"The goal is always to bring diversity to the vines through other plants. We see each parcel as its own garden. The idea of using the word garden for our domaine name just felt right."
Taking over the vineyard of a globally celebrated winemaker is not for the faint hearted. Then again, nor is moving across the globe from Montréal to France, pivoting your career from biologist to winemaker, and deciding to work biodynamically from the get-go. But that’s exactly what Anouk Lavoie-Lamoreux and Paul-André Risse did. After tasting a bottle of Bruno n’Côt in 2016, Anouk and Paul-Andre were introduced to Bruno Allion. Little did they know they would soon take on his legacy.
The Loire has become known for a new wave of young, budding winemakers, and while Anouk and Paul-André’s bring their own vision to their vines, they also chose to honour their predecessor. Not only did they fall in love with Bruno’s wines back in 2016, but they also fell in love with his gardens. A magical land packed full of fruit, vegetables and vines.
Under the name Jardins de Theseiis (an homage to both Bruno and the land which came before) their winemaking feels like a respectful continuation of the past – with their own unique stamp, of course.
Anouk & Paul-André
Meet Anouk & Paul-André
They’re not the first scientists to cross the road to the dark side du vin (read about Veronica Ortega). It was after meeting at McGill University in Montreal – both were studying for their PhD, and Canadian-born Anouk was working in Paul-André’s lab – that they became friends and soon realised that they were both avid wine fans. Of course Paul-André was, Anouk laughs, “he’s French…” At the time, the wine scene in Montreal hadn’t quite yet taken off and Anouk’s friends weren’t as interested in discussing wine blends as she was.
“It gave me the opportunity to discuss wine with someone who was interested and who knew what they were talking about. We started off doing some tastings with Alain Laforest who helped us to discover new wines — particularly those made biodynamically, which we preferred. That is a really important and formative part of our story as winemakers.”
When we ask what it was that made them decide to pursue winemaking (they were only just finishing up their respective degrees as biologists, after all) Paul-André explains that it was really down to Anouk. After finishing their PhDs in the field of respiratory diseases and feeling somewhat disillusioned by the system governing their research, Anouk started to research the idea of becoming winemakers. Paul-André says,
“We just felt that it was the right thing for us to do. I had already started researching jobs and I thought ‘if I’m going to do something with wine I should do that straight away.’ We also wanted to travel, and so we started to look at universities in Australia, the USA, everywhere really... but it was way too expensive.”
They decided that a more economical way to learn the trade would be to do so in Europe. After finding an ERASMUS programme, Vinifera, they were accepted onto the course – both of them, to their surprise – and there began their foray into a new kind of science.
“We thought to ourselves: ‘If we’re accepted on to this course then we have to do it. We’re not ever going to have this same opportunity twice.”
From 300 applicants, Anouk and Paul-André were 2 of 30 to receive the scholarship. They spent one year in Montpellier, learning with 28 other students from all over the world. For the second year, they were given the choice of a different European university.
“We decided to go to Italy, and studied in Piemonte. While there, we travelled between Asti and Turin. We loved it. We had thought initially that we would like to settle in Italy afterwards, but for some slightly complicated ‘admin’ reasons it was too difficult. So, we returned to British Columbia. After this when we discussed where to go next, it was always going to be either France or Italy, so we returned to Europe and started to work in France as season workers…”
Life in the Jardins
They plunged into biodynamics working with Ceretto in Italy, after which they went back to Canada for the summer. There, they spent some time working at Le Clos Jordanne in Ontario, and La Stella and Le Vieux Pin in British Columbia. Then, they returned to Europe once more.
“We came back to France and worked all over. We spent three and a half months working in the Médoc at Château Palmer and then with Mark Angeli and some other people in Anjou. We learnt a lot of different things; there are a lot of brilliant winemakers there.”
When deciding where to lay their roots, it was Mark Angeli’s advice that made Anouk and Paul-André consider sticking around in Anjou. The terroir was excellent, and there were a lot of opportunities to acquire land. However, knowing Anjou fairly well, Anouk and Paul-André realised that, although they loved the region, it was just slightly too saturated for what they wanted to achieve. They wanted a new challenge.
“We found ourselves moving away from Anjou because, although it’s a beautiful region, it’s where everyone finds themselves nowadays. It’s been this way for the past 10-15 years. More so, we couldn’t find any land for sale which would support the biodynamic model — there weren’t really any independent plots.”
“It just wasn’t quite right.” Anouk adds. Unable to find any land in Anjou which fulfilled their desire to work autonomously, Anouk and Paul-André continued their search elsewhere in the Loire. They knew that they wanted to stay in the region, but now the question was where. That same year the pair tried a bottle of Bruno n’Côt by regional rockstar Bruno Allion. As fate (and the wine world) would have it, the pair were introduced to Bruno not long after and – if you would believe it – he explained to the duo that he was soon to be retiring.
“In total, Bruno had 13 hectares. When he was deciding who to pass on the land to, he decided to halve it and sell it to a few people. And so we acquired just under five hectares, which seemed exactly like what we’d been searching for.”
