Who: Antoine Sanzay
What: Saumur-Champigny, Touraine, Loire
Where: Varrains, Maine-et-Loire
When: Since 2002
For many years, Saumur-Champigny, mostly red and sometimes white, was just another wine to slake thirsts in Paris Bistros. Its red grape Cabernet Franc destined also to lie in the shadow of much more famous Cabernet Sauvignon and the wines of Bordeaux. This is no longer the case. During the long late 20th century re-invention of fine wine drinking for the general public, Cabernet Franc’s reputation has changed. Where Cabernet Sauvignon is now associated with commodity wines from both Bordeaux and Napa, Cabernet Franc is associated with artisanal craft at its highest quality, such as Clos Rougeard (fn).
Antoine Sanzay is one of the foremost of new vignerons who are driving the excitement for Loire Cabernet Franc and Saumur-Champigny in particular. Antoine took over the family estate in 1999. His father was contracted to sell fruit to the local cooperative. Antoine saw a different route. He created his own label in 2002 and little by little has exited the contracts, thus seeing his production grow carefully until 2014 when he controlled all of it. He owns around 11 hectares including foru hectares in the sandy Poyeux vineyard next to the vines of Clos Rougeard as well as one hectare of white.
In both the vineyard and the cellar he credits his neighbours as mentors to him, and not only the Foucault brothers, but also Thierry Germain of Domaine Les Roches Neuves who’s his neighbour on the other side. Some should be so lucky with their neighbours!
There’s a parallel here with Sébastien Brunet and no coincidence that we have picked up on these two producers. Not only did Sébastien take over the family winery at a young age and find himself blessed with a superb terroir but both Sébastien and Antoine are thinking very carefully about the kind of wine they make. In essence they’re reclaiming the characteristics of the soil that make for such thrilling wines, in particular using the natural acidity to allow them to bring the grapes to proper ripeness in good health rather than using the traditional shortcut of picking unripe and adding sugar. For this part of the Loire is where the underlying rock changes from granite and schist around Angers to the same limestone bedrock that extends all the way to Champagne and Bourgogne. For while Cabernet Franc has been thought of as a Bordeaux grape, the terroir here is more Burgundian.
Antoine is a wine geek, it’s clear. His collection of empty bottles is typical of all the best winemaker cellars. And he’s often referencing other wines, from those of his neighbours to the likes of Rayas in the Rhone or Cyril Fhal in the Roussillon (Rouge Gorge).
He farms organically in the vineyard (but doesn’t certify the wines due to the bureaucracy involved) and has bottled different parcels where the soils allow, if not demand, it.
His cellar is typical of the region, with a large open space for fermentation and deep cold underground cellars carved into the chalk for ageing. He works simply, traditionally (and here it’s long been tradition to de-stem – but he does ferment some wines by whole bunch) but also with different types of fermentation and ageing vessels which bring complexity and freshness. Concrete tank, concrete eggs, tronconic oak tanks, small wood barrels are all present.