Atop a small hill in the Loire Valley, ten hectares of vines look out across open countryside to the horizon where the river twists and turns on its journey to the Atlantic. It is here in the Anjou region that Domaine Clau de Nell rests, bearing testament to iconic producer Anne-Claude Leflaive and her deep belief in the value of biodynamic agricultural practices.
Although founded in 2000, it wasn’t until 2008 that Domaine Clau de Nell was purchased by the late Anne-Claude Leflaive and her husband, Christian Jacques. The single block of vines and its estate, once dormant in the commune of Ambillou Château, underwent a renaissance of sorts. The domaine was modernised and the estate was augmented in 2012 and 2013 with parcels of Chenin Blanc vines in the Saumur appellation.
Clau de Nell exemplifies Leflaive’s deep connection to the land and the importance she placed on agricultural sustainability. With a keen eye to the future, she worked tirelessly to ensure future generations would inherit a rich and diverse representation of each site she worked with. To that end, the wines of Domaine Clau de Nell are carefully crafted expressions of the surroundings from which they came.
In keeping with a holistic approach to viticulture the grapes are all hand harvested and indigenous yeasts are used for fermentation. Pumping over is limited and infusion techniques are used to coax the very best from each batch before maturation in old wooden vessels or a mixture of old wood and steel. The wines then rest in the estate caves carved from the soft, lightly coloured tuffeau limestone found just beneath the region’s topsoil.
Wines from Clau de Nell have a delightful humility to the way they sing of their origins. It is around an elegant frame that enticing perfume and delicious flavours are wound, showcasing the Loire’s vinous offerings. The signature red grape of Anjou, Cabernet Franc, shines bright within the estate’s portfolio. Stephan Reinhart of The Wine Advocate describes the 2011 as “authentic, unpretentious, vibrant, gastronomic … a delectable wine” with a “brilliant and delicate bouquet of fresh and peppery fruit aromas”. On the palate, “this lovely red is a fresh, fleshy, but also transparent and silky textured red with a firm yet delicate structure and an aromatic floral finish”.
In celebrating the Touraine native, Grolleau, the domaine creates a still red wine, rather than the more familiar rosé. From 100-year-old vines pure fruit and velvet tannins are brought forth to create a wine that is, in the words of Wine Enthusiast’s Roger Voss, “light in texture but rich in complexity”.
To complete the red wine offering is Cuvée Violette – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, the percentage of each being determined by vintage conditions. The 2012 Violette, comprising 60% Cabernet Franc and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, produced a wine that Loire expert Jim Budd characterises as, “aromatic with lovely seductive texture”. The low yielding 60-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon vines bring additional structure to this stylish wine. James Molesworth of Wine Spectator described the wine as impressive, “dark cherry and bitter plum notes are laced with bay leaf and dark olive hints”, leaving no doubt that the narrative begun by Anne-Claude Leflaive continues to define the principles of Domaine Clau de Nell today, thus ensuring longevity and a place of distinction in the world of wine.