|Jean-Maurice Raffault and Rodolphe Raffaults family began cultivating vines in Chinon 14 generations ago, when their ancestor, Mathurin Bottreau, bought his first parcel of vines in 1693.
The Chinon appellation covers both banks of the Vienne River, which is a tributary of the Loire. The appellation encompasses 19 communes and has a total area of 2400 hectares. Its soils and climate are perfectly suited to the cultivation of the Cabernet Franc grape.
The late Jean-Maurice Raffault, father of the present manager and winemaker Rodolphe, was one the great personalities of Chinon. Upon taking over the family domaine in 1973, Jean-Maurice revolutionized local practices and put new practices in place that were widely emulated in the region. First, he abandoned polyculture in favor of the cultivation of only wine grapes. Beginning with only the 4.5 hectares he had inherited from his father, Maurice, Jean-Maurice purchased and planted some of the finest known sites of Chinon, expanding the domaine to 50 hectares. But most importantly, he began to vinify each parcel separately to ensure the typicity of each terroir. To reinforce this initiative, and to highlight the unique character of each wine as a result of the soil type and microclimate of its origin, Jean-Maurice began to use the name of the individual sites for the respective wines. No one has done this before in Chinon! The practice of naming Chinons with site names is now commonplace in the appellation, and it began with Jean-Maurice Raffaults innovation.
Rodolphe Raffault succeeded his father as winemaker and manager in 1997, after completing his studies at the Dijon University school of oenology. Today he vinifies and ages each wine separately. The maceration period ranges from 15 to 28 days. Rodolphe continues the tradition of aging the Chinons in neutral oak casks that are more than 10 years old. Their impressive cellar houses 900 barrels and is the largest in the region. Maturation takes place over 18 months in three huge caves cut into the limestone cliffs, protected from light and remaining at a constant temperature of 56 degrees and 85% humidity. Racking is done from barrel to barrel, in the traditional method, which helps to clarify the wines along with a later fining with egg whites. The wines are not filtered.
Today, Domaine Jean-Maurice Raffault owns 50 hectares of vines in 7 communes. The Cabernet Franc vines average 35 years of age and 10 hectares within these sites are 50 years of age. The Chenin Blanc vines average 20 years of age. The domaine practices sustainable viticulture, known as lutte raisonee in France. The soils are either plowed or planted with grass. No chemical fertilizers or herbicides are used.
Drawing on his experience in Burgundy, Rodolphe initiated the practice of carrying out the wines malolactic fermentation in 100% new barriques for his top cuvees. This practice, rare in Chinon, results in dramatically expressive and pure wines.
Raffaults Chinons are wonderfully expressive wines that go harmonize with a wide variety of classic French dishes, while their natural fruity acidities make them fine matches for Asiatic cuisine, grilled fish, and spicy American foods. For wines of such depth and complexity, they also represent remarkable value.