to the Loire regions
a little background history.
René 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. By 1989, the firm was significant enough to allow it to consolidate its winemaking facilities to one central cellar in the town.
The succession of the fourth generation began with the arrival of Pierre's some, Bertrand in 1986 after completing studies in Montpellier and working harvests in Pomerol, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and in Oregon. Ten years later, Jacques son, Arnaud, joined the family business with a commercial diploma a decade later.
But 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 'evicted') 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 impressive modern cellar and now
are starting to
establish an identity for themselves. Starting with their own production
in 2007, their first three vintages were produced in cellar space rented
to them by sympathetic vignerons, some of which also supplied the
couple with parcels of vineyards which enabled them to start their
The new cellar is located on the edge of a retail park on the Chinon road the land being purchased by Pierre from seven different land owners (no mean feat in itself). Designed by local architect, Bertrand Penneron, the facility crushed its first harvest in 2010. Although production for the first harvested represented around 18 hectares, the cellar capacity is almost twice this; clearly the Coulys are working towards the day when they are awarded the balance of what they believe to be rightfully theirs. (Pierre and Bertrand were awarded one hectare of vineyards from Couly-Dutheil in 2010 and expect to receive another 2ha in 2012, but this represents just a fraction of the total family holdings). Within the new facility, Bertrand works closely with his maitre de chai, Bertrand Fourghigeu, himself from a family of Chinon wine growers, owning eight hectares around Saint-Louans and which have since been incorporated into the Couly range.
There is no wood here - only pristine stainless steel tanks which neatly line the walls of the chai. From the 2012 vintage there will be a Chinon Blanc produced, sourced from three-quarters of a hectare in Les Picasses (Bertrand has also planted some Sauvignon for AC Touraine), whilst the reds and rosé are vinified exclusively from Cabernet Franc.
In terms of the range of wines, the tasting starts with a single Rosé, produced from the saignée method and accounts for around 15% of the total production (with demand increasing with each vintage). There are three red wines; starting with the Chinon Classique (Bertrand's description, although not labelled as such) the wine comes from eight hectares of clay and silica soils of Saint-Louans. Cuvée Le V de Couly is named after Bertrand's youngest son, Vincent who apparently demanded a label which carried his own name. The grapes for this are sourced from six hectares of limestone and clay soils in and around La Diligence located in Beaumont. Unfortunately, the name of the parcel is registered by Couly-Dutheil who elect to use it as a brand rather than recognising the literal boundary of this lieu-dit. La Haute Olive comes from a two hectare vineyard on a limestone slope at the eastern edge of Chinon. This is owned by the brother-in-law of Pierre Couly and rented to Pierre and Bertrand independent of former connection to Couly-Dutheil. A single wall divides it from Le Clos de l’Olive which happens to be the home of Pierre Couly although, ironically, the right to the name rests, for the moment at least, with Couly-Dutheil where it forms part of their top range. In addition to the wines of the appellation, Bertrand also buys in grapes from the commune of Turquant to produce a Saumur Blanc which at least gives the family a ready-made range.
cannot begin the contemplate the pressures of starting up in business on
the back of what is such a high profile dispute between the two factions
of the Couly family, but what Pierre and Bertrand have achieved to date
has been done with great dignity. Beginning with next to nothing, they
have managed to finance and build an impressive cellar and beg, steal or
borrow numerous parcels of vines to put together a cohesive selection of
wines. These are all modern, clean and correct, if currently a little too
technical and commercial. I am certain these will evolve and develop over
the coming vintages, especially if the pair finally do gain access to some
of the family jewels. But for the moment these are sound and workable
wines and should not be overlooked.