Didier Dagueneau has been called a nonconformist, independent, eccentric, and maverick. He is also dedicated to producing some of the greatest white wines of the Loire — and all of France for that matter. He is considered by many to be a master of the sauvignon blanc grape.
He is on a crusade to redeem the reputation of authentic Pouilly-Fumé. Domaine Didier Dagueneau is located in Saint Andelain, a village in the Pouilly Fumé Appellation. He owns about 28 acres of land consisting of mainly clay and flint based soils (or ‘Silex’ in French). Dagueneau is a perfectionist and he attends to every detail — from vineyard management (biodynamic since 1993) to the cellar, which is said to look like a cathedral. He goes way beyond the regulations of the appellation — pruning severely, de-budding, de-leafing, thinning clusters, and keeping low yields — and each harvest is done manually over several tries (he has the labor receipts to prove it).
Others have written more eloquently about Dagueneau. The following passage was translated from Vallee de la Loire – Grandeur Nature by James Turnball.
A young rebel with convictions. Dagueneau owes his success to the strength of his convictions. A local winemaker’s son, he set out on his own in 1982. He began using oak barrels for his vinifications a couple years later and wines of great quality were not far behind. Certain traditionalists, however, said that his wines were not “real” Pouilly Fume.
Dagueneau’s non-conformity has helped him more than hurt him: his long tousled hair, his bushy beard, his intense gaze, not to mention his passion for sled dogs have all earned him the nickname “the madman of Saint-Andelain” and made him very popular with the press.
What does Dagueneau have that the other don’t? He is extremely meticulous and possesses a special intuition where winemaking is concerned. His goals are always authenticity and perfection. To obtain grapes of the highest quality, his vineyard workers spend at least three months carefully de-budding even after a severe pruning earlier in the year. And when the grapes are perfectly ripe, the harvest is done by hand, so that only grapes of impeccable condition are picked, the others are either thrown out or left on the vine to be picked later.
His new winemaking facilities, specifically adapted to Dagueneau’s techniques, use gravity for moving liquids and allow him to apply his ideas without the slightest compromise. After fermentation, the wines are aged in a beautiful cellar containing big barrels and “cigares” (small, long oval barrels which he designed and are made especially for him). The cellar is kept quite cool to limit interaction between the wine and the oak, thus avoiding an overly oaky aroma in the wine.
Dagueneau makes four different dry white wines, all Pouilly Fumés. His basic wine is the En Chailloux, a blend from several vineyards. Next step up is the Buisson Menard, more flinty in style, but still round, and more ageworthy. The remaining two wines are both superstars from single vineyards, and are barrel fermented. Both come from slate soils with one being called Silex, and the other known as Pur Sang.
Pur Sang means “Thoroughbred” in English. The flavors tend to fall somewhere in between the En Chailloux (which accounts for half his production and is his softest, friendliest wine) and Cuvée Silex (his most structured cuvée). The Pur Sang is said to be a more hedonistic Sauvignon (often on par with the Silex), but less mineral driven.
That being said the minerality comes through loud and clear on the nose as well as lemon, citrus, white flowers and some fresh hay. On the palate, very structured, rich and creamy with pronounced mineral components, chalky and loads of lemon zest with a hint of tangerine and nectarine. Great acidity with a very clean, pure and an extremely long finish.
The acidity and strong mineral components make this a great pairing for mussels, raw clams or oysters as well as other seafood dishes. Also, seems as though this wine might benefit from 2-3 years of cellaring….
They say that in the United States, scores sell wine. In Europe, a good story sells wine. Dagueneau is a great story — and his wines are also scored well and often included in TWS Top 100 Wines in any given vintage.
This wine may not be a great value (ok, it isn’t a good value) or very easy to find, but it is worth seeking out — and it might be a good time to do so given that 2006 was such a good year in Loire. Not to mention that his lore will only continue to increase and the dollar shows no signs of getting up off its knees.
A stunning wine. Imported by Polaner Selections.
Didier Dagueneau was tragically killed on September 17, 2008 when the ultralight plane he was piloting experienced problems during take off and crashed. He was only 52 years young. He had accomplished so much and his wines established a benchmark for sauvignon blanc, yet it seemed as though he was just getting started. He will be missed.