to the Loire regions
terms of the quantity of wine produced and the reputation that comes with
their most famous vineyard holding, Couly-Dutheil is probably the most
instantly recognised name in the Chinon appellation. The history of the
domaine however is relatively recent, dating back to 1921 and representing
four generations. The associated story is an intriguing one since it is
built upon a very close relationship between two families who originated
in the Corrèze; one of the most impoverished departéments of
France. The first to depart the Auvergne was Jean-Baptiste Dutheil who
arrived in Touraine in 1820 by way of a dog-cart and he was soon joined by
his cousin, Camille Couly. Neither had any involvement in wine Jean-Baptiste
employed as a metal-worker. The viticultural connection came only with his
grandson, Baptiste, who relocated to Chinon after the Great War. Born in
Chinon in 1880 (his parents were visiting the family at the time),
Baptiste was raised in the Auvergne. He would have been 41 when he opened
the doors to his wine merchant business, marrying his cousin, Marie Couly
soon after his arrival in the town. In 1925 he turned from being a
merchant to a vigneron after acquiring the top portion of the Clos
de l'Echo vineyard (although it was not known by this name at the
Couly was a distant relative who was born in the Corrèze in 1910 and came
to Chinon to work the 1928 vintage with Baptiste. Having originally been
employed by a négociant in Bordeaux (the Moeuix family of Château
Petrus who also originate from the Corrèze are cousins), he relocated to
Chinon after falling in love with Madeleine, the daughter of Baptiste and
Marie, thus creating the name of the domaine as we know it today. It was
very much René who developed the domaine, buying the remaining half of
the (then fallow) Clos de l'Echo in 1951. The couple had two boys:
Pierre and Jacques, who would go onto run the domaine between them after
René retired. Pierre worked his first harvest with his father in 1959. By
the end of the 1970s the family controlled 40ha of vineyards and had
contracts to buy 65 hectares more, positioning them the largest single
producer in the appellation. During this time they were also building up
the négociant side of the business, having rights to sell and
distribute the wines of other Chinon producers, including
Domaine des Bouquerries, Domaine du Puy,
Domaine de la Semellerie and Domaine de Versailles, coincidentally all
located in the commune of Cravant.
1989, the firm was significant enough to allow it to consolidate its
winemaking facilities to one central cellar in the town. Although the
adjoining caves that were first quarried in the 12th Century, the newly
constructed cellar was considered as state-of-the-art for the time since
it introduced computerized pneumatic presses and thermo-regulated
stainless steel tanks to the region for the first time.
succession of the fourth generation began with the arrival of Bertrand,
the son of Pierre, in 1986 after completing studies in Montpellier and
working harvests in Pomerol, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and in Oregon. Arnaud,
Bertrands cousin, the son of Jacques, joined the family business with a
commercial diploma a decade later.
sadly symbolic image observed on the Chinon by-pass
as with many close-knit families, situations often come to a head and by
the start of the last decade issues began to arise between the two Couly
factions which ultimately led to a division of the two camps resulting in
the departure of Pierre and Bertrand (Bertrand would rather use the word
'eviction') during the mid 2000s, leaving Jacques and Arnaud to continue
running the domaine. Having only discussed the situation with one half of
the protagonists, it would be unfair to be seen to be taking sides, but
the problems seem to stem back as far as 2000 over an initial dispute over
picking dates (Pierre advocated early harvesting, whilst Jacques and
Arnaud wanted to produce riper wines, presumably aimed at satisfying the
needs of a changing marketplace). In 2003 the two families bought in a
consultant (probably to act more as an arbitrator) and a decision was made
to dispose of all the wood in the cellar in order to concentrate on
producing more site specific wines, whilst reducing yields and harvesting
later (Jacques Couly now claims to harvest one week later than the average
for the appellation).
commentators have made the point that the family started to loose focus
and direction after the death of René Couly, who must now be turning in
his grave at the thought of the conflict that now exists between his sons
and their respective off-spring. Even after five years, the situation
remains unresolved with Pierre and Bertrand laying claim to several
vineyards still under the control of Couly-Dutheil, whilst lawyers
continue try to put a figure to the company's value which is acceptable to
both parties. In the meantime, Pierre and Bertrand have decamped to the
edge of Chinon, constructing their own cellar and now are now beginning to
establish their own identity (see separate entry).
Couly-Dutheil owns a total of 87 hectares (expect this figure to diminish
should the issues outlined above ever finally get resolved) and have a
further 120 hectares under contract. With over 200 hectares and with a
production of around 100,000 cases annually, the firm is responsible for
around 10% of the appellations output.
