Wine Terroirs

Sancerre, an appellation in its prime

Sitting high on its hillside, Sancerre keeps a watchful eye over the surrounding countryside with the quiet fortitude shared by the top appellations. This iconic wine region in the Centre-Loire region, renowned for its Sauvignon varietals, embodies a fascinating dichotomy – the simplicity of an internationally-renowned white wine appellation counterbalanced by an often underestimated tapestry of vineyard sites. In this feature report, we take a deep dive into Sancerre, exploring its quintessential traits, its modern-day challenges and the way in which this storied appellation continues to reinvent itself, fascinating both novices and connoisseurs alike.

For the average layperson, Sancerre, perched on the uplands of the Loire Valley, refers to a globally renowned white wine.

And yet, across the rolling hills of the Centre-Loire region, Sauvignon blanc – the variety which made Sancerre famous – lives happily alongside Pinot noir. Covering 3,025 hectares spanning 14 villages, Sancerre is not just an appellation – it is a mosaic of vineyard sites where the terres blanches or white soils sit alongside the ‘caillottes’ (pebbles) and clay-silica soils to craft an incredible array of wines.


As early as Antiquity, vines were already an established feature of the landscape and down through the centuries, Sancerre has carved out a place for itself as the head of the family of Centre-Loire wines, securing appellation status for its whites in 1936 and for its reds and rosés in 1959. The freshness and finesse of its white wines have won acclaim among consumers the world over, but a more limited circle of insiders marvel at the complexity and depth of its reds and rosés which encapsulate both craftsmanship and a fine-tuned knowledge of the vineyard sites.

But with celebrity and recognition now a given, how does Sancerre manage to maintain the same level of excellence, innovate whilst showing respect for tradition, and meet the needs of a consumer audience that is increasingly informed and demanding? This report offers a behind-the-scenes look at the most famous Centre-Loire appellation, a chance to discover its vineyard sites and the men and women who farm them, and a peek at their strategy for remaining at the very pinnacle of the world’s wine industry.


Jean-Max Roger and his sons Etienne and Thibault

Jean-Max Roger and his sons Etienne and Thibault.


Domaine Jean-Max Roger: “Sancerre is a strong brand name”

In the heart of one of Centre-Loire’s iconic wine villages, Bué, Domaine Jean-Max Roger offers a quintessential rendition of winegrowing expertise that has been passed down through the generations. Since 2005, it has been run by Thibault and Etienne Roger. “Our vineyards extend over 35 hectares, 29 of which are in the Sancerre appellation area”, explains Thibault Roger.


Vineyards belonging to Domaine Jean-Max RogerVineyards belonging to Domaine Jean-Max Roger.



Although the winery has always produced a range of wines, the new generation has remodelled its collection around terroir-driven offerings and introduced site-designated wines. “This meant we had to work a little harder to inform our customers about this type of wine”, admits Thibault, “but the approach enables us to enhance the specific characteristics of our vineyard sites. It’s our signature style”. And the vineyard sites certainly warrant this attention to detail. They are spread over the three main Sancerre soil types – flint, ‘terres blanches’ and ‘caillottes’ – thereby offering an incredible variety of soils, aspects and inclines.


Harvesting at Côte de Bué

Harvesting at Côte de Bué.



The winery’s international success, with over 85% of its wines sold in export markets, is a testament to the global appetite for wines that tell a story, that of their land. But according to Thibault Roger, this is not the only explanation: he ascribes the winery’s marketing success to a vision that began with his grandfather in the 1980s when he launched a trading business to ensure the company’s future. This allows the estate to produce enough volume to grow its international footprint. Although the export market for rosé wines has experienced some saturation recently, the winery has offset this with increased demand for its reds. Similarly, although Sancerre faces international competition, particularly from New Zealand with its distinctive Sauvignon blancs, Thibault remains confident: “Sancerre is a strong brand name”.

The brothers are fully aware of present-day environmental challenges and began introducing innovative techniques at the start of the 2010s. New ground cover techniques and the use of green manure as natural soil amendments have been introduced, underscoring the Roger family’s proactive approach to sustainable winegrowing.


Perrine and Philippe Raimbault in their vineyards

Perrine and Philippe Raimbault in their vineyards.


Domaine Philippe Raimbault: “Sancerre’s terroir remains unique”

Perrine Raimbault, who works in tandem with her father Philippe, encapsulates the promising future of this namesake family-owned winery perched amidst the rolling landscapes of the Centre-Loire region. From her forbears, she has inherited time-honoured skills and is proud and committed to be a custodian of the family heritage that has been passed down over several generations. The vineyards are divided between the prestigious appellations of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Coteaux du Giennois. Their soils boast unique geological diversity and offer each grape variety the opportunity to display unique traits.

