The Archangel of Anjou: Ivan Massonnat






Because it was created in 2018, Domaine Belargus has grow to be a reputation to observe. Sophie Thorpe sat down with Ivan Massonnat, the person behind the challenge, to seek out out extra concerning the Anjou property and his imaginative and prescient for the area

I used to be hesitant about assembly Ivan Massonnat. The person who created Domaine Belargus appeared to fill simple stereotypes. A background in non-public fairness. Lived in Paris. A ardour for wine – and a dream to make it himself. Huge scores and a few fairly punchy costs for a brand-new property from the Loire. Studying between the strains, I feared there was a variety of money and presumably an excessive amount of polish. Fortunately, I used to be improper.

Created in 2018 and based mostly in Anjou, Domaine Belargus has quickly grow to be one among advantageous wine’s hottest new names. The primary wines had been launched in 2021, within the midst of the worldwide pandemic, however had already earned critical acclaim. Yohan Castaing wrote in Decanter“Keep in mind this title, as its manufacturing ought to meet with resounding important success within the coming years.” The wines obtained glowing evaluations in Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate – the place Stephan Reinhardt declared it “one of the vital spectacular new entries within the historical past of [the publication]”, granting a coveted 100-point rating for its 2018 Quarts de Chaume Extremely. However that was only the start. Ivan Massonnat is a person with huge plans – each for his personal wines, and the area as a complete.

Sheep amongst the vines at Domaine Belargus. Photograph: Estelle Offroy. Top of page: Ivan Massonnat in the cellar. Photograph: Jean-Yves Bardin

Sheep amongst the vines at Domaine Belargus. {Photograph}: Estelle Offroy. Prime of web page: Ivan Massonnat within the cellar. {Photograph}: Jean-Yves Bardin

Wine was part of life for Massonnat from a younger age – along with his grandfather farming a small winery of their village within the Savoie. However, regardless of serving to at harvest time every year, he didn’t find yourself ingesting wine till he was 20, when he was “immediately hooked”, he says. He fell in love with Burgundy and the idea of “vin de lieu” – wine of place.

Massonnat made his cash in non-public fairness, based mostly in Paris however travelling the world, the place advantageous eating – and advantageous wine lists – solely fed his terroir obsession. Twenty years in the past he was in search of a rustic home for his household, and – not having a automobile – settled on the Loire. “The extra I used to be spending time there, the extra I spotted that the area was completely misunderstood,” he says. Previous to the upheaval of the French Revolution and the following arrival of mildew and phylloxera, the Loire was one among France’s most prestigious wine areas – dwelling to the nation’s kings, the fruit of its vines had been the royal court docket’s pure selection. Publish-phylloxera, nonetheless, high quality was scrapped in favor of amount. “Its picture began to blur,” says Massonnat.

Mix the area’s historical past with its two nice, native varieties – Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc – and Massonnat noticed “an unimaginable diamond within the tough”. Wine had grow to be an more and more giant a part of his life – tasting extensively and visiting producers as a lot as potential, particularly in Burgundy the place vignerons resembling Philippe Pacalet and Thibault Liger-Belair buddies and mentors. However it wasn’t only a interest – Massonnat was beginning to assume this might be extra, the journey that lay past the world of finance.

Ivan Massonnat (left), with the legendary Jo Pithon (right). Photograph: Jean-Yves Bardin

Ivan Massonnat (left), with the legendary Jo Pithon (proper). {Photograph}: Jean-Yves Bardin

Because the adage goes, the world of wine is a superb approach to make a small fortune – supplied you begin out with a big one. Massonnat, nonetheless, didn’t underestimate the challenges and set about attending to grips with the mechanics of the enterprise. “It began actually to grow to be a challenge 10 years in the past,” he says – speaking to importers, consultants, journalists and retailers. And, maybe unsurprisingly given his profitable profession, Massonnat wasn’t trying to make any wine – he was decided to create one thing distinctive.

After a failed try to purchase a Chinon property in 2015, he turned his consideration to nice Chenin Blanc websites in Anjou Noir, between the Layon and Loire rivers – low-yielding hillsides the place producers had been struggling to make cash and consequently there was land to purchase. Extra than simply availability, it was right here that Massonnat noticed nice potential. The world’s darkish, schist soils (trigger for the “noir” within the area’s title) had been plagued by tiny appellations, echoing these of Burgundy, with a a lot hillier panorama, and the one Premier and Grand Cru vineyards within the area.

Between 2016 and 2018, Massonnat began visiting each winery he might discover – in search of the distinctive. Then the native winemaker Patrick Baudouin launched him to Jo Pithon – a legend of the Loire. Pithon had been making wine since 1978, a pioneer of natural farming, crafting advantageous dry and candy wines – however the proficient vigneron was on no account a businessman. By the early 2000s, his lack of economic knowhow misplaced him the rights to his title, together with the vast majority of his vineyards – all however one plot, the Coteau des Treilles.

