sight; it is as if the grapes walked in unaided, and jumped first into the vat, and later on from vat to barrel, without any human assistance at all (which would be the ultimate in ‘natural’ wine, I suppose).
Come harvest time though, cellars soon wake from their torpor. The work starts a week or two in advance, as every piece of equipment, every vat and barrel, is cleaned in readiness. Walking around the cellars of Domaine Grosbois in the autumn of 2016 I could sense the activity building as the team prepared. The harvest was destined to be small, almost all of the crop having been destroyed by a devastating frost the previous April, but there were still some grapes to be picked. What struck me most about the cellars, though, was just how cramped they were. The barrels were piled high – very high – in a distant chamber, while in the central part of the cellar the vats were crammed in tight. So tight, in fact, that to make my way through I hard to squeeze sideways between their curved and dimpled walls of stainless steel, while stepping gingerly over hosepipes as broad as my calf. It didn’t have the air of a cellar waiting for just 10% of the crop to arrive.
There is one pre-eminent reason why the Grosbois cellars felt so busy that day, why the vats had to jostle so energetically for position. There is, if truth be told, more than one domaine working here. Nicolas Grosbois (pictured above) uses these facilities not only to ferment the fruit from his family’s vines, those right on his doorstep in Chinon, but in these tiny cellars he also vinifies the harvest from another 15 hectares of vines he acquired in 2013. This second vineyard, which he runs in cooperation with friend and business partner Philippe Mesnier, is Domaine des Hauts-Baigneux. Which, for the record, is not in Chinon, but sits on the outskirts of Azay-le-Rideau.