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Sébastien Riffault

The wines of Sébastien Riffault have become almost synonymous with the natural wine and new-wave fine dining scene of Copenhagen, London, New York, etc… but they aren’t new-wave wines per se. Rather, they are wines that nod to the previous century of the soils and cellar in which they’re made, in Sancerre. 

When we speak to Sébastien about how he makes his wines, he says with a chuckle, 

“To understand what we are doing today, it’s important to know that we work with ripe grapes, featuring different portions of botrytis. It might seem crazy or funky, but sorry to break the news… the style of our wines isn’t really something special. The wines just show you how Sauvignon Blanc from our area can taste when it is ripe. They taste how any producer in Sancerre might have made wine a century ago.”

By a century ago, he means before technological winemaking came onto the scene, and before additives in wine became the norm. For Sébastien’s wines, he has one sole ingredient: time. 

LITTLEWINE visited Sébastien during the 2020 harvest.

People: Sébastien Riffault

Place: Sancerre, France

Varieties: Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir

Hectares: 12

Farming: Biodynamic

Wines: Click here

Did You Know? As the location of the Riffault vineyards is conducive to botrytis (a form of ‘good’ mould which gives the wines a certain rich, rye bread sort of flavour), Sébastien fully believes in including these grapes, as was the case previously in the region. He believes this gives the wines an extra layer of complexity. It also gives a more gourmand style; creating wines that are, in his eyes, simply more delicious. 

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc with some botrytis

Sauvignon Blanc with lots of botrytis

Sébastien explains that almost all Sancerre wines these days are made in a certain style, almost according to recipe. He says, 

“95% of the wine made in Sancerre is conventional in style. It is picked early, technically made, in order to be bottled and drunk very early. Everything is made very quickly, using lab-cultured yeasts for fast fermentation, then pre-filtered, then fined and refiltered… plus a lot of things are added to stabilise the wines, like tartaric acid and ascorbic acid. Those things make the wine clear, so you don’t have a risk of refermentation.” 

Sébastien argues that this method of making wine dulls the potential of the fruit, and hence dulls the potential of terroir expression. Allowing his wines to ferment naturally is of utmost importance. He explains, 

“Yeasts are unique to the year, and they are everywhere. I am not persuaded that terroir is just about the age of the vines, soil and exposition.” 

He continues,

“I initially came to natural wine from the taste that it gives to you. I wanted to create a taste like that. To do that, we need to harvest when the grapes are ripe, so that’s what I did. The purpose of our work as winemakers is like a chef’s work — it’s to bring pleasure to people. Drinking wine should...

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