Les Terres Bleues - La Chapelle-Glain, Loire-Atlantique, France
We were sat at Xavière's table, tucking in to slow-roast lamb shoulder and garlicky potatoes, both from her partner’s farm. There was fresh bread from the village baker and even cheese - which one of their children makes from the farm milk.
The food was fantastic. But we had come to taste her wine. And Xavière didn't have any.
Some creative thinking was required. Much like eight years ago, when the problem was more basic. There were no vines for miles around the village - La Chapelle-Glain, about 60km north of Nantes. In fact, planting vines there was officially forbidden.
That wasn't about to stop Xavière, who was determined to persevere with her dream of a career change after 20 years running her own business.
Enlisting the help of Ancenis grower Jacque Caroger, she lobbied the local council, who eventually decided to give her permission to plant her vineyard.
She started with an analysis of the terroir before choosing to plant Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Grolleau. The soil of her 1.5-hectare plot is predominantly blue schist, hence the name of her project - Les Terres Bleu.
Xavière hasn’t taken an easy path. The plants (around 8,000 per hectare) are trained in the Albarello style, common on Mount Etna. With help from family and friends, each vine was indivually staked with a whacking great lump of wood. This type of training gives all-day exposure to the sun, very helpful in this northerly location.
Xavière chooses to perform all the work in the vines by hand so she has a connection to the plant. She would use a horse to plough if she could but the soil is too rocky so she has to use a little tractor. In the cellar she works very delicately, using no sulphur or filtration.
She uses biodynamic treatments and herbal teas made from local flowers and honey instead of copper or sulphur in the vineyard. This green evangelism has the same inspiration as her old business - working to clean and reuse waste water and restore the biodiversity of rivers.
It hasn't been an easy ride. In 2017, she was forced to buy grapes from a friend who is an organic grower in Anjou to ensure her venture could survive huge 80 per cent losses from that year’s frost.
That hurdle inspired more environmental innovation. She bought a solar-powered device that sits in the middle of the vineyard. When the temperature drops below zero it pumps out warm air, covering most of her planted area.
Her first tiny harvest was in 2015, producing a small amount of Pinot Noir, which was what we had come to Les Terres Bleu to sample. It would be perfect to wash down that slow-cooked lamb and garlicky potatoes.
So, with typical ingenuity, Xavière had called one of her customers with an odd request: "Can I buy back one of my bottles?"
The Pinot had us hooked straight away from the colour. It was seductive, delicate and slightly gamey. We've also tasted her negoce wines, which share the same delicate style.
Xavière is a tough, determined woman who strives to leave as little mark on the land as humanly possible while making amazing juice.
Wines now in stock:
NEW 2017 O Joséphine - Chenin
Mineral, round, aromatic.
NEW 2017 Groll d'Oiseaux – Grolleau
Light, crunchy, juicy & mineral.
NEW 2017 Vergo – Cabernet Franc
Harvested in October, 7% pinot gris added.
Rich & juicy, aromatic, mineral with soft green tannins.