In the struggle against the vinous monotony that some seem to favour, expressed through their putrid desire to plant the entire world with only a tiny number of ‘acceptable’ varieties such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, Lionel Gosseaume must surely be one of our generals. From his headquarters in the Viticole Sologne, a breeding ground for rebellion, individuality and diversity, he farms about 15 hectares of varieties. When it comes to many of his parcels there is, in fact, nothing unusual about them; they are planted largely with Sauvignon Blanc, secondly with Gamay, a fairly typical arrangement for this part of the Loire Valley. It is when you look beyond these bread-and-butter parcels, to his micro-plots of lesser-known varieties, that things begin to get really interesting.
There is Côt, otherwise known as Malbec; a surprise discovery when I first encountered it in the Loire Valley more than a decade ago, but it seems old hat now. That shouldn’t lessen our interest in this variety though, as it is responsible for some beautiful wines made by numerous growers across Touraine. More interesting is surely Menu Pineau, otherwise known as Arbois (it seems to me the less well-known a variety is, the more synonyms it is likely to have). This is a distinctive Loire Valley specialty, but not unique; a number of growers around here work with it, with Domaine de Veilloux being responsible for some of the more successful wines. And then, last but not least, there is Meslier-Saint-François.
Yes, Meslier-Saint-François. No, I hadn’t heard of it either, as this is a true Ligérian rarity. Having been thoroughly studied this variety is now know to be the offspring of the ever-fecund Gouais Blanc and Chenin Blanc, the latter of which is of course very much at home here. The area known to be planted to Meslier-Saint-François has tumbled in recent decades, from a figure of 2300 hectares in 1958 to just 50 hectares in 1994. There is probably much less than 50 hectares in existence now, but at least a small section of this vineyard has been saved; one plot, naturally a diminutive one, is secure in the hands of Lionel Gosseaume.