In 2019, I went to the Loire Valley for a half baked trip, full of lots of appointments but missing one key ingredient: a car. If you EVER plan a trip to the region, rent a car. Even if every dude you know and work for tells you, "the train goes everywhere." It does not.
Now, when people ask where Chinon or Montrichard is, I know from riding the SNCF stop-by-stop. Half defeated, I laid on the concrete steps at Gare de St-Pierre-des-Corps observing French families and snoozed on a bench station in the midday sun, dizzy from too much rhum. I fell in love with the region by watching the sun dance on the windows of the slowest moving trains in France, letting the consequences of my thriftiness wash over me with every train ride, and slowly sinking deeper into the plush 1980's cushions.
One of my favorite visits was to Ludovic Chanson, a winemaker in the Selection Massale portfolio who focuses on white wine. Chenin Blanc comprises 5 of his 6.5 hectares. His cellar is located a five minute drive from Gare de Montlouis sur Loire with a view of the Loire River, dug into the side of a tuffeau cliff (a cellar style seen more commonly in Vouvray).
Montlouis is a small plateau located in the sub-region of Touraine, sandwiched between the Loire and Cher Rivers. After a few days walking around sunny vineyards in Azay-Rideau, it felt noticeably cooler and lush. Known for its feud with Vouvray and a contention with the AOC system, Montlouis is fighting for organic farming (40% compared to 5% in Vouvray), smaller production and drier wines.
Ludovic (Ludo) purchased his estate in 2009 after a career in pharmaceutical research and has benefited from years surrounded by great winemakers like Frantz Saumon. He offers two sparkling wines in his lineup (half of Montlouis production is dedicated to bubbles), a Sauvignon Blanc, and three tiers of Chenin with varying levels of sweetness.
Unlike regions in the Loire with more fog (Savennières), in Montlouis there is less botrytis which makes it possible for better sparkling wines, but also results is a different fruit profile when producing sweet wines (less oxidation). Ludo's cuvées are based on vine age and passes through the vineyard during harvest, instead of location or terroir.
From the Cabotines, a dry-ish Chenin done in barrel to the Implicite, typically made from the third pass in the vineyard only made on special vintages, the wines are thoughtful expressions of Chenin.
Labor (and time) intensive bottlings like Implicite show Ludo's commitment to quality over commercial success.
My visit to Ludo sprung from an impromptu call and a Google Translate text that was welcomed by "sure, I'll pick [you] up at the train station." On that day, he was in the process of moving into a new cellar with the help of Nicolas Renard, which was then followed by a tasting to determine the blending of Gavroche (his entry level workhorse) with his Sauvignon Blanc expert friend. Ludo's son (thank god) was there and translated as they chaotically tested out different blends for the '17 vintage.
A couple bottles of Cabotines, back vintage Les Pions, and a flat Ichigo later, Nicolas started teasing Ludo's son and I for swirling our glass -- insisting and demonstrating that to aerate, you need to put your hand completely over it and dump it back and forth. The scene of two absolutely (wonderfully) insane dudes, a cloud of cigarette smoke and Ludo's son trying to explain it all will stick with me forever.
In the end, Ludo made his son drive me to a closer train station and I relished a car ride listening to a slightly drunk French teen explain why America sucks. And that's when I realized, maybe the train gets you most places.