“I was born on a barrel.” — Fabien Duveau
Fabien says this with a wink. But it acknowledges his position as the 8th generation of the family to make wine in Saumur-Champigny and his dedication to his profession. Fabien regards his region, distinguished by its tuffeau bedrock and singular microclimate, as “one of the jewels of the Loire.” Here he holds some 40 parcels of chenin blanc and cabernet franc, a pair of varieties that enthrall him. As Fabien observes, “We always do better and with rigor the things that fascinate us.” Lately, that has meant drilling into the character of his single parcels.
Having worked among these parcels his whole life, he intuits the temperament and inclinations of each. Since taking over the domaine from his father in 2008, he has converted all of the family holdings to organics, a move he regards as his decisive thumbprint on the domaine. His “desire for clean farming and the preservation of the natural heritage” extends to his cultivation of biodiversity in and around the vineyards. In the cellar, his minimalist approach results in wines that express “the complex nature of the land and the know-how of its winemakers.” His intuition, dedication, and innovative perspectives infuse his wines with a freshness and delicacy that mark them as vibrant, eloquent examples of what Saumur-Champigny wines are at heart.
Growing up, Fabien “always knew” he wanted to be a winemaker. Since childhood, he worked alongside his father and grandfather since childhood. He studied at the nearby lycée, then left home for a stage in Bergerac, four years at Château Grand Corbin-Despagne in St. Emilion, and later a harvest internship at Rutherford Hill in Napa. He returned to Saumur-Champigny to take over winemaking from his father, guided by a shared view that “wine is first and foremost a pleasure and a generosity.” Now Fabien and his wife, Emmanuelle, jointly manage the domaine, supported by a two-person vineyard crew. Beyond wine, Fabien is ardent about Latin American dance. He feels “dancing and wine are two passions that have no connection except passion itself. Our profession is above all our passion.”
Farming organically and encouraging biodiversity in and around the vineyards are integral to Fabien’s approach. At about the time Fabien converted the family holdings to organics, Saumur-Champigny growers were banding together to establish Ecological Zone Reservoirs (EZR) — border areas of bushes, trees, and creepers, designed to provide year-round shelter, food, and breeding sites for helpful insects, birds, and animals. “Proximity to the plot encourages exchanges between the EZR and the vine. Grasses around the plot and the presence of vegetation between the rows accentuate these exchanges,” Fabien explains.
In the vineyards, Fabien has a mix of clones, though his oldest plots are of massal selections. All training is guyot and yields are carefully controlled. Vine age varies considerably from plot to plot. For his two single-vineyard bottlings, Clos de la Côte cabernet franc and Poyeux chenin blanc, vines are 60 and 25 years old, respectively.
Fabien makes his wines in a cave dug in the 14th century from the same stone that later went to build the great Loire chateaux. The caves were first used as dwellings for the Saumurois, but the constant chill and humidity levels they harbour are friendlier to winemaking and storage than human habitation.
“If we have good grapes,” Fabien explains, “the most essential work is done. I’m just here to control my fermentation.” He strives to minimize sulphites and use only wild yeasts “because I am convinced that the yeasts naturally present on the grapes give the complexity and the originality to my different wines.” He matures his wines in the constant cool (12°C/53°F) of his cellar, using barrique: one-third new, one-third one-year, and one-third two years. For his single-vineyard Clos de la Cote, he picks at “big maturity,” with fermentation lasting between four and six weeks. For his Episode cuvee, he selects grapes with more pronounced tannins, then softens them with 18 months barrique elevage. Fabien believes correct serving temperature is essential to the appreciation of his wines: “Neither too cool nor at room temperature: 13°C [55°F] to 16°C [60°F] is ideal.”
Vinified with native yeasts in cement and aged in stainless steel, Duveau's Saumur-Champigny is a beautifully bright, fresh, juicy wine. The organic vineyard of Les Menais, located in Verrains, has clay/limestone soils. The wine captures the classic aromatic quality of cabernet franc and the elegance of the terroir.
Deliciously lightly chilled and drunk with grilled meats, BBQ and crunchy red salads.