Guide to the Loire regions


Grower Profiles

Pierre Couly, Grand Master
             Bertrand Couly, Grand chai

Pierre is a founder member and Grand Master of the confrérie of Les Entonniers Rabelaisiens, a position he has held since September 1976.

Pierre & Bertrand Couly

First, a little background history.

In terms of the quantity of wine produced and the reputation that comes with their most famous vineyard holding, the name Couly (when hyphenated with that of Dutheil) is probably the most instantly recognisable producer in the Chinon appellation. The history of Couly-Dutheil is relatively recent, however, 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), as a child he 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 time). 

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). 

Some 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 operation. 

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. 

One 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. 

Pierre & Bertrand Couly
Route de Tours
Rond Point des Closeaux

T: + 33 2 47 9
3 64 19
F: + 33 2 47 9
8 03 45

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