Meet The Natural Wine Rebels Transforming French Loire Valley

Posted: Dec 17, 2019

It may seem like nothing changes in the Loire Valley, where the grand châteaux and rolling vineyards have existed for centuries. But beneath that tranquility, a wine revolution is growing.

In the cool, dim cellar, three dozen giant clay urns of different shapes and sizes cluster like an intergenerational family. Some are taller than I am and slope from the shoulders, tapering elegantly to the floor. Others have pronounced bulges at the midriff and lids like drumskins. The smallest hunker close to the ground, alien eggs ready to hatch. All are waiting, patient and enigmatic.

The air hums with music. Ethereal voices are singing to the clay pots—an unaccompanied church chorale from a speaker by the wall. The music mingles with the heady, tangy aroma of overripe fruit, and the stone-walled room seems to pulse with embryonic life. Winemaker Fred Niger stands among the urns and takes a deep breath. “Some people cry when they come in here,” he says quietly.

Making wine in amphoras is an 8,000-year-old tradition that has only recently been revived in France—in this case by Fred at his winery, Domaine de l’Ecu, one of the larger cities on the Loire River. Perhaps it’s the sense of ancient gravitas that gives the place such a spiritual feel. Or maybe it’s something else. The largest of the earthenware containers is painted with symbols that look pure Elvish to me. “They’re runes,” Fred says. “Vikings used to have these characters on their boat, for protection. I put them here to protect the wine.”

By Emma John
December 09, 2019

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