Blog: Producer Newsletters

  • Introducing Sebastien Riffault

    March 5th, 2013

    Sebastien Riffault
    Natural Winemaker in Sancerre
     Sebastien Riffault
    You are almost as likely to find someone ordering a ‘glass of Sancerre’ these days as you are to hear someone ask for Chardonnay. One of the first AOC’s created in 1936, Sancerre has been revered for its Sauvignon Blanc throughout the ages. Resting on a chalk base interspersed with a variation of flint, marl and gravel, it is known for its intense minerality, crisp texture and piquant citrus quality.
    Since its last expansion in 1998, the area permitted under the AOC has climbed. As Sancerre started to catch fire in the 1990’s, a time when international trends were heading in the fruity direction, many producers began picking later and manipulating the wines to enhance its fruit quality, often muting the wine’s terroir. There has been a small backlash against this and then, taking it a few steps further, there is Sébastien Riffault.
    Sebastien with one of his two horses
    Riffault, who still works closely with his father, Etienne, started taking over the reigns in 2004. First, he converted a couple of vineyards to organic viticulture. Pleased with the results, Etienne let Sébastien transform the entire estate to an organic and then biodynamic property. A believer in biodiversity, an array of plants, flowers and grass are planted in the vineyards. Absolutely no chemical pesticides, herbicides or fungicides are employed, ever. Sulphur and copper, which are organic compounds, are used when necessary.
    Located near Sury-en-Vaux, some of the vines are over 50 years old. Riffault uses a pneumatic press. Natural fermentation takes place in larger, older wooden vats. Riffault’s wines also undergo full on malolactic fermentation. He never chaptalizes or acidifies. The wines are aged on their lees and bottled, unfiltered and unfined.
     The 3 cuvees that RTT presently imports to CA: Les Quarterons (stainless steel) and 2 barrel aged cuvees: Akmeniné and Skelvedra

    Les Quarterons is the most traditional of the lot though this wine is not as typical of Sancerre as others. Floral with flint and chalk in the nose, it has a strong, tight-knit core with a hint of almonds. It is bottled with a minimal amount of sulphur.

    Most of Riffault’s vineyards are south facing. Riffault makes several wines, some from ‘silex’ (flint), limestone and clay. All of the grapes are hand picked and fermented with wild yeasts. With the exception of Les Quarterons, which is vinified in stainless steel tanks, large, older oak barrels are used during fermentation and elevage. In spite of the crisp, intense acidity, all of the wines undergo complete malolactic fermentation. They are bottled without fining or filtration.
    Low yield, minimum manipulation, natural Sancerre
    What makes Riffault stand apart from other producers in the region are his lieux-dits wines. Sébastien has given them Lithuanian names in honor of his wife, who is from Lithuania. Two of them, Skeveldra and Akmeniné, are made from the original parcels he worked with in 2004. Skeveldra, which means stone fragment, is a 1.75-acre site composed of 40-year-old vines. The soil is made up of a calcareous base with limestone and silica. Akmeniné is slightly larger, just over three acres, and the vines are 35 years of age. It is predominantly limestone with a chalk.
    Riffault wines have cult status in Europe including here in a Copenhagen wine shop
    Both Akmeniné and Skelvedra spend 24 months in eight to 15 year old, 225 liter barrels and then a year in bottle before they are released. They are reminiscent of some of the white wines from the Jura, both in coloring and flavor. Although nutty and rich, they are still fresh, crisp and minerally.
    It is our pleasure to introduce Riffault’s wines our customers. They may not be what you would expect if you order a ‘glass of Sancerre,’ but they will stand out not only for their uniqueness but for the immense quality that is offered.


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