“From a very early age, I would help my grandparents”, recalls Perrine. The farm has undergone significant changes since her childhood, though, mainly with the purchase of vineyards in Pouilly and Coteaux du Giennois at the end of the 1980s. More recently, after Perrine joined her father, a winery was rebuilt which now means that terroir-driven labels can be crafted, “to produce wines with the ability to express their differences”, she explains.


Perrine and Philippe Raimbault work hand in hand in the family-run winery

Perrine and Philippe Raimbault work hand in hand in the family-run winery.



The vineyard blocks located on lovely ‘terres blanches’ soils in the Sancerre appellation area, which benefit from a unique microclimate promoting moderate fruit ripening, make this approach totally worthwhile. “Here, the ripening process is less advanced than in other areas so our wines remain naturally fresh. This also means that we don’t particularly suffer in hot vintages”, explains Perrine. She also adds, though, that the family is extremely mindful to protect the environment by maintaining hedges and trees.


Vineyards belonging to Domaine Philippe Raimbault

Vineyards belonging to Domaine Philippe Raimbault.



A dozen or so hectares are earmarked for production of Sancerre wines, 90% of them white with a balance of red and rosé. Export markets account for 65% of the winery’s sales, with the USA and England spearheading the list of export destinations.

Perrine aims to educate her customers about the added benefits of lengthy maturation for Sancerre wines, and has chosen not to add yeast to them. “To be honest, Sancerre white wines are known as early-drinking wines, but that is not my cup of tea”, she admits.

Despite competition from Chablis and New World Sauvignon blancs, she remains confident: “There is a wide variety of commercially available Sauvignons but the terroir in Sancerre is unique”. Her viewpoint only bolsters the family’s determination to preserve the identity and excellence of its wines, that continue to reflect the tradition and innovation that defines their approach.


The entire Natter family

The entire Natter family.



Domaine Henry Natter: “A strong, collaborative effort to uphold the reputation of our wines”

Nestled in the picturesque village of Montigny, Domaine Henry Natter was founded in 1974 by Cécile and Henry Natter. Their children Mathilde and Vincent are now in the saddle and are continuing to build on the family’s achievements with the same passion and determination.

Since its inception, the winery has stood out for its pioneering mindset: “Sancerre has experienced strong growth internationally and credit should be given to all those who helped achieve this”, stresses Mathilde Natter. She particularly admires the trailblazing role played by her mother in developing export sales of Sancerre at the turn of the 1980s.


Domaine Henry Natter’s vineyards in the village of Montigny

Domaine Henry Natter’s vineyards in the village of Montigny.



The family vineyards are established on the clay-limestone soils that make Montigny unique and they produce wines that combine complexity and minerality. “The balance in our wines stems from the tension instilled by the limestone soils and depth is imparted by the clayey sites”, explains Vincent Natter. This dual personality is what lends Domaine Henry Natter its distinctive and highly valued identity.

The challenges posed by climate change have prompted the winery to adapt by honing its winemaking techniques to preserve the hallmark freshness of its white wines. Vincent also stresses the importance of harvesting healthy fruit to maintain consistent quality in the wines.


Mathilde and Vincent Natter have skilfully taken over the family estate


Mathilde and Vincent Natter have skilfully taken over the family estate.



Around 80% of the wines are shipped abroad and both brother and sister have witnessed growing interest in their red and rosé Sancerres, highlighting the change in tastes and expectations among international consumers. “We are really seeing a new trend with red Sancerre which is carving out a prime position in our different export markets, whilst our Sancerre rosés are resonating with wine enthusiasts”, explains Vincent Natter. By way of a conclusion, he says: “There is competition for our wines from those produced around the world but this drives us to constantly make improvements. Each Sancerre is unique though and there is a strong, collaborative effort to uphold the reputation of our wines”.


Mathilde and Vincent Natter have skifully taken over the family estate  

Mathilde and Vincent Natter have skifully taken over the family estate.



Domaine La Barbotaine: “You should never rest on your laurels”

Set in the heart of Crézancy, Domaine La Barbotaine offers a vibrant tribute to the family heritage perpetuated by Frédéric Champault and his wife Sylvie. The winery is imbued with a history of winegrowing spanning the generations and is the perfect illustration of the commitment and passion that drive the Champaults. Since he began working on the farm in 1994, Frédéric Champault has not only been successful in preserving this heritage, but also in enhancing it.


