La Grange Tiphaine winery, in the Loire Valley, owns and farms vineyards across two appellations: Montlouis-sur-Loire and Touraine-Amboise. Luckily for us, this means we can explore the energetic and vibrant Chenin Blancs of Montlouis, as well as the soulful reds and Chenin Blancs of Touraine-Amboise, via the talented and dedicated couple behind this domaine.
Through a sensitive love for their land via organic and biodynamic methods, this winery has gone from strength to strength as they’ve learnt which winemaking methods best enable them to capture the essence of their fruit in the bottle. These days, their cellar approach is simple: touch the fruit as little as possible — intervening only when necessary — in order to let their delicious fruit shine brightly.
LITTLEWINE caught up with Coralie Delechenau on her recent visit to London.
Coralie tells us about the beginnings of their journey:
“My husband, Damien, took over from his father in 2002. He started with nine hectares, and now we have 17 planted, 16 in production. Damien and I met in Bordeaux, where we were studying oenology. We travelled for a year, then came back to the Loire, and Damien began working at the family domaine. For me, however, being in the Loire was something new to me, so I decided to work in other places first, in order to be sure of what I wanted to do. I then joined him in 2008.”
It soon became a love story of not just two people, but also of their combined love for their land. Early on, they decided that they would pursue the organic path. By 2005, Damien was already working in this manner, and Coralie suggested that they should pursue certification. They began their path to certification in 2008 and were certified by 2011.
Next, they decided to explore further, having come across the realm of biodynamic farming. They began experimenting with these methods in 2010, became wholeheartedly convinced by them, and by 2014 were also certified biodynamically, with the association Biodyvin.
Listen to Coralie explain why organic and biodynamic farming is important to them.
For their next chapter, they are considering a return to polyculture. Coralie says,
“Damien’s grandfather was a farmer — he had animals and land for cultivating, as well as the vineyards. It meant that everything was balanced. If the vineyards didn’t produce much one year, for example, then he had the cereals and sunflowers they grew, and the animals they tended. They were able to live just by themselves — they were independent and didn’t need to rely on others. By the time Damien’s father took over, he decided to quit the animals, keeping just the land and the vineyards. Then, Damien focused solely on the vineyards, no longer the sunflowers or crops. But now, we’re starting to think about working with sunflowers and animals again. That will be the next project — for the next ten years!”
This notion of working with more than one crop will enable them to be more independent, while also reinforcing the ‘farm as an organism’ approach that biodynamic farming is all about. By having a range of plants and animals, it will strengthen the overall biodiversity of their land.
It also encourages communication within the community. For example, they already have an agreement with a neighbour who uses their land to make hay for his cows. In turn, they then receive manure to make their own compost for their vineyards. By sharing and coming together, it proves the age-old saying of ‘there’s strength in numbers.’
Coralie explains that it’s unusual to have a domaine in the Loire that spans across two appellations.
“Damien’s grandfather thought it would be a good idea to buy land in Montlouis. That was totally unusual, and it wasn’t actually welcome by other winemakers in Montlouis, so he had some trouble. Even Damien’s father had a little bit of trouble, but now, Damien melts into the landscape. It took three generations!”
“So, we’ve always had half Montlouis and Amboise, which is very interesting for us. If we only had Montlouis, we’d only make white wine, whereas we also make red wines and white wines from Touraine-Amboise.”
Their goal is to put all their energy and love into their vineyards, in order to have the healthiest fruit possible. This, in turn, means their winemaking can remain simple, as their fermentations are naturally healthy.
“The first step when it comes to making wine is to really understand the terroir, the plant, and to have a healthy vineyard. Good grapes make good wine, and you notice a certain expression in your wine.”
It’s been a step-by-step learning journey:
“At the beginning, you search a lot… you experiment, and you gain experience. You take notes from other people. Now, we know what we are looking for; we know what kind of wine we want to make; what kind of style. Then, it’s also about what the vintage brings to us.”
Every year presents its own challenges in the vineyard, and by addressing these hurdles and learning from every year, they become better and more sensitive farmers, gaining in knowledge, as well as in intuition. She says,
“Now, we are confident and very aware of what’s happening around us. We really know our vineyards. We know which parts are sensitive to fungal attacks, which parts are sensitive to frost, which parts are really windy, which parts dry quickly, etc etc. We’ve noticed that if we want to have a super clean vineyard, we need to always be on time for each task. You need to spend time on these tasks, especially doing them well the first time round, and that means you don’t need to do them again, and again, and again… For example with weeding, it’s very important to keep on top of things. Damien is very precise in the vineyard. Then, when it comes to the winemaking, we try not to touch the juice too much. The less we pump, etc, the better it will be.”
We ask her what has evolved over time in terms of their winemaking style. She explains that it’s difficult to quantify in terms of specific methods, but rather it’s an overall gaining in comprehension of which little tweaks work best. She elaborates,
“We move and we change little by little. The only thing that we add to the wine is a small amount of sulfites. A long time ago, we didn’t know how they worked very well, or at which stage it was best to add them, so we experimented. Now, it’s better.”
It’s like a sort of fine-tuning has occurred here over time, resulting in wines that are crisper, purer and more transparent expressions of their fruit than ever before. Coralie nods, saying,
“The first vintages were okay, but they weren’t as interesting as the wines are now. The wines have changed slowly. For me, they are now much deeper. And there is something that I am really looking for when I taste the wines. It’s a certain saltiness. When you taste that saltiness, it really means that your wine is alive, that your wine is deep, that the wine tells you something.”
We break into a big smile — we couldn’t agree more. That salinity is something we always find in the wines of La Grange Tiphaine, and it was one of the aspects of their wines that captured our hearts.
We ask Coralie where she thinks it comes from, as scientifically there is no detectable salt in the wines, of course. She contemplates,
“For me, it’s all the small molecules... the pH, the aspects coming from the soil, the maturity… but there’s also something that isn’t scientific. It’s about complexity. It’s not necessarily related to sugar, alcohol, or tannins… those are the things we used to look for when we first tasted wine. This is different — it’s all the little things that come together to create complexity in a wine.”
In just a few sentences, she has captured so perfectly what we feel when drinking one of their bottles. It’s a balance; a complexity; yet it’s something that’s hard to put your finger on. It’s a mysterious element that can’t be defined by simple tasting notes, but rather by emotions. Coralie and Damien’s wines are the sorts of wines that not only taste delicious, but that also move you. We are grateful to them for creating bottles that make us think and feel simultaneously.