In Thouarcé, in the Anjou appellation of the Loire, nestled between a forest, fields of wheat, grasses, vegetables and land home to five cows and two horses, you’ll find the Chenin Blanc and Grolleau (gris, blanc and noir) vineyards of Ferme de la Sansonnière.
The winemaking mission here pays respect to the very notion of une ferme: a farm. This isn’t just about the wine, it’s also about promoting biodiversity and pursuing a path that leads in the opposite direction to monoculture. Through eschewing chemicals and working with nature, never against it, they have become known for their deep, emotive wines; wines that are faithful to the beautiful raw fruit and living soils from which they come.
LITTLEWINE travelled to Ferme de la Sansonnière during harvest 2020 and interviewed Mark Angeli for the full backstage version of this piece.
People: Mark Angeli and Martial Angeli (Mark's son)
Place: Anjou, Loire
Varieties: Chenin Blanc, Grolleau
Farming: Biodynamic (Demeter certified)
Hectares: 7.9 hectares planted to vines, 15 hectares including forest and fields
Did You Know? Discovering biodynamics led Mark Angeli to the notion of seeing the farm as an organism. This means that instead of analysing single aspects of a farm, the farm should rather be seen as one living, breathing entity, which should be preserved and nurtured. This includes incorporating animals, so Mark decided to learn more — in 1994, he bought his first horse, followed by his first cow in 1996. They now have two horses, five cows, and grow wheat for bread, crops for the animals, vegetables and tend bees.
Mark tells us that the vineyards of the Loire are very divided: between the farmers who have chosen to work organically, and those who maintain the chemical methods. The key problem in conventional viticulture (i.e. non-organic), he explains, is the use of synthetic fertilisers:
“There is a big gap between the wines made from chemically treated vineyards — many of which have now been treated like that for fifty years — and those made from organic and biodynamic vineyards. Firstly, the ones cultivated with chemicals die more quickly, whereas with biodynamics, every year the vines seem more resistant, the soil more alive, and the wines better. The wines from the chemically treated vineyards no longer tell you anything in the glass. People who make wines from those vineyards then taste biodynamic wines and say things like, it’s impossible to have aromas like that in wine! You must have added apricot syrup. They’ve become disconnected from reality.”
We ask him why he thinks this is, to which he says,
“It’s all about understanding the basics of cultivation. Synthetic fertilizers are a type of salt. When you put those on the soil, it dissolves in the water in the soil. Then, when the vine takes up the water, it also takes up the salts. It’s like human beings; when we eat very salty food, we want to drink more. Similarly, the vines take up more and more water to try to dissolve these salts. That makes the grapes swell, and that diminishes the taste of the grapes, resulting in the grapes having no taste. And eventually, the vines need those chemicals to avoid getting sick. People don’t understand that those synthetic fertilizers are the start of the catastrophe — for the vines, and for the wines. Instead, people should look to compost and manure.”
Ultimately, their winemaking is very simple: the one goal is to preserve the inherent nature of their beautiful grapes. Mark dwells,