The vines had been farmed biodynamically since 1997 and were co-planted with fruit trees, and laden with vegetable gardens. It was a dream come true for the duo (one which, admittedly, felt a little unfamiliar at the start…)
[Anouk] “I have to admit that at the start I found the idea of biodynamics a bit too fantasy-like. But, for me, being a biologist is synonymous with being ecological. It was through tasting biodynamic wines that we became convinced of the practice. We decided that we wanted to work with biodynamics because in fact, there are protocols and preparations involved which felt exactly like that in biology.”
Observing, studying and working alongside Bruno during his final (2017) vintage, Anouk and Paul-André absorbed as much of Bruno’s knowledge and legacy as they could, and from there on embarked on their very first vintage, with Bruno guiding them from afar.
“The biggest challenge was working out the best time to start the preparations. It’s a constant learning curve. It really debunked for us the idea that you get by for the most part through guesswork; we had to learn a lot of theory.”
Luckily, Bruno insisted they put him on speed-dial during their first 100% solo 2018 harvest—just in case.
Anouk and Paul-André took on 4.9 hectares of Bruno’s vineyards, stretching over four different terroirs which he had been working biodynamically for over 20 years. They also took on an extra 1.6 hectares of land which they would use to plant their own vines.
What makes Jardins de Theseiis so special is exactly what prompted Anouk and Paul-André to name their winery ‘Gardens of Thesée’. It’s an ancient spot: in Roman times, it was known as Theseiis, and was a town found en route from Tours to Bourges. The plot, a mix of vines, fruit patches and vegetable gardens has always been referred to by Bruno as a garden, rather than a vineyard. Striving to continue this legacy, Paul explains;
“People from the town say that Bruno didn’t just plant vines, he planted a garden. He also had fruits and vegetables… strawberries, apples, even artichokes. We planted aromatic herbs this year. The goal is always to bring diversity to the vines through other plants. We see each parcel as its own garden. The idea of using the word garden for our domaine name just felt right.”
What’s more, they explain that you can’t just use the words ‘Clos’ and ‘Château,’ as they are protected terminologies. Les Jardins it was; of which there are four.
Each garden is differentiated by its soil type. Poira sits on clay-limestone, with flint. Alongside the Pineau d’Aunis found there, there are two other cuveés produced on this terroir: Sauvignon Blanc (planted between 1989 and 2003) and Romorantin - the indigenous gem of the area - planted in 2015. La Grande Pièce (to the South) is also planted in silty clay-limestone. Two cuvées are produced from this parcel from their oldest vines: Sauvignon Blanc (1966) and Gamay (1967).
Just above the Cher River is the Jardin de la Maison Neuve, situated on shallow, clay-limestone soil. There’s just one cuvée produced from this terroir; the Côt (the local name for Malbec), planted in 1998. The final garden, Cabane, is Sauvignon Blanc planted in 1979, on the sandy loam soils of Monthou-sur-Cher, on the very edge of Thesée. It is surrounded by a pine forest, with a small vineyard hut on the periphery of the parcel, from which it takes its name.
Taking over from Bruno in 2016, Anouk and Paul-André also purchased his 2016 and 2017 wines as part of the sale. After bottling the wines, they decided to keep his labels to signify his final vintage. Since then, the labels have been redesigned but in a way which pays homage to the gardens – noting the specific parcels that the fruit came from. All of their wines are vinified naturally, and sulphites are never added.
During their solo first vintage, 2018, Anouk and Paul-André hit a stroke of luck. It was a particularly bad year for mildew, which had worried the new winemakers and many problems in the region, but miraculously - the Pineau d’Aunis wasn’t really touched by it. When 2019 and 2020 came around, it wasn’t so simple:
“We pruned the same parcels in the exact same way as before. When it came to harvest, we had pretty much nothing. Because of this, for that year anyway, we couldn’t produce our Pineau d’Aunis...”
Though disheartening, this setback didn’t stop Anouk and Paul-André from powering on. They decided to create an experimental cuvee in 2019 with the small amount of Pineau d’Aunis that remained. They decided to have some fun with it, and create a 50% Pineau d’Aunis, 30% Cot and 20% Sauvignon Blanc blend called UNUM. Anouk says,
“We were inspired by Côte-Rotie - the idea of mixing some white grapes in with the red, to give some suppleness and a different aroma spectrum.”
Co-fermented, the blend is truly quite unique – bursting with fruit, light tannins and with the bright colour of Côt shining through.
What’s a harvest without a challenge, anyway, and why not? Next, they knew there’d be several years of getting to know their varieties - both in the vineyard and in the cellar. Things weren’t about to be simple overnight. Paul says,
“From the start, we realised that the grape varieties act in a way that’s the opposite of what you might expect. Next year, we’re going to try and change the way that we prune the Pineau d’Aunis in order to try and end up with more…”
He pauses for a moment;
“It’s definitely a variety which is difficult to understand but a really interesting one at that. We really love it.”
While the Pineau d’Aunis 2020 takes it time to develop, in the meantime, we’ll be reaching for the Sauvignon Blancs. We don’t know anyone who has honed in on the terroir translating capacity for Sauvignon Blanc in quite the same way. Not to mention Gamay - their peppery, crunchy expression of the variety has caught the eye of sommeliers and winelovers worldwide. Seek them out, you won’t be disappointed; you might even find yourself planting a vine in your garden.