I arrived at Pattes Loup in Courgis to find a rather tired Thomas Pico, because the previous day he’d done a 58 km walk with some of his friends. He’s one of the new stars of the region, and while he doesn’t describe himself as ‘natural’, you find his wines alongside those of De Moor in natural/authentic wine bars around the world.
In 2004, Thomas Pico returned to work at his family estate in Courgis, Chablis – Domaine Bois d’Yve – after several years of working in Nuits St George in Burgundy. This was the year when his grandfather died, and Thomas remembers him saying: ‘don’t make the same mistakes I did in the vineyard.’ Pattes Loup, which translates ‘wolf’s paws’, is the name of the parcel that his grandfather gave him that year.
Immediately, things began to change, but perhaps the most significant transition was that he stopped all spraying of herbicides. Three years later, he shifted production to organics. He encouraged his father to do the same.
One of the distinctive things about his approach is the long élevage he gives his wines. The village Chablis gets 18 months minimum before bottling, while the premier crus get 34 months. ‘To arrive at transparency you have to wait,’ says Thomas.
He’s 38 now, but has been running the family domain since he was in his early 30s. There are 24 hectares of vines, and production can vary dramatically by vintage. In the hail and frost hit vintage of 2016 he made just 40 000 bottles, but in the ample, sunny 2018 vintage production was 100 000 bottles.
He’s concerned about the continued reliance on herbicides in the region. ‘In Chablis it is a problem,’ says Thomas. ‘We have vineyards with erosion. 95% of vineyards are still using herbicides, we drink wine but we don’t know what is inside.’
He says it’s often the producers who emphasize terroir the most, who – somewhat ironically – use herbicide. ‘They speak more about terroir, when you speak with an organic producer they don’t speak about it.’ Thomas also thinks that there’s little incentive for most to change because they are making money. ‘I don’t think many will shift to organics because Chablis is selling easy, like Champagne and Sancerre.’ People aren’t going to reduce their production, so it’s only people who really care who will make the switch. ‘It is an international problem, people are acting in the short term. You might earn a lot of money today, but in the long term it will cost money.’
We began by tasting some tanks.
Pattes Loup Chablis 1er Cru Beauregard 2017 (tank sample)
Thomas says he might bottle this in the summer. Refined, layered and textured with fine-grained structure and some spiciness under the citrus and pear fruit. 92-94/100
Pattes Loup Chabis 1er Cru Butteaux 2017 (tank sample)
Alcoholic fermentation and malolactic in barrel, then 2 years in tank. This won’t be bottled until 2020. Very refined, bright and linear. Has vivid lemony fruit with apricot hints. Great acidity. 93-95/100
Pattes Loup Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux 2016 (tank sample)
Beautiful aromatics with freshness and purity, and notes of nuts, wax, honey and spice. Shows real precision with amazing minerality and focus. Such precision and purity here. 94-96/100
Pattes Loup Chablis Vent d’Ange 2016
Subtle creamy edge to the focused citrus fruit nose. The palate is vivid and quite mineral with generous pear and citrus fruit. Has a subtle creamy twist under the dense, mineral fruit. Lovely acidity that integrates well. 92/100
Pattes Loup Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Jouan 2016
There was just one barrel of this. Such a beautiful, smooth, textured wine with bright lemon and pear notes, a touch of white peach and lovely linear acidity. Good concentration and focus here with a sense of delicacy. So refined. 94/100
Pattes Loup Chablis 1er Cru Beauregard 2016
A very fresh 1er cru, high up (330 m). Refined, taut, citrussy nose. So fresh, focused and expressive with high acidity but it’s very well integrated. Such concentration with fine spicy notes and lovely precision, finishing long and slightly pithy with some saline streaks. Beautiful stuff. 95/100
Pattes Loup Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux 2015
Bottled July 2018. Dense and textured with hints of pith and quince as well as bright citrus fruit. This has real precision and focus with beautiful acidity and lovely density. So thrilling. 95/100
Pattes Loup Chablis 2007 (magnum, opened a few days ago)
This was the second vintage for Thomas. This is dense and has a little development with some wax and nuts and hints of cabbage. There’s a lovely mineral core still, with good acidity and lovely acidity. Lovely stuff. 93/100