Few can deny Saint-Pourçain its claim to being one of the oldest viticultural regions in France. Whilst many others can trace their vineyards back to the times of the Romans, there is a link here to the Phoenicians who founded the colony of Cantilia, modern day Chantelle. Today, it’s a wine region that should be regarded more for its historical significance rather than its natural beauty. It suffers from something of an identity crisis; politically, the appellation is situated in the Allier, a département within the region of Auvergne, but the topography here is much gentler than that of its contiguous counterparts of Puy-du-Dôme and Haute-Loire. In fact the landscape, architecture and close geographical location make it more akin to Burgundy. This is somewhat logical when one considers that Mâcon is only 150 kilometres to the east of here and that the region’s wines are derived, primarily, from the three classic Burgundian varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay. Saint-Pourçain itself is an ancient, busy, but also rather dull market town with a population of around 5,000 souls. It sits alongside the left bank of the river Sioule, a tributary of the Allier, with a medieval abbey-church at its centre. Equidistant from the more vibrant towns of Vichy and Moulins, Saint-Pourcain’s historical importance puts it at the centre of an important intersection that connects the four corners of France and beyond. From Paris in the north, ancient routes divide to deliver travellers to Spain in the south-west, the Low Countries, the Atlantic Coast and east towards the Alps.
Les Terres d’Ocre
For what is otherwise an under-performing appellation, Les Terre’s d’Ocre is recent and welcome addition. Created in 2013, the vines are owned by co-operateur, Eric Nesson, who has withdrawn 9.5 hectares of vines in order for his nephew, Florent Barichard, to start his own enterprise. Partly new-build, partly an ancient cow-shed, which was used to raise beef cattle, the cellar has been designed in such a way to allow for growth as production increases. Potentially, there are a further 12 hectares of vines that Eric is still obliged to deliver to the local co-operative.
Like most others in the region, however, Florent’s uncle does not solely rely on viniculture, and retains some 40 hectares of cereals, although step back just one more generation and the family used to be dedicated to the vine. Florent’s objective is to follow the course of his grandfather. He trained in Amboise, under the tutorage of Vincent Carême, working too at his family domaine in Vouvray for three years before returning to the region to take charge of his uncles’ vines.
The first wines were released early in 2014. They comprise of a single white and red, although a little sparkling is also in production, made (as is now the fashion in Vouvray) by the Méthode Ancestrale.
Saint-Pourçain ‘L’Instan T’ Blanc
The white is a blend of 75% Chardonnay, blended with Tressalier. The Chardonnay component is from 15 year old wines, whilst the Tressalier vines are a little older. Florent intends to start planting more of this local grape over the coming years. For those who have never encountered the grape, Tressallier is also known as Sacy in the Yonne, although some growers in Saint-Pourçain see it as a close relative rather than the same variety. There are two common beliefs for the origin of its name, the first is the variety has a natural tendency to intertwine or plait itself, tresses in French, or that it might be derived from the Latintrans-Aigerium – from across the Allier. It was once the dominant white variety of the region, but began to decline during the 1980s and 1990s through a combination of pressure from the I.N.A.O. to plant Chardonnay instead. There was a question mark over the varieties ability to produce quality wines. Certain commentators at the time were actively lobbying for it to be quietly abandoned, whilst its supporters (rightly) believed that Tressallier offers the appellation a unique proposition. The wine was raised in fibre-glass tanks and bottled early. It’s light and fresh with noticeable acidity; the hallmark of Tressalier.
Saint-Pourçain ‘L’Instan T’ Rouge
The red is a traditional local blend of 60% Gamay and 40% Pinot Noir. The Gamay component is grown on pink granite soils, whilst the Pinot performs better of the sandier-clay based soils. The wine is raised in cement tanks which helps to preserve the delicate and juicy red fruit character.