I met Paul-Henry in 2005 when he was studying viticulture at the Lycée Viticole de Beaune and I was studying international wine commerce at the Beaune campus of the AgroSup Dijon. Amid the giddiness of his wine loving, party oriented crowd, he stood out from the pack. He knew how to let loose, but was just a shade quieter and wiser than the others; a bit of an old soul. We became fast friends; eating and drinking our way through Burgundy, the Loire and later South Africa.
Though he was too humble to brag about it, Paul-Henry stood to inherit a 40 hectare estate in Menetou-Salon; an AOC region in the extreme east of the Loire Valley, near Sancerre. In 2007, when his friends were heading off for overseas harvests and oenology degrees, Paul-Henry set out for home. He was to take up his responsibilities in the vines and the cellar; just 22 years old and already head of the estate. His father had passed away when Paul-Henry was only 10 years old. Since then, his mother had kept up the domaine’s excellent reputation with the help of a top quality hired oenologist, awaiting the next generation’s coming of age. Paul-Henry took up his charge with quiet dignity, rising to the challenge of managing staff who had known him since he was in diapers.
Over the next couple of years, I visited Paul-Henry a number of times for meals at the legendary C’heu l’Zib in Menetou-Salon (a hearty and animated, family-style Berrichon restaurant), for Paul-Henry’s legendary summer Garden Parties and, most importantly, for tastings at the winery. The Domaine Henry Pellé, named for Paul-Henry’s grandfather, is based in the village of Morogues. It is a pretty spot with stone houses and a lovely, old church, surrounded by green meadows, vineyards and forests. The Pelle’s Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir vineyards are dotted through the communes of Morogues, neighbouring Menetou-Salon and Sancerre.
As modest as ever, Paul-Henry would tell you that the poise and complexity of his wines is all due to terroir; Kimmeridgean clay-limestone marl soils made up of vast multitudes of fossilized oyster shells (locally called Terres Blanches). His first act upon returning home was to cut out all pesticides and herbicides, and start nourishing the soil with homegrown composts. His time in Burgundy had convinced him of the importance of working each parcel individually, to achieve a unique expression from each plot.
The same rigour is employed in the winery. Wherever possible grapes move to fermenting tanks by gravity flow and conveyor belts to avoid harsh pumping. Fermentation is temperature controlled in stainless steel and neutral oak vats. The top white cuvées are aged on their lees for added texture, while the top reds see subtle barrel ageing. The wines are then bottled unfiltered to preserve their aromatic purity. Paul-Henry will tell you that his goal is to craft fresh, lively, balanced wines. But his best wines go so much further. They are elegant and intensely aromatic; an enticing procession of fresh, vibrant attack, creamy mid-palate and lifted, mineral-rich finish.
Sadly, Ontario readers, none are currently sold at the LCBO so you will just have to drive to Québec to stock up:
Les bornés means clay soil in the local Berrichon dialect. This easy-drinking white is aged 6 months in stainless steel on fine lees. The 2014 vintage is crisp and refreshing with intense aromas of citrus and quince. Light bodied with a hint of creaminess on the mid-palate and a lifted finish.
Where to buy: SAQ (20.65$)
A blend of 7 parcels from among the highest altitude slopes of the appellation, this Menetou-Salon is pure and racy, with a refined citrus fruit and white floral nose. More depth and textured than Les Bornes, this cuvee has a subtly saline notes on the palate and a lively, mineral-rich finish.
Where to buy: SAQ (23.35$ for 750mL / 13.55$ for 375mL)
Les Blanchais is a single parcel cuvée from one of Pellé’s top vineyard sites in Menetou-Salon. The clay-limestone marl is interspersed with silex; a complexity of soils that Pellé feels speaks through the wine. The 50 year-old vines lend power and concentration, with intense citrus, grassy, floral and mineral notes on the nose and palate. There is a pleasing fullness to this wine, and a long, layered finish. Still taut, needs a few years’ cellaring or a couple of hours decanting to fully unwind.
Where to buy: SAQ (29.70$)
No Domaine Henry Pellé reds are currently imported, but you can contact the local agent for more information: www.vinsbalthazard.com