I am in the unusual position of having visited the vineyards of the little-known Fiefs-Vendéens appellations, the little islands of viticulture and winemaking far to the south of Nantes, long before I ever ventured onto the soils of the much more widely-appreciated wines of Muscadet. This was thanks to a holiday taken in the region many years ago, when I encountered these vines digging their roots into sandy soils, the sea breezes casting the salty Atlantic spray over their leaves. Such imagery naturally conjures up thoughts of Muscadet, and it is tempting to think that the wines made here are just the same, a somehow ‘lesser’ version perhaps. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth; for a start Melon de Bourgogne is something of a rarity in the Fiefs-Vendéens, and the vines I saw liberally dosed with sea salt were far more likely to have been Chenin Blanc, or perhaps even Pinot Noir.
These are complex little islands of viticulture, on the wane in recent years, as I have already described in my introduction to my profile of Domaine Saint-Nicolas, another Fiefs-Vendéens stalwart. You need energy, enthusiasm, determination and perhaps a willingness to innovate in this downtrodden corner of France’s vineyards. One vigneron with the necessary gall is Jérémie Mourat, who turns out a complex and certainly esoteric range of wines from his extensive ‘collection’ of domaines. He began over a decade ago with the familial property, Château Marie de Fou, handed down to him by his father, but the dynamic and forward-looking Jérémie has since overseen a great expansion of the estate with the acquisition of other vineyards, including two very significant domaines, these being Moulin Blanc and Clos Saint-André.
This profile looks at the domaine in as much detail as I have been able to pull together, beginning now with a history of the Mourat family, who were merchants, farmers and barrel makers long before they planted a vine (commercially at least), and continues on with a look at the domaines, the viticultural philosophy, the winemaking, the Mourat ranges (there are several) and I finish with all my recent tasting notes.
The Mourat Family: Origins
Central to the story of this domaine is the Mourat family, and in particular the last two generations, Jean and Jérémie (the latter pictured below). The family tree is unusually well documented, and thus this father-and-son team can trace their ancestry back as far as Paul Mourat, who was born in La Couarde-sur-Mer, on the Île de Ré, in 1595. This tiny island, which is just 30 kilometres from end to end, and a mere 5 kilometres wide, lies off France’s Atlantic coast, within sight of La Rochelle. Today the island is joined to the mainland by a road bridge, built in 1988, but we can be sure that in Paul Mourat’s time he resided here in splendid isolation, just him and a few hundred other folk, living off the land.
Paul Mourat may well have cultivated vines, although there is no direct evidence to prove this. Nevertheless, even by the time he was living on the island it had been inhabited for many centuries, at least since the establishment of a monastery on the island by Hunald, Duc d’Aquitaine, in 745. And where there are monasteries there are vines, of course. Even today, huge swathes of the island are planted to vines, particularly at the eastern end, while towards the west the land is given over to the harvesting of salt from the ocean. Nevertheless, no matter what his trade, this ancient ancestor was living a long way from Mareuil-sur-Lay, where Jean and Jérémie live. And it was not until the latter years of the 19th century, nine generations later, that Eugène Louis Mourat left the Île de Ré to settle in Les Sables-d’Olonne, in the Vendée.
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