Seb Riffault Sancerre Blanc 'Akmenine' 2007
Sébastien Riffault comes from a long line of Sancerre vignerons; he has a close physical and emotional attachment to the terroir of Verdigny. His aim is to rediscover a style of Sancerre that reveals the natural flavour of the terroir. He has a small south/south west facing parcel of vines situated on a very steep slope composed of limestone-clay soils with flinty underlay. The soil has needed a certain amount of time to adapt in order for its microbiological organisms to be fully functional and regular springtime treatments of preparations 500 & 501 have seemingly proved highly beneficial. Riffault leaves weeds and grass growing between the wines to promote biodiversity. All these weeds and their tiny flowers help attract useful insects that will destroy potential acarian pests. This helps build the right food chain for the vineyard and that's why he tries not to plough too often. He also never sows ray-grass seeds because he prefers the grass and weeds that grow naturally. Sowing ray-grass is like, he says, adding another monoculture to the vineyard, which is not what he looks for. His petit parcel of Sancerre is planted with Sauvignon 'en massale' with an average age of 45 year old vines. The manipulations in the vineyard have proceeded by trial and error over time; Sébastien hasn't used any manure for six years; in his opinion the soil composition is now sufficiently rich in nutrients. Other treatments amount to only a little sulphur and Bordeaux mixture - all other chemicals, herbicides and pesticides are eschewed. He practises bourgeonnage, the process of debudding the vines during the vigorous growth period in the month of May. The goal is to ensure the same number of buds on each side of the vine, thus balancing the growth. In some cases, up to half the buds are brushed off. This normally results in low yields of high quality, concentrated fruit. Harvest is manual and as late as is feasible in order to achieve small, intensely flavoured orange-verging-on-the-violet grapes. Interventions in the winery are equally minimal. Pressure is pneumatic, no sulphur is used at fermentation and the must settles naturally in 8-10 year old Burgundy barrels. No artificial yeasts are used either in the fermentation but a pied de cuve acts as an inoculation. Alcoholic fermentation lasts 3-4 months followed by natural malo with the wine remaining on its gross lees. Finally, after nine to twelve months, the wine is bottled au naturel: no fining, no filtration and the merest tiny dose of sulphur. What's it like? What isn't it like might be the easier question. If you fancy a trot around a green paddock then this is probably not your garden centre bag of grass-cuttings Sauvignon; if you prefer a thunderous gallop through wild forests and murky thickets, then this turbid yeasty wine will lead you to all manner of unexpected places.
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