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.
Jean-Maurice Raffault and Rodolphe Raffault’s family began cultivating vines in Chinon 14 generations ago, when their ancestor, Mathurin Bottreau, bought his first parcel of vines in 1693. Today, Domaine Jean-Maurice Raffault 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, Jean-Maurice revolutionized local practices and put new practices in place that were widely emulated in the region. 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, Maurice, Jean-Maurice purchased and planted some of the finest known sites of Chinon, expanding the domaine to 50 hectares. But most importantly, he began to vinify each parcel separately to ensure the typicity of each terroir. To reinforce this initiative, and to highlight the unique character of each wine as a result of the soil type and microclimate of its origin, Jean-Maurice began to use the name of the individual sites for the respective wines. No one has done this before in Chinon! The practice of naming Chinons with site names is now commonplace in the appellation, and it began with Jean-Maurice Raffault’s innovation.
Rodolphe Raffault succeeded his father as winemaker and manager in 1997, after completing his studies at the Dijon University school of oenology. Today he vinifies and ages each wine separately. 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. Their 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: the domaine has long practiced sustainable viticulture, known as lutte raisoneé in France. The soils are either plowed or planted with grass and no chemical fertilizers or herbicides are used. Rodolphe Raffault began the transition to fully organic farming about 10 years ago. The Clos d’Hospice has been cultivated organically since he replanted it in 2008. The Les Galuches, Les Picasses parcels are in conversion to being fully organic, while the Clos d’Isore has been organically farmed since 2012. Rodolphe Raffault expects his first organic certification in 2019. The balance of the other holdings will be converted to organic farming over the coming years. Although converting 50 hectares of vines in diverse parcels and microclimates – over a series of challenging vintages — cannot be done all at once, Rodolphe Raffault believes that this is an essential evolution of his estate, to the benefit of the vineyards, the wines, and the people of the domaine.
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.