The vineyards at Domaine La Barbotaine

The vineyards at Domaine La Barbotaine.



With 18 hectares of Sauvignon blanc and Pinot noir vines, the vineyard is home to a distinctive mosaic of vineyard sites, equally divided between ‘terres blanches’, ‘caillottes’ and red soils which lend the wines their finesse and fruitiness along with a unique signature style. This geological diversity is a constant source of inspiration for the Champaults who strive to produce wines that reflect the variety and complexity of these soils.

Frédéric Champault recalls how far the winery has come since its original 6 hectares under vine, pointing to its ambitious growth curve: “My parents only farmed 6 hectares and produced very few bottled wines. Sylvie and I have expanded bottle sales and exports, which now account for approximately 80% of total sales. The wines are shipped to around 15 countries”.

Sylvie stresses the significance of quality and environmentally-friendly production methods: “We are mindful to produce quality wines by using efficient vineyard management techniques and by revamping our winemaking facilities. Every year, we question the way we work”.


The winery at Domaine La Barbotaine offers modern winemaking facilities

The winery at Domaine La Barbotaine offers modern winemaking facilities.



The winery’s HVE certification and use of grass cover for nearly half of its area under vine reflect the environmentally-friendly approach taken by the couple, who also share the same vision. “You should never rest on your laurels and always try and make headway”, is Sylvie’s steadfast belief. This quest for excellence meshes with the robust reputation of Sancerre – which Sylvie admits “does not need to chase after markets to sell its wines” – positioning Domaine La Barbotaine as a benchmark producer of Sancerre wines.


Karine, Christian and Kévin Lauverjat at their family-run property Moulin des Vrillères

Karine, Christian and Kévin Lauverjat at their family-run property Moulin des Vrillères.



Domaine Moulin des Vrillères: “Coping with the challenges of the global marketplace”


Domaine Moulin des Vrillères is located on the outskirts of the picturesque market village of Sury-en-Vaux. Here, Christian Lauverjat, his wife Karine and their son Kévin continue to build on the family’s winegrowing traditions. The 13-hectare vineyard stretches majestically over ‘terres blanches’ and ‘caillottes’ soils producing a range of Sancerre wines that mirrors the appellation’s diversity and varied geology.

Karine Lauverjat is the winery’s marketing mainstay. She recounts a major turning point in its history: “Frost in 2005 convinced us that we should establish a trading business because all of our vineyard blocks were badly affected”. The initiative not only offered a life-line for the winery, it also expanded its portfolio by introducing wines from Menetou-Salon and Pouilly.


Kévin and Christian Lauverjat in their vineyards

Kévin and Christian Lauverjat in their vineyards.



On the farm, a constant quest for quality guides every decision: “Our vineyard sites are predominantly home to ‘terres blanches’ soils but we have two blocks of ‘caillottes’ from which we make the single vineyard ‘Perle Blanche’ label”, explains Karine. Their meticulous approach to winemaking is also mirrored in their environmental management – four years ago they stopped using chemical weedkillers and drastically reduced the use of plant protection products in favour of algae.

In addition to their exemplary vineyard management techniques, their wines have garnered success in export markets: “Fifteen years ago, 50% of our wines were shipped abroad. That share has now risen to 80%”, says Karine, who adds: “The United States in particular stand out as a destination due to growing demand for white wines and for Sancerre reds and rosés. This demonstrates not only our versatility but also the winery’s increased appeal in the international marketplace”.


The shop bought in the village of Sancerre offers a showcase for the winery and its world

The shop bought in the village of Sancerre offers a showcase for the winery and its world.



The winery’s success does not just hinge on its ability to innovate and adapt to cope with the challenges of the global market. By acquiring a 500 m2 shop in the village of Sancerre, it has provided a showcase for Moulin des Vrillères and its world, inviting enthusiasts and passing visitors to discover their extensive range of wines.


The vineyards at Domaine Michel Vattan now farmed by Pascal Joulin

The vineyards at Domaine Michel Vattan now farmed by Pascal Joulin.



Michel Vattan: “Enhancing value is essential and to do that, you need sales”

Located in Maimbray, in the village of Sury-en-Vaux, Domaine Michel Vattan is a family-run winery that has successfully evolved over four generations. It is now under the enlightened management of Pascal Joulin who joined it in 2002 and took it over in 2008, totally transforming the winery.

“Originally, all the wines were sold to trading companies, none of them were bottled”, explains Pascal Joulin. Since then, introduction of bottled sales has ushered in a new era and allowed Joulin’s wines to travel outside France.


