All photos (except of Pierre-O Bonhomme) by Isaac Rosenthal (www.ikesight.com)

Les Montils Mafia!

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For decades now, the Loire Valley has been a hotbed of unconventional wine practices, with a history of winemakers turning away from the heavily prescribed use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers in favor of organic and biodynamic treatments, compost, cover crops, biodiversity in the vineyards, and healthy living soils. Attempts to convince these renegades to control their wines with industrial yeasts and chemical manipulation in the cellar have been completely unsuccessful. There is now a vast network of winemakers who have attained a kind of autonomy in the region, with the thirsty denizens of Paris, the Americas, Japan, and across Europe providing the demand for their unique (and undeniably more natural) wines.  It would be nearly impossible to present a who’s who list from the growing number of winemakers in the Loire and elsewhere in France who work with this shared philosophy of non-intervention, but we will take the opportunity today to focus on one group in particular… the group we call the “Les Montils Mafia.”

Nestled in the Loire-et-Cher (a deparment of France that surrounds Blois and covers most of the area from the Loire River to one of its tributaries - the Cher), in and around the appellation of Cheverny, there is a tiny commune known as Les Montils. To an unsuspecting tourist, Les Montils might seem like any other quaint French village, but it is in fact host to a posse of winemakers who have a reputation for refusing to comply with modern-day trends that stress control, manipulation, and the use of chemicals in vineyard and cellar. The underground network includes two families with ties to the area - the Puzelats and Villemades - and two talented individuals who proved they were loyal to the cause: Olivier Lemasson, and Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme. Although there may be the occasional stylistic differences throughout the years, the members of the Les Montils Mafia share a unwavering commitment to healthy, chemical free vineyards, and an approach to wine-making that is much less about creating or “making” a wine, and more the careful observation of a natural process, with no alteration and sulfur typically just at the bottling, if added at all.

Clos du Tue-Boeuf - Thierry and Jean-Marie Puzelat

Their destinies forged at an early age, Thierry and Jean-Marie Puzelat became involved in the wine world as teenagers, as they were gradually introduced to vineyard work and winemaking by the elders of the family. The brothers developed a passion for the family business and eventually took over the activities from their father in the 1990’s. The Clos de Tue Boeuf vineyards were always worked with a minimum of chemical products, and the tradition of hand harvesting and vinifying with indigenous yeast was long standing. Over time, Thierry and Jean-Marie took the extra steps to eliminate chemicals in the vineyard completely and begin making wines with minimal or no sulfur added. Their wines are consistently some of the purest and most enjoyable “natural” offerings from the Loire valley, and the legacy they’ve created has inspired a younger generation across the country. Their sphere of influence is so wide, in fact, that Puzelat is literally a household name in the corners of the world where people speak of natural wines.

Hervé Villemade and his father

Hervé Villemade hails from a farming family that originally settled in the Loire valley in the 1930’s. Hervé’s father took over in the 60’s, focusing the polyculture on vines, vegetables and grains. Wines were bottled under the Villemade name since the 1970’s and in the late 90’s, Hervé and his sister Isabelle took over, taking the estate organic, and only using natural treatments in the vineyard. Grapes are hand harvested and sorted, juice ferments with indigenous yeasts, and the wines typically receive a small dose of sulfur at bottling. Hervé has always been a firm believer in soil health and biodiversity in the vineyards, and his unwavering commitment and family ties in the area have helped to solidify the reputation of Les Montils in the region.

Eben Lillie, Olivier and Cecille Lemasson

Perhaps the scruffiest of the bunch, Olivier Lemasson is known for his négociant project: Les Vins Contés, which was originally a joint effort between Lemasson and Hervé Villemade. Lemasson is in fact the one responsible for corrupting Villemade and luring him into the world of no-sulfur wine making over a decade ago. From his humble beginnings as a sommelier and retailer in Brittany, Olivier became enmeshed in the shady world of natural wine, studying for several years with one of the godfathers of the movement, Marcel Lapierre. After a short stint as a retailer in Paris, Olivier teamed up with Hervé Villemade, who was searching for a partner for a new négociant project. They began the project (code name: Les Vins Contés) in 2002, working with organically farmed vineyards around the Loire Valley, and producing wines from Côt, Gamay, Pineau d’Aunis, Grolleau, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Romorantin, Menu Pineau, and Chenin Blanc (to name a few). Olivier took over the Vins Contés project in 2006, and has expanded the operation, while maintaining close ties with farmers and vineyard owners in the region. His wines have always been some of the wildest (aromatically and otherwise), but with age and experience, Olivier has finally hit a stride, consistently producing pure, clean natural wines, and using small amounts of sulfur when needed (though he prefers to add none). His 2014 releases are a prime example!

Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme, aka Pierre-O, was brought into the Les Montils family at an early age. He got his start working with Thierry on a négociant project many years ago, under the code name: “Puzelat-Bonhomme.” Although they were never caught, Pierre-O and Thierry engaged in various illegal activities, bottling a Sauvignon Blanc/Menu Pineau blend and calling it Cheverny, producing Pet-Nats from Cab Franc with no sulfur added… the rap sheet of “unconventional” practices is so long we don’t have space to list all of the offenses in this email! Over the years, Pierre-O has stayed loyal to the tenets of the Les Montils group, and has earned the position as head of the Puzelat-Bonhomme project. He has been in charge of vinification for the Puzelat-Bonhomme label since 2011, and as of 2014, the label has been changed to “Bonhomme,” to signify that Pierre-O is now a made man. Though he may look young, don’t be fooled by his baby-face! Pierre-O is an astute and dedicated winemaker with a long history in the region and an intimate connection to his vineyards. His most recent offerings - which are just arriving to New York shores – are a testament to his skill and passion, and an indication that we have plenty to look forward to in the years to come!

And now, the wines!

New arrivals are aplenty, mostly from the 2014 vintage. Across the board, wines are lively and balanced (almost all of the reds here are under 12% alcohol). Light chills are recommended and we’d advise drinking these now, though certain of these wines can definitely improve with time. During a recent visit with Olivier Lemasson, for example, I had the great pleasure of drinking a 2003 Côt – the first vintage that he and Hervé Villemade bottled under the Vins Contés label. It was pure, structured, long, mineral, and quite evolved with dried fruit, earth and mellow leather notes … At one moment I looked at Olivier in awe as I meditated on the wine. He raised his finger with a smile, winked, and reminded me: “no sulfur!”

Eben Lillie

No Longer Available

Tue-Boeuf 2014 Vin de France Vin Rouge Gamay

Gamay from vines ranging from 5 to 30 years of age. A pure Vin de soif: super drinkable, with pretty fruit, and a little hint of carbonic gas on the tip of the tongue. This is a very easy going and light bodied wine, with impressive mineral length. Drink with a light chill!

 

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $16.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Tue-Boeuf 2014 Vin de France Rosé (Cot/Grolleau)

The Puzelat brothers strike again with a new vintage of the Vin Rose, known to defy categorization each and every year. Last year was Gamay. This time it's Cot and Grolleau. Imagine those grapes together:  One we know by it's common name: Malbec, and the bold, spice driven flavors of the South of France. The other is a big, plump, flavorful and fun loving grape from the Loire Valley that has been adding character and a bit of grip to reds and roses in the region lately(and seems to be making a bit of a comeback!). Thinking of those grapes leads one to a fairly close guess of the resulting wine: It's dark, full of flavor, and shows a vibrant, spicy Mediterranean side, along with the high acidity and minerality from the Loire. And it's a joy to drink! 

  • Out of Stock
  • rosé
  • 0 in stock
  • $17.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

Tue-Boeuf 2014 Touraine Le P'tit Blanc du Tue-Boeuf

A fantastic Sauvignon Blanc, from mostly young vines. Careful vineyard work and selection, coupled with natural vinification give this wine a level of aromatic complexity and depth that is a bit surprising, given it's unassuming name. If you happen to have a friend who is about to write off Sauv Blanc because they've been drinking too many grassy, grapefruity offerings, try the P'tit Blanc. It might just rescue your friend from making a tragic mistake. Drink over time. The wine evolves quite a bit from acid driven early moments, to more subtle oxidative notes and quince aromas, and growing weight over course of a day or two. 

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $17.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

Tue-Boeuf 2014 Cheverny Rouillon

2014 is a lovely vintage for Rouillon - from roughly 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Gamay from vineyards on clay and limestone with silex, farmed with organic and biodynamic methods. Lovely aromas of raspberry and wild strawberry, violets, blood orange and spice. The palate is light and pretty with light but persistent berry fruit and citrusy acidity. 12% alcohol, minimal SO2. A delicious natural wine, serve cool with just about anything!

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $22.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

Herve Villemade 2011 Cheverny Blanc La Bodice

La Bodice is a special cuvée that is aged on the lees for typically just over a year, in a combination of large (500L) and small (225L) barrels. Mostly Sauvignon Blanc with about 20% Chardonnay, it delivers some of the grassy and crisp characteristics expected of typical Cheverny whites, along with noticeable density and subtle herbal notes that add a layer of complexity. After a year in barrel, and three in bottle, this is a real treat, and definitely a more meditative wine than the price would suggest. Decant if possible, and enjoy over many hours or days.  EL

  • Out of Stock
  • white
  • 0 in stock
  • $14.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Villemade, Herve 2014 Vin de France Bovin (Liter)

