Clisson: The Granite Beau Idéal
Standing at the centre of the bridge that spans the Sèvre Nantaise as it flows through the centre of Clisson, it finally dawned on me that my preconceptions regarding the Muscadet region were for the most part wide of the mark. In a region renowned for what might be described as mild-mannered wines, with subtle flavours and filigree structures, I had come to imagine that the landscape might in some way reflect this. I was expecting a bucolic landscape criss-crossed with babbling brooks and sleepy country lanes, the latter permanently strewn with damp autumn leaves, no matter the season. A round of visits to the region, finishing up here in Clisson, made it clear that nothing could be further from the truth.
Looking out over the misty river, it was the thunder of the water as it flowed from three tail races beneath a large water mill – long since repurposed as an upmarket hotel – that finally broke the spell. The river here is as wide as many of the Loire’s grander tributaries, including the Cher and the Indre, and the flow of water over a broad weir built to feed the mill races only added to the thundery roar. Bucolic and babbling? Mild-mannered? Suddenly, none of these words seemed to fit either the region or its wines.
This moment of realisation is one reason why, in this exploration of the Muscadet crus communaux, I turn first to Clisson. Another reason for beginning here is that Clisson is awash with famous names; Bruno Cormerais, Famille Lieubeau and Domaine de la Pépière, among others, have been producing wines true to this terroir for several decades, some having started out with prototype cuvées, long predating the official recognition of the cru. Accordingly, this was one of the first crus to be so recognised, the decree which made it real having been signed off in 2011. A third reason for starting here is that in terms of terroir it is one of the most purely defined crus, its wines a perfect embodiment of what can be achieved with Melon de Bourgogne on granite soils. If you wish to understand granite’s role in Muscadet, it is to Clisson you should come.
Clisson is, to steal a line from Byron, granite’s beau idéal.
In this guide to Clisson I will take a brief look at the history of the town, which is intriguing, before looking beyond its walls to describe the extent of the associated cru, its topography, vineyards and wines.