It is and it isn’t (Pouilly, France – Day Two)

I’ve never really understood the phrase “the exception that proves the rule”, and I’m wondering if someone can explain it to me. Doesn’t an exception by definition DISprove a rule? Isn’t that the whole point of a rule? I understand the concept of “rules were meant to be broken”, never more appropriate than when talking about the rules and regulations around appellation des origine controlee (AOC) in France, and similar denominations in other European countries. The idea that the best wines are produced from certain varieties in certain terroirs perfected over the centuries isn’t the question for me. The question is the determination of yields and practices in the vineyards in cellars that are determined by this quite rigid system. In terms of planting other varieties, not only can you not label any wine made from the varieties, but the mere existence of them is forbidden. Around Europe there are mavericks looking to shake things up a bit, breaking away from the norm and attempting to disprove the rules, or prove the exception. One of these is Domaine Didier Dagueneau.

Domaine Didier Dagueneau

True wine connoisseurs and those working in wine would be familiar with the name Didier Dagueneau (cousin to Valerie Dagueneau who I visited the previous day). Apart from his reputation for crafting some of the best wines in the world, a few years ago he tragically died in a plane crash on the way to inspect some of his vineyards in the south. This made international wine news in the process, so if you hadn’t heard the name before (like myself), you knew it now. Didier’s passion for wine and wine culture was clearly infectious as following his passing an out-pour of emotion and lamentation flooded the wine world, particularly as his death was so untimely. His approach to wine, particularly within his appellation of Pouilly-Fume was uncompromising and had a tendency to polarise people. Many loved him but I’m sure he ruffled a few feathers. Although he operated within the rules of the appellation, his practices were completely against the grain, resulting in wines that technically were Pouilly-Fume but unlike any other you could find. Of particular note were his viticultural practices (no chemicals, high-density low yielding vines) and winemaking practices (total fermentation in oak for one year followed by a second year in tank before bottling and release).

Pressed juices are left to rack at low temperatures for two days

Didier’s son Benjamin has since taken over as the operations manager, and his daughter Charlotte is handling much of the commercial side of the business. Domaine Didier Dagueneau wines are found on the best wine lists in the world, and imported by the best in each market, including Bibendum Wines in Australia who has been instrumental in helping me secure some of the best visits of my time in Europe. In this case however I arranged an appointment in a different way. It is almost impossible to find contact details for Dagueneau online as they have no website and don’t list an email address anywhere. A French friend who I met early in my trip in the U.S.A. and who lives in Paris told me her mother lived just outside of Pouilly and she was friends with a local vintner, asking if I wanted to visit. When I asked what the name was to see if I knew it I was astonished to hear the Dagueneau name, but it took a little longer to confirm which one. Sometimes it’s nice to know people who know people, otherwise I would never have got the chance to visit and taste some of the best wines of my entire trip.

All wines are fermented in barrels of varying sizes and shapes

I met with Charlotte at the winery but due to a misunderstanding with times I was one hour late and missed a scheduled tour with others. This probably wouldn’t have been ideal as it was in French, so luckily I had Charlotte all to myself. As I tasted through the wines trying to wrap my head around what made them so different and so much better than other wines in the appellation, I began to ask questions and make comment. At first I felt that some of the things I was saying were being interpreted as criticism and Charlotte was dismissing me. I got the impression also that Charlotte isn’t used to receiving much criticism of the wines or having them questioned. I then began to realise that her English wasn’t as strong as I thought it was and she was misunderstanding some of my comments or questions, becoming a little exasperated. By the end of the tasting and tour, I realised that she hasn’t studied wine nor explored a lot of other wines, and most of what she knows about wine relates to her own wine. This is by no means an indictment on her, as I was in the same position only three years ago when I left Chandon. Not to mention the fact that when you make the best wine in your appellation, and possibly in the country, do you need to know much more? Click here to read my tasting notes.

Fortitude

Click here to see more photos from my final day in the Pouilly and the Loire Valley.

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