"1 Litre à boire d'une traite" - A bottle to drink in one go - We think the message make things pretty clear: this is a fresh, fun bottle of Gamay that is dangerously easy to drink. Mineral, zingy, and well worth a light chill. And don't be ashamed to chug! EL

 

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $18.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

Villemade, Herve 2013 Cheverny Rouge 1.5 L

2013 was a pretty difficult vintage in the Loire. Quality was good, but yields were depressingly low. The Villemades usually bottle three separate red cuvees: the "basic" Cheverny Rouge, "La Bodice," and at times, "Desire," which is named after Herve and Isabelle's father. In 2013, there weren't enough grapes to warrant the separate cuvees, so all the fruit went into the Cheverny Rouge bottling. This is all that's left. In Magnum form. We highly recommend trying this wine! The liveliness of the fruit and the aromatic complexity alone are fantastic reasons to do so, and the structure and depth from the old vines and single parcels provide even more reason. Get a few! You won't regret it. 

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $33.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

Vins Contes (Lemasson) 2014 Vin de France Poivre et Sel

The newest vintage of one of our favorite Lemasson wines. Mostly Pineau D'Aunis with a touch of Gamay from sandy/flint soils. It's delightfully floral on the nose, with the fascinating herbal notes that one usually finds from Pineau D'Aunis cuvées. Mineral, and very fresh... with a lingering chalky finish. We are self-professed fanatics for Pineau D'Aunis, so an exceptional bottle like the 2014 Poivre et Sel is a welcome addition to our shelves - but never for very long!  EL

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $21.99

  • Low Sulfur

Vins Contes (Lemasson) 2014 Vin de France R 14

For those who are curious, this is 60% Grolleau, 30% Gamay and 10% Pineau D'Aunis. For those who want a juicy vivacious natural wine with tons of personality, this is IT! We've been fans of this wine since the first release and the 2014 is maybe our favorite one yet. Named after the infamous clunky (and somewhat unreliable) cars that were released by Renault in the 70's and 80's, it's supposed to illicit a grin, and it does. The difference, however, between wine and the car, is that Olivier's version is an actual work of art. Drink now or drink now. EL

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $18.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

Bonhomme, Pierre-Olivier 2014 Vin de France Vercheny

Guess Pierre-O ended up with too much Pinot Noir in his Cheverny, so he wasn't allowed to use the appellation name. Our customers don't seem to mind, and in fact have an easier time pronouncing "Vercheny," so we're not bothered at all. Did we mention it's delicious? This one is quite obviously a natural wine in the best sense, with wild and lively aromas of berries and spice, a tingle on the tongue, and tons of minerality. With a little chill, this becomes a super quaffable red, which is almost a shame, as we typically miss out on tasting what this wine is like on day two. If you can, we implore you to try, but we won't be surprised if the bottle is emptied in under an hour!  EL

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $16.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Bonhomme, Pierre-Olivier 2014 Vin de France le Telquel

Mostly Gamay, with a bit of Côt and Pinot Noir, and dog on the label - what more can you ask for?! With notes of red fruit and black cherry, the 2014 Telquel is generous and satisfying, and at only 11%, the freshness and acidity make the second sip extremely easy. After some time open, the wine shows structure and some earth, as a reminder that it is a serious wine - even with the cute label.  EL

 

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $14.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

Bonhomme, Pierre-Olivier 2014 Vin de France La Tesniere

Pineau D'Aunis with about 10% Gamay, from a long-time organically farmed vineyard on a parcel that is quite close to the famed Clos Roche Blanche vines. Balsamic aromas mix with herbs and flowers, and a fresh, chalky mouth feel and high toned acidity give way to a long mineral finish. Take an obscure grape in the hands of a dedicated natural winemaker, and the result is a fascinating wine that is as thought-provoking as it is fun to drink. Bravo to Pierre-O for a great vintage of the Tesniere.

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $25.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Bonhomme, Pierre-Olivier 2014 Touraine Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir from Pierre-O Bonhomme! Subtle, with fresh herbs, and bright red fruit on the nose. Dense fruit, dark cherry and earth on the palate and a long mineral finish. Put simply: this is a harmonious and perfectly balanced bottle of Pinot Noir from one of our favorite Loire Valley producers. Enjoy with a light chill.   EL  

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $22.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Bonhomme, Pierre-Olivier 2013 Touraine KO In Cot We Trust

Malbec is known as Côt in the Loire Valley, and this wine, simply labelled: "In KO we trust" is a strong example of what this formidable grape is capable of in the region. It is definitely not as dark, ripe or fruity as the typical Argentina offering, but what it lacks in overripe fruit and new oak it makes up for in elegant tannic structure, and an ample amount of finesse. It's nice to drink now with any late summer grilled foods, and has enough acidity and grip to be a prime candidate for a few years of bottle age.  EL

  • Out of Stock
  • red
  • 0 in stock
  • $19.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur