Guide to the Loire regions


Grower Profiles

Château de Coulaine

'Mon ami (dit le moine), laisse-le-moi (mon froc), car par Dieu, je n'en bois que mieux: il me fait le corps tout joyeaux. Si je le laisse, messieurs les pages en feront des jarretières, comme il me fut fait une fois à Coulaine' 
Rabelais, Gargantua 1535

It's difficult not to be impressed by the pretty Flamboyant-Gothic château located on the road between Beaumont-en-Véron and Chinon. Even more impressive is the fact that the property has been in the hands of the same family since 1300, with records indicating that vineyards have continuously existed here for the past 700 years. Known during Gallo-Roman times Villa Colonia, Coulaine was once a fief of the nearly Abbaye de Saint-Louans. It passed into the hands of the descendents of the current owners through the marriage of Jehan de Guarguessalles with the château being re-modeled between 1460 and 1470 by his grandson, Jehan de Guarguessalles III, keeper of Louis XIs horses and the Governor of Chinon. In the mid 16th Century it was owned by Henri de Craon who, in 1559, took part in the reform of the customs of Touraine. His son, Claude who was born at the château in 1556, became a celebrated Greek scholar. Around the same time, Rabelais was mentioning of Coulaine in reference to the Picrocholine Wars in Gargantua

Today, the château is under the guardianship of the Bonaventures; an unusual name adopted by the owners during the 17th Century. In 1632 the family's ancestors were some of the first to colonize Quebec, eventually returning and bringing with them the name taken from the Île-Bonaventure in the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence where they originally settled. 

Château Coulaine's graceful façade consists of a slender octagonal tower containing a staircase flanked by two wings, each completed with a smaller round tower. Over the doorway is an elaborate piece of sculpture depicting the family crest and the motto Va ferme à l’assault qui sit à la prise. The Neo-Gothic additions date from the early to mid-19th Century. During this period Coulaine was a significant wine estate, but after the phylloxera epidemic of the late 1800s it was reduced to a single hectare in the Clos de Turpenay

It is this small vineyard that Etienne Bonaventure took over from his father in 1988; the same year as he met his wife, Pascale, the daughter of a naval officer who had arrived in Chinon looking for work as the restorer of fine art. Etienne, the youngest of three children (his two older sisters, Catherine and Isabelle, live in the château with their parents) had just returned from his oenology studies and set up home in a dépendence (an old silk-worm factory) on the property and began to build up his domaine. According to Pascale, Etienne's father was a good viticulteur but not a good vintner and between looking after the arable crops and tending the cattle, he could be found making wine in ancient casks and selling it off to the locals in cubitainers. Etienne's first vintage was at least the dream year of 1989 and in 1991 he began planting more vineyards, starting with the west-facing slope adjacent to the château. By the first half of the decade he had established a total of 14 hectares. 

Etienne and Pascale now work a total of 18 hectares. Organic since 1997, they can claim to have been the first to be certified within the appellation. Within the mix there are of two hectares of Chenin Blanc, 0.5ha planted across the road from the château (which produced its first crop in 1998) and a further 1.5 hectares of leased vineyards, on the opposite banks of the Vienne, in the communes of Saint-Germain and Thizay; both of which are currently outside of the Chinon appellation. Everything else is planted to Cabernet Franc; the monosyllabic Etienne delivers a serious frown when one poses the question as to why he doesn't produce any rosé.

There are a total of nine wines produced in the Coulaine cellars, including a little Bourgueil that Bonaventure makes from purchased grapes. Tastings are conducted in an annex to the château that once served as the orangerie, with Pascale doing most of the talking; Etienne giving little away. 

Les Pieds Rôtis is the Touraine appellation white wine first produced in 2006 and made from the 1.5 hectares of vineyards in Saint-Germain (on clay-limestone) and Thizay (sand). Contrary to belief, the name is used more as a brand rather than a being a lieu-dit, since the blend may occasionally include grapes from the Chenin grown in Beaumont. The wine is vinified in 2 to 5 year old barriques and is a serious example of Chenin, even if it doesn't carry the Chinon appellation. The same fruit source is also used for making a tiny quantity of bottle fermented sparkling wine under the same name. A second white, Chinon Blanc is also barrel aged and fermented. Both examples deliver two of the finest white wines produced within appellation, although the quality expectation for Chinon Blanc remains pretty low overall. Château de Coulaine is the label used for the generic red cuvée and comes from vines that are between 5 and 15 years old. The wine is raised in concrete tanks and bottled, according to demand, on three separate occasions throughout the year. Bonaventure comes from slightly older vineyards (15 to 20 years old) and is raised in large oak fûts. Le Clos de Turpenay is the historic 2.2 hectare slope of clay-limestone and flint that flanks the château. The blend includes the original 1.2 hectares inherited by Etienne in 1988 which makes the average age of the vines around 50 years old. The wine is fermented in large wooden vats before being committed to 400 litre oak barrels where the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation and ageing. The oldest vines in the Bonaventure portfolio however come from Les Picasses, a 1.8 hectare parcel that has been in fermage since 2003. This vineyard yields two separate wines: Les Picasses represents one hectare and is raised in one-third new oak, whilst Les Diablesse takes advantage of the 40-80 year old vines located on the north-facing part of the parcel; the cuvée apparently taking its name from an ancestor with a fiery temperament.

My visit to the Bonaventures coincided with the arrival of the 2009 and 2010 vintages, although I have elected not to publish any specific tasting notes. Château de Coulaine is included in my list of top producers more to recognise their unrealised potential rather than what actually actuality exists in the cellar at the moment. There is no doubting that the motivation is there; the conversion to organic farming methods, hand-harvesting and the recent rebuilding of the chai all attest to this, but there are some fairly edgy wines here and technical tasters would have a field day identifying the various winemaking faults. The style and profile might suit the current fashion for 'natural wines' since their aroma and flavours are consistent with what I believe to the criteria in terms of wines that have been handled with 'minimal intervention'. The most impressive wines currently are the two whites and the generic red cuvée. Unfortunately, the for rest of the range I think Etienne would be wise to seek some external advice since, like his father, I think he is probably a better viticulturalist than he is a winemaker. 

The monosyllabic Etienne poses in front of the hidden cave.

Etienne et Pascale De Bonnaventure
Château de Coulaine

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