A few days before the great leap into the 2019 harvest, Xavier Amirault tells us the story of the Clos de Quarterons. With passion, he takes us to discover the richness of his terroir, on the terrace of Graviers and the Tuffeau hillsides, where he works his vines with enthusiasm and curiosity. It takes nothing less than the challenge of biodynamics to quench the thirst to learn of this family of winemakers, who combine the pleasure of wine with transmission and sharing.
On the terroirs of Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil, Xavier Amirault is the winemaker of the Clos de Quarterons. This family estate has been passed down in the family for 6 generations. Xavier was not predestined to return to the field: studies in electronics, then a position in Paris in a sound and light company occupied him during the first years of his career. At the age of 30 and with the desire to go and see the country, it is with a new international trade licence in his pocket that he takes off for the United States, on behalf of a large Loire wine merchant company.
Meanwhile, in Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil, Thierry, Xavier's older brother, is in charge of the Domaine.
"In 2008, he was nearing retirement and without a buyer. We then asked ourselves the question of the future of the Clos de Quarterons," says Xavier. On the other side of the ocean, he and his wife Agnes decide to perpetuate the family legacy. "We had agreed to take over the estate under 2 conditions: 3 years later and once the vineyard had been converted to organic farming. My brother was very enthusiastic about this project," the winegrower says.
Xavier is packing his bags in 2011 at the Clos des Quarterons where he will be partnering with his brother for 2 years before taking over the ensemble. "I took on the task of setting up the Déméter biodynamic certification," says Xavier. A new impetus is given to the Domaine de Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil, which is starting off on a solid footing. "We have launched a terroir study thanks to the "cellule terroirs" emanating from the INRA in Angers. A colossal project: 400 core samples and 24 open pits for 2 years allowed us to study the vegetative and root cycles. From these studies, we have drawn thousands of data, maps and plans of water reserves, stoniness, ... ", lists the winemaker.
Until now, knowledge of the terroir has come from knowledge passed down from father to son and obtained through observation. "We were able to complete them and understand them better. We have obtained a finer and more precise analysis of the terroir thanks to which we have reviewed our production", Judge Xavier.
Enriched by this new knowledge of their terroir, the Amirault family decided to review their range of wines. "We now work in a more precise way, with different cultivation techniques, vinification and maturing adapted to the terroir," explains the winemaker.
From the gravelly soils at the bottom of the hillsides, to the famous limestone called tuffeau to the more clayey terroirs on higher ground, the winegrowers have identified a potential of 5 cuvées. "We try to express the terroir through its climate every year. Wines from gravelly terroirs are round and silky. The limestone expresses itself rather by horizontality, with beautiful and frank acidities at the end of the palate. As for the clays, they produce wines with great depth. We often combine them with limestone because they are very complementary".
The Clos des Quarterons is 12 units of terroir, 54 plots, 37 hectares of vines. A vineyard as varied as it is fragmented, which is worked in order to extract the best from it, each parcel is vinified and harvested separately. The winegrowers build the cuvées only after the tastings: "We assemble the individual plots of land differently each year, depending on the vintage". The aim is to produce wines of pleasure and emotion while expressing the richness of the climate of Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil. "All years are good if they are respected and we produce wine profiles that match the climate. These are wines for people who are curious, who love wine and feel new aromas".
Biodynamics allows the Amirault family to express the terroir in the wines. "I started analyzing biodynamics in the United States," says Xavier. "I've met people and tasted a multitude of wines. Of course, biodynamics may seem both complicated and esoteric, but once I got past its considerations, I found it full of common sense, I enjoyed tasting the wines, I really liked people's philosophy. Biodynamics does not only concern the vines, it concerns the whole of agriculture, and it is also a real system of society," enthuses Xavier.
In the vineyard, biodynamic viticulture means feeling, observing and taking care of the soil and the plants. According to Xavier, "Before starting to work in biodynamics, you have to be convinced, because it's a lot of work and a lot of self-improvement. The winegrower learns to juggle horn dung or horn silica, plays with plant infusions to revitalize the vine, brings silica to structure it ... " To get there, you need a team that works with that philosophy," says Xavier, who has built a team of 12 full-time staff to do the work.
Curious, Xavier never tires of learning, experimenting, understanding and building. If he has found in biodynamics the philosophy and the reflection that allows him to develop the domain, he has not yet planned to put his final touches to it. "I want to continue to refine on all subjects. In animal husbandry, I want to understand how to use the different amphoras. In the cellar, there are a plethora of possibilities for simple vinifications: on macerations, whole bunches, cement or buried eggs, different sized tuns", he projects. But the biggest project is probably in the vineyard, with the introduction of agroforestry on the vineyard. "I want to reintroduce trees and hedges, bring back biodiversity and move away from monoculture vineyards. We are also in the process of reincorporating the farm on the estate, bringing back the cultivation of fruit trees, market gardening, cereals and livestock as currently the presence of geese, lambs, as well as for the last 2 years trials of mobile hen houses in the vineyards for hens. My magic idea is to create a real biodynamic farm as a whole.