As children, Cyril and Catherine Medard watched their parents turn Chenin Blanc grapes fabulous wines. Now they’re the ones presiding over Vignoble Alain Robert, a wonderful winery tucked in one of France’s most fabulous regions.
From a young age, Catherine and Cyril Medard harboured a deep love of the Chenin Blanc grape. Working with their parents – Christine and Alain Robert, founders of Vignoble Alain Robert – they saw first-hand how remarkable these pale grapes could be.
While Chenin Blanc has had its troubles – in the 1970s it was grown cheaply in California and South Africa, flooding the market with lacklustre wines that put a whole generation off the grape – where Catherine and Cyril grew up, it has always been celebrated as a wonder grape.
In the Vouvray subregion of the Loire Valley, soil rich in minerals and fluctuating weather make this native grape the best it can possibly be. As Catherine explains: “Our terroir is clay with flint and limestone. That’s why we always have a good level of acidity in our wines – thanks to our soil, we have freshness and minerality.”
This remarkable terroir gives back to the winemakers who have been cultivating Chenin Blanc here for generations in the form of five remarkable styles of Vouvray wine – just a single grape variety can produce everything from dry sparkling wines to super-sweet liquoreux wines.
Catherine says: “It’s amazing to be able to have such a wide range of Vouvray with just one grape. Each vintage is different, because Chenin has good levels of acidity. Sometimes we can only produce sparkling and dry still wines – like in 2013, for instance – and other times the weather is so amazing that we can make incredible, very sweet liqoureux wines.”
While some might find the sheer number of paths a Vouvray winemaker could take in any given vintage daunting, for Catherine and Cyril reading the weather and their vines is part of a rich heritage. Their parents Alain and Christine were themselves the children of farmers and winemakers. They founded Alain Robert in 1973, on precious land inherited from their families.
“We’re very proud of our father’s work,” Catherine says. “He started with only two hectares of vines and now we produce several thousand bottles per year.”
Alain – who retired happily with Christine in 2014 – has left more than his legacy and land to his children. In fact, he dug the limestone cellar where Alain Robert wines are aged with his own hands.
Ageing wines this way is common in Vouvray, where the soft white limestone is easily dug out. This stone is symbolic of the Loire, forming as it does an integral part of three cultural institutions: the white stone of the valley’s châteaux; the fascinating edifices of troglodyte homes; and the famous tufa limestone cellar, like the one where Catherine’s beautiful wines age.
She says: “The advantages of ageing wine this way are simple. First of all, the temperature is excellent all of the time – all year round it’s between 13C and 14C. We also have an excellent level of humidity, and it’s dark. Wine doesn’t like the light!”
Conditions like this keep the wine fresh and allow the wine to interact with the air around it through the cork to become richer. “Natural ageing,” Catherine laughs.
The fabulous sparkling Vouvray in October’s Bubble Box this month was made with grapes harvested in a colder vintage, preserving Chenin Blanc’s natural acidity and transforming it into a delicious wine with a fine cord of bubbles.
Amongst the Medard family this is known as a wine that invites itself in and creates fabulous moments – be it at weddings, birthdays or just memorable occasions spent with wine and food.
With their father’s name on every single bottle, to Christine it is almost as if her whole family is getting to experience all of these joyful moments. “When we produce wine,” she says, “it’s a chance to be invited to tables all around France, and even all over the world!”
From just two humble hectares, the Medard family’s love of Chenin Blanc and the intricacies of Vouvray winemaking has led to a wonderful legacy for them all – and lots of hope for the future. The winery is open for tastings and wine tours, which Catherine hopes will help others discover all that this incredible landscape has to offer the wine lover.
Of the future, Catherine says: “We would like to make sure that our love of nature and Chenin will continue – that it will be drunk when people want to share the good times with others by opening a bottle of Vouvray.”
So raise a toast of this wonderful wine and let the good times roll!