|Jean-Maurice Raffault and Rodolphe Raffault’s family began cultivating vines in Chinon 14 generations ago, when their ancestor, Mathurin Bottreau, bought his first parcel of vines in 1693.
The Chinon appellation covers both banks of the Vienne River, which is a tributary of the Loire. The appellation encompasses 19 communes and has a total area of 2400 hectares. Its soils and climate are perfectly suited to the cultivation of the Cabernet Franc grape.
The late Jean-Maurice Raffault, father of the present manager and winemaker Rodolphe, was one the great personalities of Chinon. Upon taking over the family domaine in 1973, Jean-Maurice revolutionized local practices and put new practices in place that were widely emulated in the region. First, he abandoned polyculture in favor of the cultivation of only wine grapes. Beginning with only the 4.5 hectares he had inherited from his father, Maurice, Jean-Maurice purchased and planted some of the finest known sites of Chinon, expanding the domaine to 50 hectares. But most importantly, he began to vinify each parcel separately to ensure the typicity of each terroir. To reinforce this initiative, and to highlight the unique character of each wine as a result of the soil type and microclimate of its origin, Jean-Maurice began to use the name of the individual sites for the respective wines. No one has done this before in Chinon! The practice of naming Chinons with site names is now commonplace in the appellation, and it began with Jean-Maurice Raffault’s innovation.
Rodolphe Raffault succeeded his father as winemaker and manager in 1997, after completing his studies at the Dijon University school of oenology. Today he vinifies and ages each wine separately. The maceration period ranges from 15 to 28 days. Rodolphe continues the tradition of aging the Chinons in neutral oak casks that are more than 10 years old. Their impressive cellar houses 900 barrels and is the largest in the region. Maturation takes place over 18 months in three huge caves cut into the limestone cliffs, protected from light and remaining at a constant temperature of 56 degrees and 85% humidity. Racking is done from barrel to barrel, in the traditional method, which helps to clarify the wines along with a later fining with egg whites. The wines are not filtered.
Today, Domaine Jean-Maurice Raffault owns 50 hectares of vines in 7 communes. The Cabernet Franc vines average 35 years of age and 10 hectares within these sites are 50 years of age. The Chenin Blanc vines average 20 years of age. The domaine practices sustainable viticulture, known as lutte raisonee in France. The soils are either plowed or planted with grass. No chemical fertilizers or herbicides are used.
Drawing on his experience in Burgundy, Rodolphe initiated the practice of carrying out the wine’s malolactic fermentation in 100% new barriques for his top cuvees. This practice, rare in Chinon, results in dramatically expressive and pure wines. Raffault’s Chinon’s are wonderfully expressive wines that go harmonize with a wide variety of classic French dishes, while their natural fruity acidities make them fine matches for Asiatic cuisine, grilled fish, and spicy American foods. For wines of such depth and complexity, they also represent remarkable value.
2014 Vintage report: Rodolphe Raffault started picking his Cabernet Franc grapes on October 1st through the 3rd – fully 10 days earlier than in 2013 and at the same time as the 2009. The growing season of 2014 started very early due to exceptionally hot Spring weather; Raffault’s vineyards were one month ahead of normal development in mid-April. The weather turned cooler in May and June, allowing flowering to occur in mid-June under excellent conditions. August was famously cool and rainy all over France, causing Rodolphe Raffault – and fellow vignerons all over the country - to be very concerned about the fate of the vintage. Veraison in Chinon, however, occurred in the 2nd half of August and the crop remained in good health. Sun and heat returned in the first week of September, setting the stage of a perfect last 6 weeks of the growing season. “The incredibly beautiful weather” Raffault observes, “strongly advanced maturation, and we recovered from the cool August. The heat reduced acidity and concentrated by the juice in the grapes.”|
2015 Vintage report: the growing season started very early due to exceptionally hot and dry Spring weather. Raffault’s vineyards were one month ahead of normal development in mid-April. Flowering occurred early, around June 10th and in excellent conditions, but the heat and lack of rain had already begun to reduce the size of the crop. Very hot and dry weather continued through mid-August, by which time the ripening cycle had slowed due to the lack of rain. Veraison occurred in mid-August but ripening was still advancing too slowly for the season. Much-needed rain came in late August and early September, bringing the crop into balance and allowing ripening to pick up; the moisture was quickly absorbed by the dry soil. Sun and warmth returned in the first week of September, setting the stage for an excellent last 6 weeks of the growing season, even with a rainy period mid-month. These factors also made it possible for Rodolphe to vinify spectacular red 2015 Chinons across his vineyards. “The fine September weather” Raffault observes, “advanced maturation, and we recovered from the drought conditions. The heat reduced acidity and concentrated the juice in the grapes.”
