Reynald Héaulé grew up near Orléans in the Loire Valley. Despite working in vineyards as a child, he chose a more traditional path in the business world. But he could not quiet the call of the vines, and soon abandoned his life as an accountant in favour of life as a vigneron. After working in wineries in Burgundy and the Loire, he found a true mentor in Claude Courtois (father of Julien Courtois), a legendary winemaker in his home region and a vocal advocate of organic and biodynamic practices.
Héaulé developed a passion for rare and native grapes and began formulating a plan for an estate that would revive and showcase the potential of these varieties. He worked alongside Claude for over 15 years, each year adding further elements to his plan for his future domaine. His search for land was challenging because much of the area is used for polyculture, but in 2000 he eventually found his first plot. It was a mere half hectare but crucially, it was his ideal terroir.
Héaulé slowly analysed and reworked the soil, determining the varieties that would thrive from it. Additional plots followed and after two years his domaine was ready to come alive. He installed hedges of beechwood trees for biodiversity and began planting a wide range of grapes, dedicating a few rows to each variety and planting at a very high density.
“I had 2.5 hectares. I planted 25,000 vines. And I spent seven years raising them. I did it all myself. At first it seemed impossible to manage… But the planets were aligned for me… I had a little luck… or perhaps it was fate.”
Héaulé now has six hectares, planted with twenty varieties. His range of wines includes a surprisingly delightful Pet Nat from a mostly Cabernet Franc blend, two whites usually featuring Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chenin, Romorantin, Tresselier, Menu Pineau and Savagnin. He also produces a skin contact macerated Pinot Gris and four reds which include blends of Gamay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Cabernet Franc, Côt and Gascon.
All grapes are hand-harvested, mostly destemmed, macerated in stainless steel or fibreglass, and then aged for up to 30 months in a wide range of vessels. Uniquely, every cuvée is a blend– some are blended in the press during harvest, others while undergoing fermentation. At the end of extended ageing, Héaulé tastes all the base wines again and creates complex, secret assemblages that are designed to showcase the potential of the rarer grapes. The result is a collection of intricate and fascinating cuvées that are unmatched in any region.
“I always prefer blended wines. I’m not a fan of single-grape wines. There are very few grapes that are sufficient alone. When they are blended, and well made, they come alive and can be sublime.”View Wines
Reynald Héaulé has dedicated himself and his domaine to reviving forgotten grapes native to his region. He displays an encyclopedic knowledge of grape varieties with his eyes lighting up when asked to explain the qualities of some of the rare grapes he uses.
This fervor reveals itself in his vineyards which are densely planted at 12,500 vines per hectare – presenting a cornucopia of grapes aligned in strict rows organised by soil type and aspect. His twenty varieties are relatively evenly split between red and white grapes. The usual reds like Cabernet Franc, Cot, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Gamay are joined by Pineau d’Aunis and Gascon. This variety, sometimes called Mondeuse Noir, is a virtually extinct grape that now has only a half hectare of plantings in France. For the whites, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay are joined by Romorantin, Savagnin, Menu Pineau (Orbois) and Tresallier, a white grape related to Sacy from Saint-Pourçain. He is solely responsible for reviving Meslier-Saint-François, another white grape that was once nearly extinct and now grown exclusively in this part of the Loire. He has even replanted a few rare pre-phylloxera hybrids. Héaulé admits that these varieties are not ideal on their own, but insists that in a blend they can add a different dimension and create something more interesting.
“I have always been passionate about Ampélographie – the study of grapes… their leaves, their sensitivities, the history of each grape…. it’s fascination, and it is our heritage. We must protect and honour that.”
When harvest time approaches, Héaulé develops a complicated calendar tracking the ripeness and ideal dates for each of his many varieties. Over those weeks picking times for early and late ripeners are balanced with both the changing length of the days and weather variations.
His hand-harvesting team is a mix of friends and family and local youth. He developed a program with up to 400 kids from the area who come to the vineyards to a few hours a day, help with the harvest and learn about the life of a vigneron.
“When I was a child I did the harvest and developed a passion for the vine. And now I do the same for the children here. They see the possibilities of this life, and if one or two of them choose this job as a result, it is my reward."
Reynald's domaine lies in an almost-forgotten viticultural part of the Loire, called the Orléanais. A century ago it was an important source of wine for Paris, thanks to a direct route from nearby Orléans. Now it includes just a handful of winemakers, covering around 200 hectares. While it is less than an hour away from well-known areas like Vouvray and Amboise, it is comprised of different soils and traditionally grew entirely different grapes. Over time these varieties were replaced with more trendy or profitable varieties that were poorly suited to the soils, and eventually other crops altogether replaced grapes, the land was given over to polyculture and the vineyards practically vanished.
“I’m in an appellation that is about to disappear… there were 37,000 hectares here before phylloxera and now there are less than 100.”
But the viticultural potential of this area remains and Reynald believes the right varieties planted on these mainly silex soils can be truly exceptional. Most of his sites are a mineral-rich ancient riverbed and he describes his soils as a "millefeuille" (a thousand sheets) with many layers of different minerals developed over millions of years. The deep soils generally start with clay and silex at top, slowly becoming more clay-rich as they go deeper. The clay is interrupted by a vein of tiny rocks, then followed by another layer of clay 70 meters below. In addition there are further variations even within the same half-hectare plot. He points to one area of vines with greener grass than the surrounding rows and explains how the band of clay below that particular spot has a different composition and absorbs more water, resulting in lusher cover crops and changing the profile of the grapes that come from it. He insists these are the small details one can only discover after years observing the terroir. “To grow great grapes you must observe everything” he says.
This is why even though Reynald would like to add more sites (and more varieties), he feels the domaine has reached the maximum size possible in order to remain autonomous. He believes it is essential to do the work himself, and while it is an exhausting effort, he feels a duty to show the possibilities of these unique grapes and this terroir. He works as organically and as sustainably as possible, following the cycles of the moon to determine what the land needs and eschews technology in favour of traditional tools.
Ultimately, he insists his best tool is his freedom. Reynald proclaims he has “la liberté du bon sens”, essentially the freedom of common sense. He considers it his true point of difference and his best tool for expressing his vinous vision.
The domaine’s use of so many rare varieties means that the wines do not adhere to the limits of the appellation and thus all Reynald Héaulé wines are sold as Vin De France. Further, only he knows the exact grapes in each cuvée in each vintage, which, we believe is precisely what makes his wines such a delight delight to discover with every bottle.Location
“There are really no rules here. I am free… There is always an objective to attain, but between the debut and the objective, everything is possible.”