Domaine Pierre Martin (Loire Valley, Chavignol)
Your first stunning glimpse of Sancerre comes after driving across the Sologne, from the west, the Touraine receding in the rearview mirror. The trip seems interminably long, through verdant countryside and fields of cereal grains as far the eye can see. After rounding a bend in the road, Sancerre's steep vineyards suddenly come into view. Tumbling down the hillsides, the vines crouch low to the ground, as if your arrival has shocked them.
You must stop the car. Any refusal to in these magnificent, perfectly lined vineyards, with their small nuggets of chalk and limestone blanketing the ground as if there had a been a snow, is unseemly. To the east, the old village of Sancerre looms in the distance, standing guard. You get the immediate sense you're in an important place.
Sancerre is one of three winegrowing areas in France that are a "golden triangle" for wines--or more appropriately, "a thin white line." From the vineyards of Sancerre stretching north toward Auxerre and finally ending in Epernay, there is a typical geography that connects the three--the famous Kimmeridgian soils, a chalky marl that is capped by Portlandian limestone. From space, one could almost visualize an island chain of great wine villages, connected on the surface by these ancient white stones. At the table, it is easier to imagine a fine Champagne, a cru Chablis, and a lush Sancerre, framing the forthcoming meal.
There are 350 independent wineries in Sancerre, 25 grower/negociants, and only 1 cooperative. Over 7000 acres are planted to vines (nearly 80% of the entire surface area) of which 3/4 are planted to Sauvignon Blanc. The appellation has been fully exploited for years by wine lovers and connoisseurs. Finding something new is virtually impossible. Getting a winemaker to return an email is a challenge.
But last spring we called on an energetic young vigneron named Pierre Martin. And he dealt us into the game.
Pierre assumed responsibility for his father's domaine about 10 years ago. His vineyards surrounding the village of Chavignol are among the best of the region. Everybody knows it. His parcels in Culs de Beaujeuand Mont Damnés are small, but the envy of other wineries nearby.
When Pierre offered us a small quantity of each, we didn't contain our excitement. He jokingly suggested we "place the order tomorrow, and then pay the bill by Friday." So that's what we did.
A Sauvignon from Sancerre, especially a great one, can be at once charming and lively, but in total will often be ravishing and complex. Wines never lack for acidity, and always have a haunting and bracing minerality (a word easily used but not simply explained). Pierre's wines are mouth-watering, sometimes tending toward austere, but featuring a surprising richness.