|Jean-Maurice Raffault Website|
|100% Cabernet Franc.|
J-M Raffault’s Chinon Rosé is considered the finest of the Loire Valley. It is made from 100% Cabernet Franc grapes planted on alluvial sand and gravel soils on the former Loire river bed. Raffault picks the fruit dedicated to the Rosé at the start of his harvest period, when it typically has attained one degree less in sugar than that of the Chinon Les Galuches, which is picked next. All the fruit is selected on a sorting table before entering the press by gravity, and is never pumped. To enhance the quality of the Rosé, Rodolphe Raffault uses only pressed juice that is selected and vinified parcel by parcel. To ensure that the juice is as pure as possible, Raffault uses minimal pressure and fanatically avoids any possibility of oxygenation. And he uses only the juice obtained at the middle stage of the pressing, eliminating the first and last parts because they are not as pure. One day after the pressing, Raffault thoroughly clarifies the must (débourbage) to remove any solids that might diminish the wine’s aromatics and taste. Raffault ferments the Chinon Rosé at low, controlled temperatures (15-17 C) using only the grapes' native yeast until it is fully dry. The constant, cool temperature maintains the wine's natural CO2 level, one of the keys to the Rosé’s vivacity. The low temperature also prevents the start of malolactic fermentation while the Chinon Rosé develops on its fine lees in tank for 5 months. Before bottling in late February, the wine is racked to diminish the level of CO2, and is then lightly filtered to ensure clarity.
Rodolphe Raffault reports that he started picking his Cabernet Franc grapes destined for the 2015 Chinon Rosé on September 25th. This was about one week earlier than in 2014, but the current vintage has greater concentration due to a higher level of maturity and lower quantity of juice in the grapes. The 2015 Rosé is “round and fresh with aromas of ripe red berry and cherry fruit. It is a little richer than the 2014 because the grapes were riper at harvest and the yield was lower.” It has a long, fresh and succulent finish.
|Raffault makes 500 cases per year of a rarely seen white Chinon (2% of the Chinon appellation), made from Chenin Blanc grapes. It is harvested after the reds grapes, and vinified in stainless steel tanks. The white Chinon is bottled in the Spring, at the same time as the Rose. Chinon Blanc is a unique expression of the Chenin Blanc grape. It has a soft, fresh entry, with enticing peach, pear and citrus flavors, nuanced by a gentle minerality from its limestone-chalk soil. The Chinon Blanc is excellent on its own, as an aperitif, and with cold seafood, grilled fish, and curries found in Indian and Thai dishes. |
|The fruit for Domaine Jean-Maurice Raffault’s Chinon Rouge comes from several parcels on sandy, alluvial soil near the Vienne River. This origin gives a supple, fruity Chinon that is perfect for early drinking. The wine’s bright cherry and raspberry flavors are best appreciated with a slight chill. |
|Chinon - Les Galuches|
|The Galuches lieu-dit is an ancient river bed of the Loire. The name of parcel derives from the presence of gravel. According the records from the era, vines were already well established in this sector by the 1830s. The Cabernet Franc ripens very well in the domaine’s 10 hectare holding on a sand and gravel soil. The Galuches is always among the first site to be picked because the soil warms up quickly and drains very well. The wine is very aromatic and is noted for its bouquet of violets, followed by lush and supple dark berry/cherry fruit. |
|Chinon - Les Picasses|
|100% Cabernet Franc harvested late-September to mid October.|
Domaine J-M Raffault is the largest single owner in the 15 hectare Les Picasses vineyard, with six hectares of vines (averaging 40 year old) spread over 6 parcels. The "Les Picasses" is situated on a plateau at the summit of the hills overlooking the Vienne. The site is the highest point between the Vienne and Loire Rivers and is very well exposed to the south and west. It was home to many windmills in the 19th century. Vines were already planted here by the 15th century. The name Picasses derives from a vineyard tool with two points (pics) used to work on vines planted on stony soil. The soil in the Picasses vineyard is a blend of limestone and clay with small stones over a subsoil of pure limestone, imparting intensity and structure to the wine.
