Domaine des Ouches
While Bourgueil and St Nicolas de Bourgueil do not enjoy the same level of fame as their Cabernet Franc counterpart, Chinon, there is much to be gained from an exploration of these two appellations. Their gentle gravel incline, the limestone beneath only popping out at the very top of the slope, can provide attentive vignerons with valuable raw material. The focus for those with vines on gravelly soils should, I feel, be on elegance, perfume and precision rather than power; the latter should be the focus for those fortunate enough to have a few vines in those lieux-dits that sit high up on the slope, in exalted vineyards such as Les Bézards, Les Malgagnes, Les Perrières and the like.
There are many domaines that work to this mantra, turning out elegant wines from Bourgueil’s softly friable gravelly terroir, but which also make good use of their vines on the richer soils of clay and limestone. Domaine des Ouches is one such domaine; here the Gambier brothers produce an array of wines which seem to relate to their terroir of origin in a quite precise fashion. From the gravelly soils comes a perfumed and approachable entry-level cuvée, but they also have several parcels of vines on more prestigious soils just below the tree line, and these give rise to an attractive portfolio of tannin-rich single-vineyard cuvées which are very worthy of our attention.
The Gambier brothers are the eighth generation of the family to tend vines here, the domaine having been passed down through the family since the French Revolution (when they presumably acquired the land) in the late-18th century. In many cases, however, the family’s vineyards were passed from mother to daughter, and so it was many years before the name of Gambier was associated with the domaine. The current proprietor Denis Gambier can rattle off some of the names of the vigneronnes who once worked these vines, and these included Prince (there is a Clos Prince associated with the domaine, probably relevant), Boireau and Chéreau. The domaine eventually came to a Gambier through marriage.