Massonnat met Pithon on the Angers wine honest in 2018; they received on properly sufficient and he organized to see Pithon’s vineyards the next day. The subsequent morning, it was snowing and he regretted his determination. However then, at 8.32am on February sixth, 2018, “It’s as if I used to be struck by lightning,” Massonnat says. Pithon had introduced him to Coteau des Treilles. Lengthy farmed organically, it has slopes at a gradient of 70%, embedded in a pure reserve, with a Mediterranean microclimate – and Massonnat knew immediately it was what he had been in search of. He purchased the Pithon-Paillé operation that Jo Pithon had created a decade earlier.

The vineyard that started it all: Coteau des Treilles, or Treilles. Photograph: Jean-Yves Bardin

The winery that began all of it: Coteau des Treilles, or Treilles. {Photograph}: Jean-Yves Bardin

Luck continued to be on Massonnat’s aspect – and he purchased two different vineyards over the subsequent six months, including to his assortment of prime websites. He managed to purchase 1 / 4 of the Quarts de Chaume appellation – the one Grand Cru vineyards within the area – which amazingly had been in the marketplace for 10 years. “No one wished to purchase it… They had been taking a look at it as a candy wine terroir. However really, an incredible terroir is a superb terroir… you’ll do dry wines which might be fairly distinctive,” Massonnat explains. Then he snapped up a parcel in Savennières – the one plot to have been bought within the final seven years.

He employed a younger group and Pithon stayed on to seek the advice of – and the true work started. “Belargus is a 100-year challenge. Every little thing we do, we have now that horizon,” Massonnat says. The vines are all organically licensed, however they’re now working in direction of biodynamic accreditation. Yields are low, and so they’re making an attempt progressively to extend them to round 35hl/ha in classic (presently the very best they’ve managed is 29hl/ha). “Our obsession is to have the appropriate maturity,” Massonnat explains. To battle Chenin Blanc’s pure heterogeneity, they decide in a number of passes, minimal two or three however as much as six, relying on the 12 months – and that’s only for the dry wines. The overall strategy is minimalist – with chrome steel and primarily bigger, outdated oak, indigenous yeast, letting malolactic fermentation occur (or not), conserving wines on the lees and utilizing solely important ranges of sulfur. A brand new vineyard is being deliberate to take issues to the subsequent degree, with, for instance, a Coquard press (permitting particularly light urgent, generally utilized in Champagne).

Barrels lying in wait in the cellar. Photograph: Marthe Henry

Barrels mendacity in wait within the cellar. {Photograph}: Marthe Henry

The challenge is about expressing the completely different terroirs of this nook of Anjou Noir. The primary launch (which bought virtually immediately given the hype from the critics, with 80% exported) consisted of 14 cuvées – 9 dry wines and 5 candy, specializing in 9 particular plots throughout the property’s vineyards. The dry wines are highly effective, tightly wound and intense – as Massonnat says, “It’s not wine for daily,” evaluating them to white Hermitage or Corton-Charlemagne, wines that want meals and time. Though 90% of manufacturing is dry, Massonnat confesses, “We’re obsessive about candy wines.” These, he feels, are what is going to actually set Anjou Noir on the world stage – if, maybe, what he calls “the sugar pandemic” ever stops.

With Massonnat’s finance background comes a flexibility that few others have. He hopes to carry all of the wines again 4 years finally, however for now it’s between three and 4 – and he was capable of launch the 2020s earlier than the distinctive 2019s. It additionally allowed him to set costs unusually excessive in comparison with his neighbors. “I had the posh to make that selection for the area,” he explains. “I wished to interrupt the glass ceiling.” And though he thought it could take time – his first launch proved that there have been loads of folks able to snap up the worth that these wines provided, together with lots of these now priced out of Burgundy.

And that is his actual dream – for the Loire to be acknowledged as Burgundy is, as “a tier-one area which any collector must have in its cellar, that must be understood”. It’s simple to think about different producers may need bristled at an outsider’s arrival, pitching their very first wines at unheard-of costs; however Massonnat is intent on main the campaign for your complete area, not simply Domaine Belargus. He volunteered to run the Paulée d’Anjou – a celebration of the area’s wines – in 2019, and made it larger and higher. In 2021, he turned co-president of the Quarts de Chaume appellation, alongside Marie Guégniard from Domaine de la Bergerie. Collectively they’re preventing for the appellation to allow each dry and candy wines, as Savennières technically can, and Quarts de Chaume might till 1996. “Anjou was a unclean phrase. And have a look at the revolution now,” he says.

Like the dear blue butterfly that offers its title to the Belargus property, Massonnat isn’t comfortable sitting nonetheless – and he’s already received one other challenge – having had the possibility to purchase the Chinon property he’d initially had his eye on in 2015. The very best wine he ever tasted was a Chinon, a 1989 from Charles Joguet. “There was a complete civilization on this wine,” he informed me, making an attempt to clarify how transferring the expertise had been. There’s little question that Massonnat is a canny businessman, however his imaginative and prescient is extraordinary – and one which he appears set to comprehend.


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