The grapes are 100% destemmed. Spontaneous fermentation with natural yeasts. 3 week maceration, with daily pumping over. J-M Raffault’s Les Picasses is aged in 3 to 10 year old barriques for 18 months on its fine lees and malolactic fermentation takes place in cask, in natural caves with constant humidity level and 56 degree F. temperature. Racking is done from barrel to barrel, in the traditional method, which helps to clarify the wines along with a later fining with egg whites. The Picasses is a wine of great intensity of flavor -minerally-tinged black cherry and kirsch- and can be aged for many years. It is one of the greatest expressions of Cabernet Franc in the Loire region. 2000 cases produced.
|Chinon – Clos d’Isore|
|The monopole parcel is situated in an enclosed vineyard that dates back to the 17th century. The ancient cellar of the Chateau is located beneath the vines. The soil is a mix of clay and limestone over a white chalk subsoil. The 3 hectare vineyard was fully planted in 1938 with a selection massale, which is largely intact to this day. The irregularly shaped old vines and steep slope necessitate that all vineyard work is done by hand. Rodolphe Raffault has cultivated the Clos d’Isoré organically since 2011. The 76 year old vines have exceptionally low, 25-30 hl/ha yields and give a wine of great depth and concentration. To further enhance maturity, Raffault strips leaves after veraison in mid- August. The Clos d’Isoré is aged for 18 months in 1 to 3 year old 500L barriques on its fine lees. The malolactic fermentation takes place in cask after about 12 months. J-M Raffault’s Chinon Clos d’Isoré is capable of long aging. Its complex cassis, dark cherry and mineral flavors emerge harmoniously with a few years of bottle age. 1000 cases produced. |
|Clos de L'hospice|
|In early 2008, the Clos de L’Hospice, one of Chinon’s greatest sites, was replanted by Domaine Jean-Maurice Raffault. This extraordinary, one-hectare vineyard is a steeply sloped natural amphitheater on limestone soils. Facing south, it overlooks the Vienne River opposite the Chateau de Chinon. Once owned by Rabelais’ descendants, the Clos was highly prized in times past and was regularly mentioned in historical documents. It belonged to the convent of Calvarian and Augustinian nuns through the French revolution, where it served as a source of income for a hospital run by the nuns – whence its name, the Clos de L’Hospice. Preferring to tend to their vegetables, in 1876 the sisters allowed local vignerons to maintain the vineyard. The nuns kept the wine in poor vintages for their patient’s consumption at the Hospice and sold off the good years at a profit. This arrangement continued until the vineyard was devastated during the Phylloxera epidemic.|
Despite various projects, the Clos remained unplanted with vines until 2008. Amazingly enough, up until the 1980s, the land was used as a garden by the hospital patients. The hospital relocated in 1980 and sold the land, which enabled the Clos de L’Hospice to eventually become a vineyard again. In 2008, Rodolphe Raffault revived the site in cooperation with the town of Chinon and an investment group who had undertaken the renovation of the Chateau, itself a national historic monument. Raffault planted 0.65 hectares in the Clos with pre-WWII selection massale Cabernet Franc vines to attain a vineyard that is as close as possible to the original. He will plant the remaining section soon. The first harvest took place in 2011.
2012 is the second vintage of the Clos de L’Hospice. The season began slowly and conditions improved steadily over the summer. Raffault picked the Clos last, on October 16th, two weeks after the harvest of his Les Galuches and several days after the Les Picasses and Clos d’Isore (for comparison, the 2011 Clos de L’Hospice was picked on October 5th). The grapes were harvested by hand, sorted, and placed in a tank saturated with CO2 and without any sulfites, where the alcoholic fermentation began after 2 days. The maceration period lasted one month with frequent remontages, particularly in the first 10 days. Rodolphe Raffault maintained a blanket of CO2 throughout the vatting period and added no sulfites to the young wine. The 2012 Clos de L’Hospice was then transferred to new 500 litre barrels for 12 months of aging. After the malolactic fermentation in cask finished, Raffault again added no sulfites and chose to not rack the young wine; rather, it remained protected under the natural CO2 produced by the malolactic fermentation. Before assemblage in late November 2012, Raffault replaced the CO2 with inert gas to prevent any oxidization. Sulfites were not used at any phase. Bottling took place on December 12, 2013; 240 cases were made in 2012. Typical for the vintage, the 2012 Clos de L’Hospice has a lower alcoholic degree than the 2011 (0.70% less). The wine has a deeply saturated back purple color and bright, concentrated cassis and dark cherry fruit complemented by ripe tannins and a silky texture.
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