The Story

In winemaking terms, the Sologne is a sliver of land between the Loire and Cher rivers near the geographical centre of the Loire Valley region. Here vineyards sit amongst other seasonal crops in a checkerboard of fields, woodlands and marshes. It is a corner of the Loire not traditionally known for quality wines due to poor soils that were considered not well-suited to agriculture of any kind. Yet the area around Soings-en-Sologne has become holy territory for organic winemaking. Claude Courtois, one of the most monumental figures of natural wine in France set up his domaine here decades ago, to eventual great acclaim. His oldest son Julien Courtois, returned from working in Burgundy to create his own domaine on a nearby estate called Clos de la Bruyère. He has spent nearly 25 years continuing down the same path of organic, minimal intervention winemaking, but with a spirit all his own.

Julien’s domaine, which he shares with his wife Heidi Kuka, is now nearly five hectares, the majority of which are 40-year-old vines. He grows seven varieties – Romorantin, Menu-Pineau, Chenin, Gascon, Cot and two Gamay clones. An eighth grape – another rare local variety called Genouillet – is on its way. Many of these grapes are often overlooked and under appreciated and he hopes to showcase their strengths though his wines.

“Whether in the vineyards or in the cellar, wines are made without any chemical products, which gives them a unique and singular taste.”

The ethos is simple: Energetic wines filled with life and made with the utmost passion. From the vine to the bottle, each stage of production follows, without compromise, a singular vision of natural winemaking. The idea is to return to the practices of generations past, using the lowest intervention methods to protect land and its future.

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“These grapes… our wines from them… they all have a story to tell.”


The People


Nearly every wine region in France has winemakers on each end of the spectrum, from traditional to revolutionary. Even within organic circles, there are many that play things safe and follow the myriad of rules, stick to the classical grapes and make wines that express varietal and regional typicity. But there are also those that focus on making simply the best wine they can from their land, regardless of what the cahier des charges (appellation rules) cites as the correct grape or what the AOC tasting panel will expect the wine to taste like.

Julien Courtois exemplifies this type of winemaker. He crafts unique wines with an honest drinkability. Although often from lesser-known varieties and surprising blends, they are consistently complex and savoury, yet easy to enjoy. And considering the quality and handwork involved, they are incredibly well priced.

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The People


The other half of this winemaking super duo is his wife, Heidi Kuka, without whom Julien insists he could not do it all. Heidi came to France from her native New Zealand for a holiday two decades ago and never looked back. She and Julien have built a family, a winery and a community in one of the most remote parts of the Loire. Julien is the winemaker and primarily handles the viticulture and vinification, while Heidi organises the sales, administration and marketing. Though it is clear that Heidi has more than a small amount of influence on the wines as well. The two share a love of pure flavours and simple pleasures; in the wines they drink and the foods they eat. During our morning visit to the domaine, Heidi casually made a delicious tarte tatin from scratch while chatting about their wines and their land.

Heidi is of Maori descent, and she honours her heritage with the stunning illustrations that grace the bottles of each of their cuvées. She creates intricate India ink drawings for each wine, often with a nod or wink to something in history, folklore or nature. The style is uniquely her own, but is inspired by Maori tattoo art, called Ta Moko, as well as drawings and carvings she would see on the inside of marae (Maori meeting houses). The labels have become iconic and are instantly identifiable to those who know – becoming almost a secret handshake among their many fans.

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“When you can finally make the wine you want, and do what you want to do, that is the best thing”



Julien and Heidi intentionally make wines that don’t taste like an “expectation” of any grape or place. They also don’t buy into the idea that wines from certain places should be certain prices, or that wines should be made to go with a specific kind of food. Their goal is to make wines that surprise, defy stereotypes and offer delicious, subtle challenges. Heidi says, “A lot of people have a reflex about what they drink, oh… I only drink Chardonnay, or I only drink Bordeaux. We aim to challenge these ideas.”

Their annual production is between 8,000 to 10,000 bottles, which is tightly allocated to key markets around the world. While Heidi and Julien would love to reward their many fans with more production, they are insistent they won’t expand production. They feel that every step of the process has to be supervised personally – from vine management all the way to bottling. It’s daily, laborious work that requires equal measures of patience and stamina. But in the end, they love the freedom that this metier gives them.

