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Monday, December 30, 2013

12/30 - Return to Terroir - A Taste of Sancerre

Slow Living Radio bids farewell to 2013, reflecting on our many marvelous guests and topics. We were able to taste, sip and experience so many wonderful things, thanks to their generosity and passion and we thank them all for what they have brought to Slow Living Radio. 

Earlier this year, we had the thrill of meeting a very young, passionate and successful winemaker from Sancerre, France, Sébastien Riffault. He and his importer Rafael Knapp of Return To Terroir, focused on organic and bio dynamic small production wineries entertained us with a story, so inspirational, we thought this a fitting day to air the show. 

Nestled into couches at the vibrant and eclectic Terroir Natural Wine Merchant, in San Francisco, whose mission is to connect guests with the best wine made using only the most natural, organic, and bio dynamic methods, we bring you a taste of Sancerre, and more French tales! We also hear from the bar's French owner, Luc Ertoran, with his own fascinating story.

Sébastien Riffault
Natural Winemaker in Sancerre

Aged 25, he is working on a 2-hectare vineyard near Sury-en-Vaux in the Sancerre Appellation area. The hills near Sury en Vaux overview both Sancerre (the town) and the Loire. Sebastien Riffault vinifies his wines at his father's winery (Etienne Riffault), a recently-built facility just outside the village, and the 2-hectare vineyard plots were initially part of the 10 hectares of the family estate.

Sébastien started taking over pieces of the family vineyards from his father, Etienne in 2004. The first thing he did was convert them to organic viticulture, a move Etienne was not expecting. But, pleased with the results, he let Sébastien transform the entire estate to an organic and then biodynamic property.

Sébastien is a student of the Sancerre region and can tell you the detailed history of its winemaking technique and tradition as well as the name of every plant that grows in his cover crops. His own viticulture and winemaking philosophies are heavily influenced by these traditions.

Now a reference around the world for natural winemaking, Sébastien quickly evolved into a mature winemaker with a worldwide following. His work has taken him to Japan, Noma in Copenhagen and the RAW Wine Fair in London.

TERROIR Akmeniné comes from a three hectare plot of silex, clay and limestone soil. It has south and southeast exposure on a hill with a slope of 20%. Yields are 35 hl/ha.

FARMING Certified Biodynamic and a member of the Renaissance des Appellations. Sébastien plows all of the vineyards with a horse and harvests all grapes by hand. His goal is for his Sauvignon Blanc to reach full ripeness which often means harvesting late into October.

Raphael Knapp
Return to Terroir

Since founding Return to Terroir in 2009, Raphael Knapp has turned over many stones in France and, as of 2012, Italy, in a quest to create a diverse, high caliber portfolio with producers who believe winemaking should occur in the vineyard.

Every year, Knapp makes several trips to France to meet with our current producers and seek out undiscovered talent. Through contacts made over time and thorough research, Knapp selects vignerons who not only share his vision but also make soulful, exceptional wines. Not least, our producers must be people he enjoys cracking a bottle with, be it one of their own or something he has brought to dinner.

Return to Terroir’s producers are largely young vignerons who are trying to make a go at it on their own or have been handed the reigns the by their parents. Some learned how to make wine by watching their ancestors and others in school but all will tell you that it is the terroir that has taught them the most.

In line with this belief, chemical herbicides and pesticides are not used at all by most of wineries. Nearly half of our portfolio is made up of certified Demeter (biodynamic) and Ecocertified (organic) producers. The others are either working toward certification or practicing a strict form of sustainability. We realize that sustainability also includes our producer’s ability to economically survive from year to year and sometimes difficult choices need to be made. We trust our winemakers to make the best decisions.
Though the company has slowly expanded in the last four years, many of our wineries have been with us since the beginning and we extend the same level of support to our new producers. It is a symbiotic relationship with our producers, and our customers, who have made our growth and vision possible. There is no compromising and Return to Terroir is proud to represent every one of the wineries in our portfolio. 

About Raphael Knapp

Raphael with Slow Living's Steve Andrews
Born in 1978 to an Italian mother and French-Austrian father, Raphael Knapp grew up in Paris. His family, from his uncle in Parma, to his grandfather in the Latin Quarter, drank wine regularly, with each bottle having its own story. Knapp had an open ear and eager palate so by the time he entered Edhec, one of France’s top business schools, wine had become a passion.
To wet his feet, he interned with Nicolas, a French wine retail chain, in 1999. Upon moving to San Francisco, he worked for a wine brokerage company until joining a partnership that led to International Vineyards in 2003.
Every time he went back to France on sourcing trips, Knapp kept finding more up and coming producers who were ‘returning to terroir’ in their winemaking philosophy. Convinced that this was the path for him, he went out on his own and created Return to Terroir in 2009.

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