Shy smile, wild curls and a strong handshake are the first things you notice when you meet Stéphane Riffault from Domaine Claude Riffault. After studying viticulture and oenology together with his brother Benoît in Beaune, he came back to the Loire and took over his parent's domaine while Benoît settled in Puligny-Montrachet. Since his return to the quiet village of Sury-en-Vaux Stéphane has been putting highest care and attention into his vines to get a better feeling for each and every plot and terroir: "My early years weren't easy, it has taken me years to understand each parcel".
And all the hard work has paid off! The winery is certified organic since 2016 and producing the most beautiful and purest expression of its terroirs; 13.5 hectares across 6 different locations and 3 different soils to be precise: "Each vineyard has its own rhythm according to its age, exposure and grape variety. In Sancerre, three main soil types predominate. The limestone-heavy slopes of “caillottes” are on small, gentle hills. They produce perfumed, floral and fruity wines for enjoying young. To the north and north-west and sculpted by the Loire River, the “terres blanches” are steep limestone-marl slopes producing wines with a broader base. They are discrete in their first year, their character emerging very gradually thereafter. If you follow the Sancerre from north to south, the "silex" (flinty-clay) soils endow the wines with a rich constitution and a minerality which is totally unique." The care Stéphane is applying in the vineyards is also felt in the winery: the carefully selected and handpicked fruit is transferred to the nearby winery, where grapes and must are only moved via gravity. Vinification and élevage take place by soil and plot type, and after spending 11 months in oak the naturally fermented wines are being bottled unfiltered.
Loire Valley. Image: Wine Folly
The Loire Valley can be segmented into 4 districts, namely Nantais, Anjou-Saumur, Touraine, Central Vineyards, displaying different climates, soils, varieties and terroirs. Sancerre is located in the very east of the valley as part of the Central vineyards. It's proximity to Chablis (100 km) decreases the influences of the Atlantic ocean, which are comparably significant the further west you move in the Loire Valley. Sitting on the slow, winding Loire river, which originates hundreds of kilometers to the south-east in the Ardeche Mountains, right near the Cornas wine region of the Northern Rhone,Sancerre has approx. 3,000 ha under vine. Three primary soil types are characteristic for the area: Terres Blanches (“white earth”) usually found in the west. Compact chalk atop kimmeridgean marl is leading to powerful, more full-bodied wines. The longest-lived wines with a distinct gun-flint, mineral character often emerge from the eastern vineyards, where Silex (flint) soils are dominating. Les Caillottes (‘little stones’) consist of gravel and limestone and are known to produce elegantly balanced and lighter wines.
- On a small outcrop of 50 ares, Terre Blanche soil is giving 'Les Desmalets' its characteristic profile. 40 centimeters deeper, the subsoil is formed from large sedimentary flagstones (Exogyra virgula), from the Kimmeridgian age of the secondary Jurassic era. The roots of the vine delve deep down between the limestone blocks, enriching the grapes, resulting in glorious fruit and great finesse.
- This wine is vinified and aged exclusively in barrels for 9 to 10 months.
- This wine is the perfect accompaniment to the finest white fish and poultry dishes
- Quite rare in the village of Sury-en-Vaux, flint soils are found on the outskirts of the Forest of Charnes where 'Les Chailloux' is being produced. The minerality here is striking!
- This plot contains less than one hectare of this type of soil, with vines being between 13 and 40 years of age.
- The grapes obtained are vinified and matured exclusively in barrels for less than one year.
- The wine is clear cut and mineral. The fruit is expressed through smoky characteristics. Precise and taut on the palate, it is ideal to accompany fine fish or shell-fish.
- Located just a stone's throw from the estate, the average vine age is 40 years, planted on deep Terre Blanche soil. The minerality is not apparent on the eye but this Kimmeridgian soil is made up of a plethora of limestone sediments (Exogyra virgula) - It is both, rich and mineral.
- The wine is vinified and matured in 600 l barrels for 9 to 10 months.
- Great minerality and balance make this wine the ideal accompaniment for smoked fish dishes. It also goes perfectly with cheese.
Situated right next to the estate, les Boucauds covers half of the C;aude Riffaults Sauvignon Blanc plots. The vines are between 10 and 50 years old and grow in clay-limestone marl soil (“Terre Blanches”), which allows the vines to root deeply. It provides fullness and richness to the wine, whilst the limestone subsoil and small shell sediments endow it with a fine minerality.
Vinification takes place in stainless steel vats (approx 50%) and barrels (approx 50%), before “Les Boucauds” is aged for 7 to 8 months.
On the nose, the wine reveals aromas of white fleshed fruit and citrus, while the generosity of the soil allowed the development of a full-bodied palate. A fine minerality and acidity give the wine freshness as well as a long and mouthwatering finish. “Les Boucauds” can be enjoyed by itself or best with shell-fish and other fish dishes.
Locations known as “Les Chasseignes” are common-place in the Sancerre appellation. This local name designates Caillottes soil: shallow limestone soil and subsoil containing overlapping stones. The vines are located at Les Chasseignes, to the north-east of the village of Sury-en-Vaux at an altitude of 270 meters. With a south-east exposure they receive the sun and wind from morning to evening.
Vinification and ageing take place in stainless steel vats (50%) and barrels (50%) for 7 to 8 months, followed by bottling in spring.
This wine displays elegant fruit aromas on the nose. Limestone minerality provides good length and a long lingering finish on the palate. Best to be enjoyed on its own or with grilled fish.