On-stream vineyards have risen from 2 hectares to over 9 hectares at Domaine Michel Vattan

On-stream vineyards have risen from 2 hectares to over 9 hectares at Domaine Michel Vattan.



The transition has gone hand in hand with a significant expansion in vineyard acreage. Rising from 2 to over 9 hectares, the vineyards now embrace a broader range of sites, thereby enhancing the range of wines illustrating Sancerre’s rich tapestry of terroirs.

Concurrently with this, Pascal Joulin has poured vast amounts of energy into promoting his wines, attending dozens of exhibitions – both trade and for the general public – from Paris to ProWein and Vinexpo Asia where he will be travelling this year.

Joulin’s approach to promoting and marketing his wines revolves around a robust strategy of international growth. His strategy has paid off - 80% of the wines are now sold in export markets, with a particular focus on the United States where he immediately and successfully “found the right partners. Being a winegrower is a major venture, both from a people and a financial perspective. International growth stems from extremely hard work aimed at establishing strong relationships with your partners. Enhancing value is essential and to do that, you need sales”.


Pascal Joulin devotes time to his vineyards

Pascal Joulin devotes time to his vineyards.



In 15 years, Joulin has been so successful at promoting his wines that he now works on an allocation basis. The technique allows him to spend time in his vineyards, which he farms using environmentally-friendly methods.

A self-described “opportunist” in the vineyard, he takes the same approach in his winery, crafting remarkable Sancerre wines. These include a single-vineyard selection with partial maturation in Chassagne-Montrachet barrels, along with a wine made from old vines over 80 years old that is matured in amphorae.

On every level, Pascal Joulin epitomises the ambition and revitalised approach taken by Sancerre winegrowers, embracing the opportunities afforded by a global marketplace whilst also preserving the authenticity and quality of his wines.


Chanel and her father Pascal Gitton in their barrel cellar

Chanel and her father Pascal Gitton in their barrel cellar.



Vignobles Gitton Père & Fils: “Our customers love our history, our interest in terroir and our identity”

Founded in 1945 by Marcel Gitton with just over an acre of vineyards, Vignobles Gitton Père & Fils have undergone a remarkable period of expansion and now boast 36 hectares under vine. Run by Pascal Gitton, with the support of his daughter Chanel and wife Denise, the estate continues to excel for its commitment to vineyard management techniques that treat the soils of Sancerre with respect and lend each of the winery’s labels their signature identity.


Marcel Gitton was passionate about vines and terroir

Marcel Gitton was passionate about vines and terroir.



Chanel Gitton admires the accomplishments of her predecessors and pays tribute to the visionary approach of her grandfather: “He truly blazed the trail for single-vineyard winemaking and would hive off blocks even back then based on their locality before vinting them separately in barrels”. Although the technique is challenging from a logistics perspective, it has enabled the winery to stand out for its dozen white wine labels, each of which shows site-expressiveness.

“We really do this for pleasure”, admits Chanel, “because having so many labels is not the easiest tack to take and we don’t need to do this to raise awareness of Sancerre. But people like it. Our customers love our history, our interest in terroir and our identity”.

Her comments are borne out by the wines’ reputation which extends way beyond national borders – 70% of them are shipped abroad to no fewer than 45 countries.


Pascal Gitton pioneers exports of Sancerre wines

Pascal Gitton pioneers exports of Sancerre wines.



In this instance, Chanel ascribes the winery’s success to her father’s fascination for other cultures. In the 1970s, his passion led him to explore new markets, particularly Sweden, making him a pioneer in exports of Sancerre to the countries of Northern Europe. “Even now, my father still spends a lot of time canvassing new markets”, adds Chanel, pointing to the winery’s relentless commitment to maintaining its reputation and standing out in a crowded and competitive marketplace.

Its white wines sell effortlessly – “despite competition from German and Spanish whites” stresses Chanel Gitton – but its red Sancerre has also fuelled Vignobles Gitton’s success. “It can compete with Burgundy Pinot noir in terms of accessibility”, she concludes.



Nurturing its reputation

As the figurehead of Centre-Loire appellations, Sancerre’s reputation has long been established. Despite this, its winegrowers continue to demonstrate their ability to promote their vineyard sites so that they can consolidate their existing markets and conquer new ones. They most certainly do not take their international acclaim for granted. The men and women interviewed in this report foster diversity, proving that even when faced with international competition they can reinvent themselves whilst preserving their heritage, in addition to crafting the Sauvignon blanc wines that have ensured (and continue to ensure) celebrity status for Sancerre wines. The Sancerre appellation is both timeless yet squarely focused on the future, ultimately demonstrating an admirable ability to grow its reputation.