Nestled in the clefts and valleys that slice through the limestone plateau around the town of Sancerre there are numerous little villages some of which have, among fans of the wines of the region at least, acquired a modicum of fame. They have the same resonance as the likes of Chambolle-Musigny, Gevrey-Chambertin or Puligny-Montrachet might have with a drinker of the wines of Burgundy, and they are of no less interest in my opinion. Here, in little villages such as Bué and Sury-en-Vaux vignerons strive to grow and ultimately pick the very best fruit they can from their vertiginous slopes of sometimes uncompromising limestone.
Living and working in the middle of any of these villages has advantages – for example, your vines are often right on your doorstep – but there can be problems too. Many of the cellars are cramped, wedged in between the house on the roadside, and the towering slope of vines behind. Modernisation might be on the cards but expanding to accommodate your new pneumatic press and new vats, not to mention a new grape reception area and bottling line, simply isn’t possible. In such a situation there is only one viable long-term solution. You have to move out of the village.
This is a problem affecting the vignerons of Chavignol as much as anywhere else. At the top of the village Henri Bourgeois have responded by expanding up the slope, and they now have a huge facility there. For those right in the centre though, a move downhill is perhaps the only option. One vigneron who grasped this nettle was Jean-Paul Labaille, and Domaine Thomas-Labaille (pictured above) is now the first domaine you encounter on the road from Sancerre heading up towards Chavignol. And it is a domaine worth stopping at too; these are very convincing wines, and although they seem to be appreciated in the USA they and the domaine deserve to be more widely known.