WOMEN IN WINE #2
VÉRONIQUE GÜNTHER CHÉREAU
Domaines & Châteaux (VGC), FRANCE
Vintners for many generations, VGC is run by Véronique Günther-Chéreau (VG) and her Oenologist daughter, Aurore (AG) who now manage the 3 estates under VGC - Château du Coing, the Château de la Gravelle and Grand Fief de la Cormeraie. These estates are located in the Nantais region in Loire Valley, which is known for its delicate, flavourful and equally characterful White Wines called Muscadet, which originates from the grape Melon De Bourgogne.
According to Aurore, "We develop terroir wines, from tradition to innovation. Our traditional wines from "Château du Coing de Saint Fiacre”, "Château de la Gravelle" and "Grand Fief de la Cormeraie" highlight the aromas of white flowers and minerality due to our rich soil structure. For the past three generations, we have specialized in Muscadet that can be aged for several years."
"VGC philosophy : The Terroir shows the style of our wines, the grape variety is our silhouette and the Women represent the spirit to our wines"
I had the lovely chance to meet up with Veronique and Aurore who have a new approach to producing and marketing Muscadet Wines while consciously upholding the true French Grape growing and Wine Making tradition and values, demonstrating the delicate tilt in Old World Wines towards customising their wines in order to appeal to more international tastes.
Here is the brief of my Q&A session with Veronique and Aurore Gunther:
Sumilier : How long have both of you been in Wine Making? How do you divide your responsibilities?
AG : Our Family has been in the Business of Wines since the 15th century. My mother, Veronique joined the Estate in 1989 and I started in 2011, after completing my Diploma in Oenology in Burgundy. We pretty much work together and cover all areas although I focus on the Cellaring and Wine making side whilst contributing towards Oenotourism as well. My mother works in the Area of Export, Marketing and Promotional Strategy. But our roles are fairly flexible!
Sumilier : What style(s) of Muscadet do you produce?
VG/AG: The Muscadet appellation is the biggest region of dry white wines in Europe. Only one grape variety is allowed here : Melon de Bourgogne. However, our Winery Philosophy is based on bringing out not just one Muscadet but its different styles, based on differing Terroirs. We are fortunate in having unique Soils in each of our chateaux covering Gneiss, Schist and Gabbro bed rock soils. Hence we have the capacity to produce different styles of Muscadets to express our different terroirs.
Moreover, as we have been producing Muscadets for over 3 generations, we have worked very hard in specializing in Muscadets that can age, which not many people are aware of. We currently sell Muscadets that are from 1996, 2000, 2005 and 2007 vintage.
VGC also produce special cuvées, "Comte de Saint Hubert" and "Cuvée Excellence" produced from vines that are over a 100 years old that offer a strong aromatic range of yellow fruits and a high degree of minerality, with an ageing potential of at least fifteen years. We are pioneers of a new approach to the Village appellations that was initated in 2002 called, "Château du Coing, L’Ancestrale." This wine is aged in lees for upto for 5 years.
We also produce Muscadet using the Traditionnal Method "Perles Fines du Coing" and a late harvest "Audace du Coing", each made of 100% Melon de Bourgogne. Our intention has always been to highlight the potential each of our unique Melon de Bourgogne grape variety.
Sumilier : How do Soil and Viticultural practices impact your Wines?
VG/AG : We cover grapes over 3 estates each having differing Soils or Bed Rocks and Microclimates which give each of our estate wines a Unique character and style.
Château du Coing in Saint Fiacre sur Maine with mainly gneiss soils which creates wines that are more floral and delicate.
Château de la Gravelle in Gorges, with gabbro soils, rich in calcium and iron which result in minerally driven structured wines with citrus aromas.
Grand Fief de la Cormeraie on Monnières with clay and schist soils which produces fruit driven wines with green apple and yellow fruit flavours.
Regarding our viticultural practices we try to work with low yields, in order to get high concentration of grapes (between 25 and 45 hl/ha). We also practice Organic Viticulture for most of our vines and intend to expand it gradually over the coming years to all of our estates. Our wines are a direct result of our Terroir and we like to keep it that way.
Sumilier : Does Wine making style affect your Wine's character?
AG/VG: We minimise the impact of Winemaking and ideally not like it to impact the wine character. We prefer to let the wine work by itself. The idea is that the more beautiful and flavourful grapes you harvest, the less you work on winemaking. Lees ageing (maturing and ageing with residual yeast after fermentation) is the crucial part of our Wine making process. To give you a quick history, Lees ageing was discovered accidentally during the War times when it was found that the layer of lees left from unfinished wines in barrels developed a hazy sediment but the wines infact tasted better in barrels that were left with lees in them. Since the creation of the Muscadet sub-appellations in 1936, this lees ageing has been found beneficial and been made compulsory for ageing the wines anywhere from 6 months upto 1 year. Lees ageing has proven to have many advantages such as adding creaminess, complexity, tanginess, richness and roundedness to the wine (the lees add fat acids to the wines). We prefer to leave the Wine to the maximum time limit in lees to let it fully express itself. The lees also have a natural protective effect against oxidation. Our top level village appellation in Muscadet is aged on the lees for a minimum 24 months.
Sumilier : What is the best part about your profession?
VG/AG : We love our job! We have the chance to export 50% of our production and 50% in France. So my work involves not just grape growing and wine making but also travelling and meeting new people and talking about our Wines. We are responsible for creation of a beautiful product from the beginning (vines) to the end ( selling the bottles). I am lucky to be in this beautiful profession of growing different parcels of grapes and ultimately creating different styles of wine from the same grape - Similar to the job of a Baker who uses different types of wheat to make unique types of bread. I am not sure of any other profession which provides this creative journey and a rewarding product that people can enjoy!
Sumilier : What is the most challenging part about your profession?
VG/AG : Trying to retain our age-old traditions and grape growing styles is challenging as the world is changing (the climate and soils are ever changing) and demands from customers also are changing. I wish to keep my wines evolving in order to reflect this change and that is challenging but also very stimulating. We do our best to balance our approach with our ancestral Philosophy, while still being trendy in order to appeal to the younger generation. And that is why it is great to have two generations of us working together to maintain this fine balance!
Sumilier : Out of the different styles you make, what do you prefer the most?
VG/AG: This is difficult to answer. It changes every day depending on our what we eat and how we feel and what the occasion is. What I do know is that we make and like to drink different Muscadet’s for different occasions…We enjoy all our Muscadets.
Sumilier : Tell us about the "Petticoat" labelled wine art bottle that you have recently launched.
AG : When I arrived at the estate I wanted bring in something new and represent the feminine virtues of our wines and us, the ladies who produce these wines. My mother and I are co-vintners so I wanted to express the feminism in a positive way through our new style of labelling meaning "made by 2 women". It was challenging to come up with this unique new branding icon without hurting traditional sentiments but since its release, it has been taken up very positively. This wine comes from a parcel on 45 years old vines on schist soils, in Saint Fiacre at the Château du Coing. It has a fermentation temperature lower than the other wines, around 11° so it retains its aromatic and crisp fruit flavours very well.
Sumilier : Who has been your role model?
AG : My mother, Veronique has been an important role model for me!
Sumilier : What is your motto in life?
AG : Enjoy my work which I do!