The range of wines produced at Couly-Dutheil is enormous, although it
must clearly be a successful formula for it to survive as it does. At my
visit to the cellars in April 2011 there were a total of twenty different
wines on offer (not all of them Chinon), ranging from the profoundly
serious (Le Clos de l'Echo and Le Clos de l'Olive) to the
mundane and curiously fabricated (such as their Blanc de Franc, a Cabernet
Franc vinified white). Not all the wines are featured in my
tasting notes below (which concentrates on the haute gamme and
older vintage only), but what follows is a summary of what Couly-Dutheil
produce, beginning with their most prestigious asset.
I suspect that most consumers first experience of the appellation (or even
Cabernet Franc from the Loire) is via a bottle of Couly-Dutheil Chinon and
the company rightly deserves its reputation as the definitive producer in the
appellation. Yet for those interested in wine beyond the point of drinking
it as any other beverage, the majority of Couly-Dutheil's offering is
pretty pedestrian. There are few finer
wines in Chinon than a great old bottle of Le Clos de l'Echo, but
the reality is that I
wouldn't go out of my way to imbibe the other four-fifths of their
Clos de l’Echo
Without doubt, this best known
vineyard within the entire Chinon appellation, taking its name from the
echo transmitted from the northern cliff of the fortress. The legend goes
that doubtful lovers would tease their maidens by shouting a pair of
‘Les femmes de Chinon, sont-elles fidèles?’
‘Elles’ asks the echo.
‘Oui, les femmes de Chinon’.
‘Non’ says the echo.
the late 15th and early 16th Century, the land was
said to belong to Antoine Rabelais, the father of François. The top
portion, on the plateau, was bought by Baptiste Dutheil in 1925. The site
had been abandoned after phylloxera had struck and it was only cleared and
planted once more in the early 1930s (the vines from this era being
grubbed up in 1985/6). For the first couple of vintages the wines were
sold as Chinon Moulin-à-Vent, named after the windmill that stood in the
middle of the vines (opposite). The title was subsequently dropped after objections
were raised from growers in Beaujolais. Regardless, since the Moulin
had been destroyed and dismantled after a thunderstorm, it was renamed
Le Clos de l’Echo.
southern part of the slope was acquired by René Couly in 1951 who cleared, drained
and commenced planting one year later. Before this, the land was used only
for growing cereals, as documented in an older aerial photograph of the
fortress and the town (below). Not classified as a vineyard in the original decree
of 1937, its 17 hectares were recognised by the I.N.A.O. (Institut
National des Appellations d'Origine) retrospectively.
Clos de l'Echo enjoys a mostly southern exposure, with around five
hectares on the plateau orientated northwards. For such a large parcel,
the soils here are surprisingly homogenous, made up of clay and
clay-limestone which contain pebbles of quartz. Being the highest point of
the commune, the clos enjoys a commanding view of the fortress and
the valley of the Vienne; justifiably claiming its position as one of the
most distinguished sites of the appellation. It is a monopole of
Couly-Dutheil (although parts remain in fermage) and mostly planted
to Cabernet Franc, but there is a little Chenin here too. Production
during the late 1990s was around 80,000 bottles a year, but changes made
at the domaine during the early 2000s saw the volume fall as lower yields
were sought. In 2007 only 27,000 bottles were produced.
Since 1995, a separate wooded cuvée has been produced (there was none in
1998, 2004 or 2007) under the name of Crescendo.
Said to originate from the oldest vines at the heart of the clos,
half of the blend is aged in new oak for 12 months, the balance being
raised in tank. Considered a controversial decision by some commentators
from the start, \i understand that the future of the wine is now 'under
The Clos de l’Olive
takes its name from Baron Charles de
L’Olive-Noiré, conqueror of the Guadeloupe in 1635 and who once owned
the property, although it has also served in its past as a refuge for
lepers. It was acquired by René Couly in 1951, around the same time as he
purchased the southern part of the Clos
de l’Echo and was replanted in the 1970s. Some of the vineyards
original 100 year old-plus ceps still remain. The vineyard is a reasonable three hectares in
size and is a ‘true’ clos in
that it is situated within its own walls. It is one of the first vineyards
to be encountered as one negotiates the D21 towards Cravant, where it sits
on a gentle south-facing slope. At the top the soil is clay-limestone but
by the time one descends to the foot of the clos
the profile has changed to sand and gravel. The vineyard here is
harvested later than in the Clos de
l’Echo, a function of the vines being grafted onto 41B rootstock
which delays the ripening process. Today,
Le Clos de l’Olive is
the home to Pierre Couly, although ironically, the rights to the name rest
with Couly-Dutheil, where it forms part of the firm’s haute-gamme.
The wines from this sight are often the equal of Le Clos de l'Echo
after a decade or so in bottle.
began life in the early 1990s (I have older notes on the 1993 and 1994
vintages) as a 6.5 hectare lieu-dit purchased in conjunction with a
group of celebrity foodies, including local legend, Jacques Puisais.
Located in Beaumont-en-Véron, the name appears to have evolved over the
years from a single site to that of a marque (brand) which has
since been registered and possibly undermined by Couly-Dutheil.
is the single largest blend produced by the firm, accounting for around
10,000 cases each vintage. It is sourced mostly from their own vineyards
but also from bought-in grapes from the low-lying plains in Cravant. It is
the lightest and simplest of the Couly-Dutheil reds.
its name from Pierre and Jacques mother and was created in 1978. In
theory, it is produced only in the better vintages; the most recent
releases being 2005 and 2009. Domaine
is self explanatory, and is sourced from 18 hectares of vineyards on the argilo-siliceux
soils mixed with above Saint-Louans. Le
is a Chinon blanc, added to the range in the early 1990s. It is sourced
from six hectares of Chenin planted in Les Molières. The wine is
raised in tank and bottled after around six months without any malo-lactic
fermentation. Earlier vintages of this tasted more like Sauvignon Blanc,
presumably manipulated with specific strains of yeast. Thankfully, more
recent examples have at least shown some sense of place again.
account for around 10% of the total production (around 1,000hl a year) and
the Couly's prefer a technique of maceration over the more widely adopted saignée
or pressurage direct.
In addition to the above, there is also a Saumur Blanc Les Moulins
de Turquant that is sourced from 3 hectares of Chenin and, since
the 1996 vintage, a Saumur-Champigny which carries the same name and is
from eight hectares owned in the commune of Turquant. Nègociant wines
still account for an important part of the production and include a
Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, a pair of sparkling wines, a Bourgueil and a
Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil.
Clos de l’EchoPale.
but with good graduation. Brick red still to rim. Lovely mature Cabernet
Franc nose. Distinctly sous-bois. Earthy, lead-pencil but retains great
freshness and the remains of some fruit. Delicate and gravelly on entry.
Perfect balance but for drinking now as this won't improve further. A
great old Cabernet Franc. (03/07)
La Baronnie Madeleine
Pale. Dull orange-brown. Opaque. The nose retains some interest. This
is still clean although a little monotone. Decent balance with the
structure held together by some fresh acidity. This is still drinkable but
won't improve. The finish is a little hot and baked. (08/11)
Clos de l’Echo
Brick orange. Clearly mature. Lovely light, soft and delicate nose. Very
complex, inviting and continues to evolve in the glass. The palate echoes
(if you’ll forgive the pun) the nose, with equal complexity. Silky and
refined. This is still in very good condition. No rush to drink. (06/11)
Clos de l’EchoMature.
good graduation on appearance. Mid-full. Orange-brown. Sadly the nose is
less impressive with an earthy, oyster shell character. Grubby. No real
fruit remaining. The palate is pretty much the same. The texture is still
here, but the fruit is lost. Just a bad bottle, hopefully.
Les Gravieres - d'Amour Abee de Turpenny
Mid-pale. Orange-brown rim. Mature. Delicate and complex. Pretty on
the palate. Light and gentle with good freshness. The acidity shows
through even if the fruit has now been lost. Elegant. Just a little dry
and grippy on the finish. Decent for a modest cuvée.
Clos de l'Echo
Clean and pure. Quite mineral with first signs of evolution. Good
Cabernet Franc expression. Mineral palate and a little dry and lean. Taut
and youthful. Needs time to evolve. The acidity should preserve but the
fruit profile may not be sufficient enough to allow this to age for a long
Clos de l’Echo
concentrated appearance. Confit but not
true to the vintage. Elegant on the palate
with fresh acidity for the vintage. Taut, mineral and concentrated at this
stage. The tannins are still pretty firm and would benefit with more time.
The only danger is that the tannins could outlive the fruit. (08/11)
La Coulée Automnale
nose. Well balanced if a little lean for the year. Very fresh acidity and
ripe tannins. A little dry and extracted on the finish. (03/07)
Clos de l'Echo 'Crescendo'
Dense, concentrated appearance. Opaque. Marked by the oak but well
intergrated, although could do with more time to integrate fully. Powerful
and concentrated palate which appears more heavily marked by the oak.
Really needs more time. Atypical although impressive in its own right.
Clos de l'Echo
Very soft and elegant nose. Perfumed blackcurrant fruit. Very pure
with excellent minerality behind. Delicate, mid-weight entry. Builds well
with real focus. Shows great freshness in acidity with good tannin
structure. This will age much further. (04/11)
Clos de l'Olive
Very soft but concentrated. Serious with individuality and character.
Structured entry. Taut with a good firm mineral thread running through its
core. Juicy and fresh with noticeable tannins. Shows promise for the
future. Very good with good vintage definition. (04/11)
& Arnaud Couly
12, Rue Diderot
+ 33 2 47 97 20 20
F: + 33 2 47 97 20 25