Despite the scarcity of their cuvées, Julien and Heidi still drink mostly their own wines at home. Label-less bottles dot their kitchen and dining room and Julien seems to know which bottle is which cuvée just by colour. Julien says they do this so they can enjoy the literal fruits of their labours, but admits it also leads to ongoing analysis of each wine and their evolution over time. Many wine-lovers would dearly love to have access to so many of these special wines, but the wines go primarily to the trade now, with only a few longstanding clients lucky enough to be offered bottles directly. They have also stopped receiving visitors for tastings at the domaine since the wines are all essentially sold before they are even bottled. We are so proud to consistently be able to offer these delicious, inspired wines to our loyal customers.

The Place

Sologne, Loire, France

Just east of the medieval city of Blois, is the Sologne – a landscape dotted with châteaux that were once hunting lodges for nobles and Kings. The area seems to be wearing a cloak of fog most mornings, which keeps temperatures cool until the afternoon and creates ideal conditions for great wines. In this often-forgotten part of the Loire, dusty roads wind through fields of orchards, vegetables, grains, and occasionally, vines.

The Clos de la Bruyère (Bruyère meaning "Heather") domaine is marked only by a small postbox on one of these dusty roads. At the end of their drive is a cluster of small buildings which make up the winery and their home. Surrounding the winery, thriving vineyards reveal all the signs of earnest biodynamic winemaking. When Julien started the domaine, the existing vineyards had been neglected, so he worked to restore their harmony, removed some older unsuitable vines and planted some new ones. Between the flourishing rows now are grasses and flowers that bring microbial life and biodiverstity to the soils. This also seems to attract all manner of fauna – on our latest visit we spotted a small hare scampering amongst the Gamay.

Julien embodies an agrarian ideal, a farmer and winemaker who devotes every day of the year to his vines or his cellar. He cares little about trends or ratings, and his commercial ambition is only to support his family and occasionally upgrade ageing equipment; even then usually with second-hand finds. He follows the natural cycles of the moon and eschews chemical inputs in both the vineyard and cellar in favour of plant-based treatments and natural ferments. Everything is done as manually as possible and with the utmost respect of his environment.

“Whether in the vineyards or in the cellar, wines are made without any chemical products, which gives them a unique and singular taste.”

The soils are primarily red clay with silex and silica, dotted with rocks and shells from the Paleolithic era. There was once a vast sea here, and the proof can be found in the shell imprints in the rocks beneath their vines. Heidi believes that the soil guards certain aspects of its former life, “There is the ’memoire de sol’, memory of the land, and the soils and vines remember the sea. You can see it in some of our whites, where you get these tropical tastes, like pineapple and passion fruit.”

Many of the vines are franc de pied (ungrafted) vines. In winter, vines are pruned extensively to limit yields (and increase concentration). The pruned canes are mulched and spread between the rows. For varieties that are more sensitive to frost and heat, like Romorantin and Menu Pineau, Julien has taken the vines up off the ground, raising the canopy to protect to create shade. These grapes are exposed to less direct sunlight, allowing them to ripen more slowly and develop more complex flavours. Even harvest time is determined by wildlife; when the sugar levels are ideal the birds start eating all the grapes and so they must be picked.

The precision of the daily care given the vines and in the cellar work borders on obsession. All grapes are hand-harvested and carried a short distance to the winery and gently pressed. The cellar uses a gravity fed system which feeds juice into old oak barrels to ferment for 15 to 30 days. The wines are then aged on their lees in old oak barrels for up to usually 18 months, though some are aged twice that long. There is no lees stirring and often only one racking. The final wines are unfiltered and only a little sulfur is added to the reds at bottling (if necessary). All of the Courtois wines are sold as Vin De France, as they use grapes not officially sanctioned by the AOC. Julien and Heidi’s wines are proof that sensible organic winemaking can produce truly elegant, powerful, surprising wines from even the most dusty, unexpected places.


Photo Credit Matt Hickman

Words by Allison Burton-Parker