Sébastien Riffault makes Sancerre like no other. These are incredible wines with a cult status, found in some of the world’s top restaurants, bars and wine shops. Whilst majority of the region is filled with chemical induced vineyards and austere, formulated wines, Sébastien’s wines are atypical. One of the main factors, is that he picks late so that the grapes are partly affected by botrytis – however, the wines are vinified dry. This coupled with long élevage and zero additions (apart from 10ppm SO2 in Les Quarterons) brings about wines of a unique and ethereal nature. They are complex wines of contemplation.
Sébastien began working with his father Etienne in 2000. The Riffault family have been making wine in Sancerre for generations. He quickly began converting the family vineyards to biodynamic viticulture – starting with one plot, seeing results, which then convinced his father to allow him to continue to convert all the vineyards. He planted many flowers, plants and grasses, to promote as much life as possible. Biodiversity was key. They continued to make wines under his father's label until he believed the soil had been rejuvenated. He made his first wines in 2004.
He plows between the vines with horses, and forgoes the use of machinery. The grapes are picked by hand, and more importantly, sorted by hand (grape by grape), to ensure only quality berries are used, and that any gray rot is removed – a risk when botrytis is found. The grapes are fermented naturally in tank, and then stay in tank for two years. All wines (except Les Quarterons) are then transferred to old wood except for another year of ageing. They are never fined or filtered, and are bottled by gravity. These are seriously intriguing and complex wines, and are not to be missed.
And lastly before you read the technical details and tasting notes - some fun facts that sometimes we don't hear about. Sébastien's wife Jurate is from Lithuania, and so all the cuvée names are Lithuanian, except for Les Quarterons. Here's what each one means:
Les Quarterons - This is a lieu-dit, but also the original name of the estate.
Akmèniné - Made of stones.
Skeveldra - A fragment of stone, in reference to the pieces of silex found in the vineyard.
Auksinis - Golden, in reference to the colour of the grapes.
Saulétas - Sunny.
Raudonas - Red (for his Pinot Noir cuvée).