Chinon – Les Picasses
Domaine J-M Raffault is the largest single owner in the 15-hectare Les Picasses vineyard, with six hectares. His 15-to-60-year-old vines are spread over ten parcels. Rodolphe Raffault converted the first parcels of Les Picasses to organic viticulture in 2009 and completed the effort in 2015; certification is expected in 2019. The Les Picasses lieu dit is situated on a plateau at the summit of the hills overlooking the Vienne. The site is the highest point between the Vienne and Loire Rivers and is very well exposed. It was home to many windmills in the 19th century. Vines were already planted here by the 15th century. The name Picasses derives from a vineyard tool with two points (pics) used to work on vines planted on stony soil. The soil in the Les Picasses vineyard is a blend of limestone and clay with small stones over a subsoil of pure limestone, imparting intensity and structure to the wine.
The grapes for Les Picasses are destemmed, and fermentation happens spontaneously with indigenous yeasts. Malolactic fermentation takes place in casks. The wine is aged in 3-to-10-year-old barriques for 18 months on its fine lees, racked, fined with egg white and bottled. It is a wine of great intensity of flavor – minerally-tinged black cherry and kirsch – and can be aged for many years. 2000 cases produced.
About the Producer
The Chinon appellation covers both banks of the Vienne River, which is a tributary of the Loire. The appellation encompasses 19 communes and has a total area of 2400 hectares. Its soils and climate are perfectly suited to the cultivation of the Cabernet Franc grape.
The Raffault family began cultivating vines in Chinon 14 generations ago, when their ancestor, Mathurin Bottreau, bought his first parcel of vines in 1693. Today, they owns 50 hectares of vines in 7 communes. The Cabernet Franc vines average 35 years of age and 10 hectares within these sites are 50 years of age. The Chenin Blanc vines average 20 years of age.
The late Jean-Maurice Raffault, father of the present manager and winemaker Rodolphe, was one the great personalities of Chinon. Upon taking over the family domaine in 1973, he revolutionized local practices. First, he abandoned polyculture in favor of the cultivation of only wine grapes. Beginning with only the 4.5 hectares he had inherited from his father, he purchased and planted some of the finest known sites of Chinon, expanding the domaine to 50 hectares - J.M. Raffault is the largest shareholder in Les Picasses vineyard. But most importantly, he began to vinify each parcel separately to ensure the typicity of each terroir and he used the name of the individual sites for the respective wines. No one has done this before! The practice of naming Chinons with site names is now commonplace in the appellation. Rodolphe Raffault succeeded his father in 1997, after completing his studies at the Dijon University school of oenology.
Vinification practices: the maceration period ranges from 15 to 28 days. Rodolphe continues the tradition of aging the Chinons in neutral oak casks that are more than 10 years old. The impressive cellar houses 900 barrels and is the largest in the region. Maturation takes place over 18 months in three huge caves cut into the limestone cliffs, protected from light and remaining at a constant temperature of 56 degrees and 85% humidity. Racking is done from barrel to barrel, in the traditional method, which helps to clarify the wines along with a later fining with egg whites. The wines are not filtered.
Farming practices: organic. All wines will be certified organic by 2022.
2015 Vintage Report: the growing season started very early due to exceptionally hot and dry Spring weather. Raffault’s vineyards were one month ahead of normal development in mid-April. Flowering occurred early, around June 10th and in excellent conditions, but the heat and lack of rain had already begun to reduce the size of the crop. Very hot and dry weather continued through mid-August, by which time the ripening cycle had slowed due to the lack of rain. Veraison occurred in mid-August but ripening was still advancing too slowly for the season. Much-needed rain came in late August and early September, bringing the crop into balance and allowing ripening to pick up; the moisture was quickly absorbed by the dry soil. Sun and warmth returned in the first week of September, setting the stage for an excellent last 6 weeks of the growing season, even with a rainy period mid-month. These factors also made it possible for Rodolphe to vinify spectacular red 2015 Chinons across his vineyards. “The fine September weather” Raffault observes, “advanced maturation, and we recovered from the drought conditions. The heat reduced acidity and concentrated the juice in the grapes.”
2016 Vintage Report: the 2016 growing season started promisingly. But the nights of April 25 and 26 brought a severe frost which severely damaged the buds on the vines on most of the alluvial vineyards sites, the Chenin Blanc parcel, and part of the Clos d’Isoré. Poor weather continued into June. Excessive rain fell in many sectors of the appellation, but, fortunately, none of the the J-M Raffault vineyards flooded and the water was absorbed without incident. Flowering was late and irregular, but by late June there was at least the prospect of a decent harvest in the vineyards not damaged by frost. Outbreaks of mildew, due the damp conditions, further reduced the crop in several zones. Rodolphe did seven treatments of “bouillie bordelaise” and never had to resort to synthetic products. Despite the challenges, the top J-M Raffault sites, Picasses, Isoré and the Clos de l’Hospice, remained in excellent condition.
Summer finally arrived in mid-July. Very hot and dry weather continued through late-August, by which time the ripening cycle had slowed due to the lack of rain. There were four, 100 degree days at the end of August. Véraison occurred late, about August 25th, and much-needed rain came in mid-September, bringing the crop into balance and allowing ripening to accelerate. The moisture was quickly absorbed by the dry soil. Sun and warmth returned in late September and early October, setting the stage for a superb last month of the growing season.
Equine Décaivaillonage at Clos de l'Hospice
Note: "décaivaillonage" is plowing.