Sébastien Riffaul wines from Loire region in France
Sebastien Riffault is, quite simply, a natural winemaking legend of the canton Sancerre in the Loire region. Yet his wines will taste completely different to how pretty much every conventional Sancerre producers’ wines will taste. They really must be tasted to be fully understood, with the notion of the Sancerre appellation style put to one side. For us personally, they create ‘wow moments’ every time.
Not the typical Sancerre wine at all
As Sauvignon Blanc is the dominant grape in the Sancerre appellation, most wine drinkers will know how this area is known for showcasing steely minerality, bright citrus and crisp textured wines. Sebastien Riffault uses biodynamic principles, late harvesting and minimal intervention techniques in the cellar to craft wines that are equally delicate and refined as Sancerre wines should be, yet reflect a completely different representation of the region, to the point where experts might struggle to identify them as Sancerre at all, as so different to what is expected from the appellation.
He achieves his magnificent (and truly quite unique) wine profile through a number of techniques, starting in the vineyard with totally organic soil, which he uses horses to plow 4 of his 12 hectares with (the ones with vines aged between 35-70 years old), in efforts to increase the amount of variety of life found within it.
Grass, flowers and plants between the vines allow for the right sort of insects to find habitat, increasing the biodiversity and life of the vineyard. This is truly quite the opposite to his neighbours in Sancerre, who feature bald rows lacking the same quality of biodiversity.
How Sébastien Riffault archives his unique flavour
When it comes to picking the grapes, Riffault often actually picks his grapes very late compared to his neighbours, ripening them to the fullest until many have the fungus infection Botrytis (commonly known as ‘Noble Rot’), to which he must carefully decide how long to leave the fungus to affect the grapes before harvesting - usually in mid-October.
This helps the wines achieve a certain ripeness to their flavour profile. It seems this practice used to be common in Sancerre, but has since fallen out of fashion over the years. Noble Rot is not usually seen in dry wines (instead more beneficial when making sweet wines), and it can be a dangerous game to play with as the fungus to turn into Gray Rot, which actually gives a fungal aroma to dry wines. Riffault states in interviews that as his vineyard are balanced thanks to biodynamic viticulture, this is less likely to occur and by hand-harvesting manually, they are able to remove bunches affected in this way, which would not be possible if machine harvested like most wines.
In the cellar, Sebastien Riffault ferments most of his wines in old large barrels with wild yeast, he performs extended elevage on his wines and the wines undergo malolactic fermentation, and always ages wines on the lees. The wines are bottled by gravity and no sulphur is used at any stage (except for Les Quarterons which has a tiny amount, and which is also created in stainless steel tanks rather than barrels).