Belargus: from dream to reality
During a trip to the Loire, he happens to meet Jo Pithon, one of the great supporters of the Anjou appellation. They both seem to be fond of the same type of wines and find each other in a shared passion for Chenin Blanc from the Loire.
At that time, Ivan works as a partner at one of the largest private equity funds in Europe and is a minority shareholder of, among others, Thibault Liger-Belair and Philippe Pacalet. Although he is a great wine aficionado, he is not yet thinking of starting his own wine estate.
Jo Pithon started developing his own domain 'Jo Pithon' in 1978, which was renamed Pithon-Paillé in 2008.
He is one of the winemakers that attract more attention of the world to the dry vinified Chenin Blanc from the Loire, and in particular that from Anjou. He finds a soulmate in Guy Bossard of Domaine de l'Ecu, known for his Muscadet. Both men are intrigued by organic viticulture and they support each other in introducing it into their business.
Pithon single-handedly restores, among other things, the 'Coteau des Treilles' to its former glory and manages to reunite all the small plots into 1 large vineyard.
The Coteau had fallen into disrepair after the mechanization of viticulture in the 1960s. The tractors were not able to climb the steep slopes - some of them having slopes up to 70°. However, an advantage of this was that this vineyard had never been treated with chemicals. “If you want to talk about terroir,” said Jo, “you need a living soil”. And you can't achieve that with pesticides.
When Jo retires in 2018, he puts the domain up for sale and that's when his path crosses that of Ivan. Jo & Ivan turned out to share the same ideas, so the sale was quickly closed.
lvan takes over the 22 hectare domain from Jo and renames it 'Domaine Belargus', after the rare butterfly 'Polyommatus bellargus' (Adonis blue). Ivan immediately recognizes the potential of the domain, which is located in the heart of the Anjou Noir. This "noir" region has a subsoil of mainly slate, in contrast to the "Anjou Blanc" - the region around Saumur - where the soil mainly contains lime.
Belargus has been certified organic since 1998 and at some point it switches to biodynamic agriculture. The philosophy of the domain strives for harmony between the vines and their environment and it shows. The biodiversity on the plots is very rich. In the heart of these vineyards, surrounded by a beautiful vegetation of trees and hedges, live bats, insects and sheep.
The grapes are harvested when they are optimally ripe. Yields are naturally low, about 25 hectoliters per hectare. The winemaking is as natural as possible: fermentation with native yeasts and can last from a month to a year, depending on the plot and the vintage. Finally, the wine is aged over a long period of time, from one to three years, in order to optimally express the excellence of the Anjou terroir. The effect? Wines that age very well, ready to withstand the decades and to please the greatest aficionados.
For the time being, these magnificent wines are still very affordable, so this is your chance to welcome some of these Grand Crus from the Loire in your cellar!
“The south-facing 2.72-hectare monopole Coteau des Treilles in Rochefort was resuscitated at the end of the 1990s by Jo Pithon from Domaine Pithon, once famous for world-class noble sweet wines from the Coteaux du Layon. Abandoned after the war because of its 30% to 70% steep slopes, this south-facing hillside is based on "geological chaos," as Ivan Massonnat puts it. "The subsoils are made up of magmatic rocks, schists, pudding stone and ancient limestones. ... This plot is located in the heart of the Pont-Barré Natural Reserve, a heaven of biodiversity that has never known chemistry and is home to exceptional flora and fauna, observed as early as the 18th century by Angevin botanists.
I remember well my first visit here 17 years ago when I was deeply impressed by the vineyard and Jo's initiative to bring this grand cru back on the map of the Loire's finest vineyards. I have always adored Jo's wines from this cru, but the Belargus 2018 Anjou Coteau des Treilles seems to top everything that I have known from here. Intensely golden-yellow in color, the wine opens with a pure, refined and elegant yet intense and flinty nose of perfectly ripe yet fine fruits that intermingle with the schistous terroir as well as pastry and lemon/orange-scented fruit aromas. Filigreed and intense on the refined and elegant palate, this is a full-bodied, dense, intense and tensioned yet highly finessed and elegant Chenin with elderflower and orange blossom flavors at this early stage and a delicate tannin structure.
The wine is rich and intense but always stimulating, with great finesse and elegance as well as long and juicy, wonderfully concentrated fruit. Everything is in great harmony, and any serious wine lover should at least taste this beauty.” – 97/100, Stephan Reinhardt, The Wine Advocate