“We’re always in a state of evolution. In our field of work, it’s an experience that we are constructing—one which inspires reaction.”
Sébastien Bobinet and Emeline Calvez go together like bread and butter. Equally brilliant in their own right—each bringing something special to the alliance—but together, well, it’s like nothing else ever mattered. If you’ve been waiting for the right time to use the phrase ‘dynamic duo’, this is it.
Whether or not you believe in destiny, it’s hard to argue that it didn’t play a hand in the meeting of Sébastien and Emeline. Although Domaine Bobinet has been passed down through Sébastien’s family (he’s the seventh generation to run it), the winery in its present form is as much a reflection of Emeline’s values as it is Sebastien’s. It’s a 50/50 split, built from the foundations of an equal partnership.
It took Sébastien 30 years as a glass-blower, and Emeline, a career as a dancer and sommelier, to realise that they were destined to be winemakers. It’s a different (and rewarding) way of life—worlds apart from Emeline’s days as a dancer. And curiously, just as far away from selling wine in Paris.
“In Paris, it’s much more like being amongst academic types—a stark difference to the growers and farm life which I encounter here. Even if winemakers come from Paris, they adapt and change their way of life and thinking when they arrive and settle here. In Paris, it’s an urban world. Here, it’s another world.”
Meet Sébastien and Emeline
Domaine Bobinet was founded (as we know it today) in 2002, when Sébastien took over 1.8 hectares which has previously belonged to his grandparents. For 15 years, since their retirement, the winery had lay dormant, to say the least. As Emeline puts it, “It had ceased to exist.”
“The vines had been rented by another winemaker. Sebastien took back the land; he had the cellar, and old tractor… everything was old… it was extremely rudimental.”
Though Sebastien’s familial roots were firmly embedded in wine, it wasn’t until his early 30s that he had decided to put his hand to the family trade. As the seventh generation of a family of renowned vignerons, his desire to work differently and more sustainably set him up for some contention.
“He made wine with these rudimental tools until 2010. In 2010, he bought some grapes from the Loire-et-Cher; he wanted to try other things - Gamay, Pineau d’Aunis. And that, funnily, was the time that we also met.”
If Sebastien was curious about pushing the boundaries of winemaking in the Loire, it was meeting Emeline, top-of-the-class graduate of University of Suze-la-Rousse, which provided the fuel to move full speed ahead. She says,
“I was a sommelier, and I had gone to Paris to work with my friend in his wine shop. In 2010, I was doing a tour of French vineyards, learning more about wines, the regions, how to better talk about wines and understand them when tasting. At the end of the tour, I met Sébastian and we became friends. Eventually more.”
Emeline pauses for a second, and smiles.
“In 2011 we did our first harvest and winemaking together. At the start of 2012 I decided to stay here, and we then started to work together during the entirety of the year.”
Little, by little, the production grew.
“We still had gaps—no space for storing stuff, no materials. In 2011, during our first harvest, Sebastian said to me; “you have to see a harvest from the perspective of working in the vines” [Emeline was predominantly working on the business/cellar side] and I said; “OK, but you’ve got to go and spend some time in the cellar.”
“Today, I make the wine and he works the vines. He’s in charge of the French market, and I’m in charge of our exports.”
It’s the perfect arrangement, isn’t it?
Domaine Bobinet comprises of just under two hectares of old-vine Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc. As well as their own vines, they continue to source small amounts of Gamay, Côt and Pineau D’Aunis from neighbouring growers. Though progressive, they’re still traditionalists at heart—working their limestone and clay soils by horse.
“We cultivate our parcels ourselves, and we also buy grapes from three growers in the region, who are close to us. It’s an exchange of virtue; sharing ideas, etc.”
Before he had even recovered the family vineyard, Sébastien had always been interested in organics—he had reflected on this idea long before arriving at the winery. He had previously worked with his grandparents using more conventional methods, and so whilst he had experience in working with wine, it wasn’t something which he pursued until the age of 30.
“He met Olivier Cousin, who passed on his knowledge of working with certain methods and imbued the spirit of it. In 2003, the vineyards were completely converted to organics.”
“Here, we’re always in a state of evolution. In our choice of work, it’s an experience that we are constructing. We’re here to inspire reactions.”
Their way of working the vines has evolved continually since they started back in 2002. It’s as much of a learning curve as it is using learned skills.
“We began with some understanding—you only really begin to fully understand something when you do it over and over. I have friends who have been making wine for a long time now, and they all say that there always comes a day where you feel certain about what you’re doing. It really is a world of uncertainty, and you have to just accept that.”
“I guess the flipside to that is that I don’t really have a process. My methods get better every day. The consequence of that is that I often don’t bother with trying to do the same thing more than once. For example, with a specific cuvée I might think ‘next time I’d look to do that differently;’ but every vintage is different… so you have to adapt your thinking with each vintage, too.”
It’s as much about touch and feel as it is having a rigid plan. After all, the vines evolve year by year as much as us humans do.
“You can’t be too rigid in your approach… you must listen to the grapes. Sébastian and I have to ensure we communicate—while he’s in the vines, I’m with the grapes in the cellar. He has the spirit of a winemaker, and he understands and feels the vibrations.”
Sébastien and Emeline’s temperaments as growers are more tangibly felt in their wines. They are in some ways a reflection of the different worlds that they both come from. The emotion of dancing; the joyful diversity of a wine shop in Paris; and the open-mindedness of starting an entirely new career at 30—this collection of personal stories shine through in their bottles.
“I’m not at all from this world,” explains Emeline, “nor do I have family who come from wine, so I don’t come from a place of knowledge about traditions, norms, etc. When I did my tour around vineyards, I met lots of people who make wine in hugely different ways. If you pose any question to any winemaker who works with low-intervention methods, each time you’ll get an answer which is incredibly different from the previous.”
Grolleau Into Tank
Like their soils, which are worked with the horse-drawn plough, winemaking is also low-intervention, with minimal technology. Grapes are harvested by hand, fermentation always takes place naturally, and none of the wines are fined or filtered. The only notable intervention is the use of CO2 gas for carbonic-style maceration, which takes place for some of the red wines. For other red cuvées, they destem the berries and submerge the grapes in their own juice. Extraction is always on the gentle side, adapted according to the vintage.
They also make pét-nat and the traditional Crémant de la Loire. The whites always go through malolactic fermentation, as they believe this helps to complete the wine, resulting in its most natural state. They use a number of vessels for ageing; from old oak barrels, to new hexagonal concrete tanks. The length of ageing varies according to the cuvée; from as little as three months for their 'primeur' wine (like Beaujolais Nouveau); up to a year for Echalier.
Standing in the cellar and talking to Emeline reminds us that life so rarely follows a linear path. When she speaks of her past life as a dancer, her eyes light up. But when she speaks of her life as a winemaker with Sébastian, it’s a different kind of spark; one of fondness.
“The world of wine is an entirely different world to the world of dance—almost like being in a different dimension. In dance, we communicate very little with anyone.”
And for a second, we look at Emeline and we wonder if ‘we dance’ refers to her previous life as a dancer, or her current one as a winemaker.