Muscadet: Shifting Tides on France’s Atlantic Coast
Generational shifts –including new approaches to working in the vineyard and the cellar, and a “return to the past” – are occurring across the wine landscape of France. Muscadet is no exception. This Atlantic-influenced region deserves a spotlight – and so do the people creating new waves that bridge the gap between tradition and innovation through farming and winemaking practices that showcase the full potential of their terroir.
The wines coming out of this region from ambitious growers are humble and laced with charm. Accentuated by refreshing minerality and focus, they engage us in a conversation about the importance of the region’s past, present, and future on the wine map of France.
Quantity to Quality
“Between my grandfather’s generation and mine was my father’s, which was one that valued quantity over quality,” says Pierre-Henri Gadais, 5th generation grower/producer at Domaine de la Combe in the village of Saint-Fiacre-sur-Main. Keenly aware of how external environments shape us, he adds “I have no judgment for the way they worked. But I am lucky enough that my father thought differently and was focused on quality.”
Gwenaël Héraud, 5th generation winemaker at Vallon des Perrières in Clisson, alongside his brother Romain, also remarks on the generation before him, adding that the politics were different then and growers did not work under the same regulations (which are always changing in France). As a result, the wines coming out of Muscadet at that time were “just for bistro consumption,” and the region gained a reputation as one of quantity, not quality.
These young growers are leading the charge in shifting the perception of Muscadet to a region rooted in thoughtful and meticulous winemaking, highlighting the potential of terroir and Muscadet beyond Melon de Bourgogne.
Biodynamic farming in Muscadet is not a new concept. Growers whose names and wines are synonymous with the practice, like Jo Landron of Domaines Landron, Fred Niger of Domaine de l’Ecu, and Vincent Caillé of Le Fay d’Homme, laid the groundwork and continue to share great wines with us. However, climate challenges are posing stronger, more immediate threats, and growers are considering the long-term future of their region. As a result, the next generation of dynamic winemakers whose close connection to their land, combined with an eagerness to change Muscadet’s global perception, are instrumental to the shifting tides of this beloved French wine region.
Dedicated to Fulfilling Potential
Pierre-Henri and brothers Romain and Gwen are prime examples of a generation devoted to changing the global perception of Muscadet. By honoring the region’s rich history through soil revitalization and a non-interventionist approach in the cellar, their work demonstrates a deep understanding of the region as a geological mecca of soil diversity – gabbro, granite, gneiss, orthogneiss, schist, mica-schist, and sand, to name a few. For them, Muscadet is the home to which they are intrinsically connected, and they are dedicated to showcasing its potential.
« Le passé qui revient au présent » / « The past comes back to influence the present »
Pierre-Henri returned to the family domaine in 2016, following travels throughout Australia, New Zealand, California, and the UK. When asked, “Why Muscadet?” he explains that he was attracted to the diversity of terroir in the region, as well as the lower cost of vineyard land relative to other prominent French appellations. Returning home also meant he had access to a mentor – his father – which allowed him to take on a greater challenge: “To elevate the global perception of our region to one of quality and distinction.”
He notes that his method of working with meticulous attention to the land (a must when it comes to converting to organic – his biggest challenge in the last seven years) was the way his grandfather’s generation worked. “In between my grandfather’s generation and mine was one of ‘industry’ that valued quantity over quality,” he says. He also notes that, in the past, they did not have the equipment that is available now, which is vital to maintaining non-interventionist practices.
Continuing the work of their father who had already been working lutte raisonnée (minimal intervention) in their 14 hectares of vineyards, Gwenaël and Romain have now achieved AB (Agriculture Biologique) certification. In addition, they have lovingly brought back cépages oubliés (forgotten grape varieties) to the region. With EU regulations now allowing these varieties to be labeled under Vin de France, they have replanted specific vineyard sites with ancient varieties and hybrids via massale selection, including Seyval Blanc, Rayon d’Or, Chambourcin, and Villard Noir.
“[These varieties] show great potential,” says Gwenaël, noting that they offer higher natural acidity, demonstrate better resistance to mildew pressure and frost, and are less reductive than Melon de Bourgogne, thus creating more ease in the vineyard and less need for intervention in the winery.
At Domaine de la Combe, Pierre-Henri continues to work exclusively with Melon de Bourgogne, honoring tradition and family history. However, following the extreme drought of 2022, he began to consider Folle Blanche for some parcels. He believes that, with the right terroir and the right way of working, a remarkable wine can be made from unremarkable grapes.
Rising Tides Raise all Boats
These passionate producers are eager to share their stories; stories that reveal their dedication to elevating the quality of wine from the region in order to share a revitalized Muscadet with the world. To succeed in their endeavors, they understand that collaboration is key. Following the devastation of the 2021 harvest, Pierre-Henri decided to shift to a négociant model. He made this decision not only to adapt to climate issues and ensure he can fulfill his customer’s’ orders, but also to learn from other growers in the region, strengthen friendships, and foster mutual support. He counts Romain and Gwenaël among his partners in this business.
As both friends and colleagues, these young growers share a desire to live a balanced life, work in a responsible manner, and share the fruits of their labor with their customers. Inspired by the past, each other, the vast world of wine, and an ever-evolving landscape of potential, they are riding the waves of change with grace and intention – and are making some very special wines from Muscadet to share.