LOIRE VALLEY - FRANCE
“Muscadet fell out of fashion 20 years ago, but today it's all the rage, thanks to a handful of quality-conscious producers who are raising the bar. This is one of the top producers of the appellation, and the first to make a cuvee according to the terroir.“ - Decanter Magazine
"If Burgundy's Domaine Leroy made Muscadet, it would be Domaine de l'Ecu." - Matt Kramer, Wine Spectator - Wines of the Year
Many feel that Domaine de l'Ecu (along with a very small group of other domaines, of course) can be thanked for Muscadet’s identity today. The domaine's influence can be attributed to three main factors. The first is the very early adoption of organic viticulture, well before it was fashionable to do so. The vineyards of Domaine de l'Ecu have been certified organic for over 40 years and certified biodynamic for over 20 years. Secondly, an unshakeable belief in the unique terroirs of Muscadet that inspired vinification and bottling based on soil type, as opposed to appellation blends. Thus was born the famed terroir wines from the subsoils of Gneiss, Orthogneiss and Granite. And, finally, unlike most regular Muscadet, the wines are aged sur-lie for 15-18 months, resulting in a texture and layered complexity that have come to define the unique style of Domaine de l'Ecu Muscadets, and set them apart from other wines in the appellation. In fact, some Loire cogni scenti have argued that Domaine de l'Ecu should be its own appellation - like Chateau Grillet, for example - due to the singularity of the wines.
Besides these factors, there are a series of non-negotiable ‘house rules’ that apply to all the wines at Domaine de l'Ecu: working the soils by hand, harvesting by hand, fermenting with indigenous yeast, avoiding pumping or racking of the must (only gravity), and minimal use of sulphur. All in all, it is a philosophy of 'no make-up'; just true wines without adulteration or artifice.
In recent years, the domaine has seen a change of hands since celebrated owner and natural viticulturist Guy Bossard had no heirs interested in taking over the property. The estate is now run by a passionate, wine-loving gentleman named Frédéric’s Niger. Fred is a very ‘hands-on’ owner and is dedicated to maintaining the greatness of the estate. Like Bossard, Fred is a fanatic in the vineyards, crops extremely low, and makes Muscadets that have remarkable depth, precision and age-ability. His passion and connection to the natural world guide his every move in the vineyard and cellar. He is present, observant and mindful, always with the goal of working in tandem with the forces of nature and never against them.
The four Muscadets made by the domaine receive very traditional fermentations - in subterranean glass-lined tanks, with subsequent lees-aging. There has been a move to reduce the sulphur dioxide levels in the wines, particularly since Frédéric’s arrival, and less than 10 mg/l free sulphur dioxide is typical, a slightly lower figure than would have been typical under Guy’s direction. The sulphites used are from an organic source, rather than the product of an industrial process, and they are sourced by Frédéric from Philippe Gourdon of Château Tour Grise.
In recent years, Fred has embarked on a compelling endeavour to craft a collection of Vin De France varietal wines fermented and aged in a combination of amphora and barrel, and sometimes amphora alone. He is particularly interested in the energy exchange between vessel and wine, and ultimately in how this energy is transmitted to those of us who have the pleasure of experiencing these vibrant, lively, pure expressions of soil and grape.
Chris Kissack, perhaps the foremost authority on wines from the Loire Valley: “The grandes cuvées de terroir from Domaine de l’Ecu are classic examples of Muscadet, truly terroir-driven wines, and they would make an excellent, high quality (and yet great value) starting point for anyone wishing to get to grips with this large wine region. For those more familiar with the region, however, I am sure that the wines will remain regular buys. These are Muscadets which overturn the outdated view that this is a region for cheap-and-cheerful early drinkers. These bright, clear, minerally wines may well drink very well in their youth, but they also age in a very elegant fashion, and seeing out ten years in the cellar is something they will do with ease.”