Stéphane Cossais Montlouis-sur-Loire Le Volagré 2008
The late Stephane Cossais, who passed away during the latter half of 2009, having made just eight vintages, wasn’t born into the world of wine. As a young man he studied marketing and communication in Lille, before working with the Orchestre National de Lille for four years. It was during this time that he discovered wine, and slowly the realisation of wine’s significance dawned upon him. From that point on wine became an obsession, one that was to give the young Stéphane a new career. He first studied a little, attending classes directed by Eric Dugardin, a leading French sommelier. His enthusiasm suitably stoked, he decided to become a vigneron, his aim being to produce a wine to match that made at Clos Rougeard, in Saumur-Champigny. Well, there’s nothing like aiming for the stars I supposed!
Stéphane enrolled in the Lycée Viticole at Montreuil-Bellay, south of Saumur. Looking to those that clearly inspired him, late in 1999 he was eventually accepted as a stagiaire at Clos Rougeard, no mean feat at all. The Foucault brothers are not easy to get hold of (this has certainly been my personal experience of them), and they had never taken on a student before. Tasting with the Foucault frères he discovered Brézé, their iconic Saumur Blanc, and now a second revelation came to Stéphane. He realised his destiny was not to emulate the Foucault reds, but to make a white wine that matched up to this cult cuvée. He decided that once he finished his stage he would buy a Chenin Blanc vineyard in order to make a white wine at this level of quality; the obvious location to look was Montlouis-sur-Loire, an appellation rich in excellent terroir at an affordable price. With the help of the Foucault brothers, and the support of some subscribers (Stéphane acquired his foothold in the appellation through a vinous kick-starter process, investors to be paid in wine for the next five vintages) he bought his first parcel of vines.
Stéphane began in 2001, on a parcel of land known locally as Volagré which lies between Montlouis-sur-Loire and Husseau, two of the appellation’s three communes. The soils were typical for the region, clay and flint over a limestone bedrock. His commitment to the land was tangible; he had only 3 hectares, planted entirely to Chenin Blanc, and they were quickly converted to organic viticulture. He worked the soil rather than depending on chemicals, and he pruned hard in order to control yields and to avoid the green harvest; this was an admirable stance although it did perhaps cause Stéphane some problems. Some of the early vintages suffered from catastrophically meagre harvests, Stéphane’s low-yield approach compounded by rot, hail and other blights. Happily, some years were more bountiful, including 2005 and 2008. He started off making three cuvées, Maison Marchandelle, Clos Renard and Le Volagré, but by the time the 2008 vintage came along only Le Volagré remained.
Surprisingly, five years on since Stéphane’s passing, the 2008 Montlouis-sur-Loire Le Volagré remains easily available on the open market. In part I am surprised, as the wine, a dry Chenin Blanc made by a young and talented vigneron philosophically bound to one of the greatest domaines of the Loire Valley, is quite stunning. On the other hand I am not surprised at all; this is the Loire, after all, overlooked by so many who cannot see beyond Bordeaux or Burgundy. The 2008 Stéphane Cossais Montlouis-sur-Loire Le Volagré, which was bottled by Frantz Saumon on 17th November 2011 (three years ago today) has a shimmering yellow-gold hue in the glass. There is wonderful concentration suggested by the nose, all desiccated orchard fruit, pears and white peaches, with scents of vanilla flower and a citrus-zest twist giving it some kick. The palate is cool and focused on the start, yet immediately it shows a broad, pithy and concentrated character. More fruit from the orchard here, yellow plums, dry and yet substantial, with a long poised and pithy finish. There is great energy coming through too, vibrant acidity. An impressive wine which shows great quality. The talent possessed by Stéphane Cossais shines through here, and I lament his tragically early passing. This is also yet another example of what can be achieved in the Montlouis appellation, which still hides in the shadow of Vouvray somewhat. Buy this wine while you still can. 17.5/20 (17/11/14)