As the rain began to patter on the windscreen I turned the steering wheel to the left, directing my car onto the bridge over the Layon at Chaudefonds-sur-Layon, and headed into the heart of the village. One of the last of the villages that lie along the course of the Layon, Chaudefonds-sur-Layon sits entirely on the left bank, its houses clustered around the église, bibliothèque, mairie and of course the obligatory tabac. Hemmed in by vineyards to the east and south, and by the river to the north and west, sometimes it feels as though it is only the aforementioned bridge that connects the village to the rest of the outside world.
Twenty (or possibly more) years ago I scoured the streets of this little village, on the hunt for Patrick Baudouin. Patrick was a relative newcomer to the Loire Valley wine scene, one who seemed to be quickly establishing an admirable reputation, whereas I was a relative newcomer to visiting vignerons in order to taste their wines (with no reputation at all). As the rain began to beat harder, I crossed the bridge once again as the hunt became farcical, something akin to Bill Murray’s adventures in Groundhog Day; I must have driven across that bridge at least half a dozen times that day, each time with the same lack of hope. Eventually, with the rain having turned into a torrential downpour followed by a lashing of hailstones (well, it was July, and this was the Loire Valley, what else would you expect?) I gave up, defeated. I returned home, only to find I had left a skylight open and the sofa was now soaked through. It wasn’t the most successful of tasting trips.
Many years on, I have since met up with Patrick Baudouin (pictured above) many times. I have been convinced by his charming character and ready smile, and even more convinced by the delightful composure frequently displayed by his wines, all sourced from his organically managed vineyards. Today he is one of the top names of the region, and a reliable source of both dry and sweeter cuvées. I told him a few years ago of my failure to locate him on my first ever visit to Chaudefonds-sur-Layon and he laughed, because his domaine is very easy to find. Provided you know where to look, of course.
Here in this profile I document the story of Patrick Baudouin, looking at how he came to return to the Loire Valley, his ancestral and childhood home, and also how he came to be head of a family domaine turning out such a remarkable array of wines.