16 June 2014

n.d.p. in brittany: domaine joanna cecillon, sevignac

The Native Companion had been hinting that she'd like to visit Brittany for several years. But since no wine is produced there, it never struck me as a high priority. Brittany is like Ireland with worse beer, worse whiskey, and crêpes. Even the best ciders and apple brandies, I'd long thought, were produced further east in Normandy.

What finally tempted me out to Brittany with the NC was the prospect of a visit with Louis and Joanna Cecillon, of Domaine Joanna Cecillon in Sevignac. My friend Josh Adler of Paris Wine Company had introduced me to their ciders, which he'd in turn discovered via Louis' vigneron brother, who makes very savvy Saint Joseph on the other side of France.

Upon tasting the ciders, I quickly understood why Josh was keen to make the five hour trek to nowheresville Sevignac. The Domaine Joanna Cecillon ciders are truly majestic, wine-like in their depth and perceptibly Bretonne maritime in their acid profile. They are, in my experience, pretty much without equal, a benchmark of quality both for the region and the entire cider genre.

In Paris, the two most frequently-encountered names in the eternal underdog microgenre of Serious Cider are Eric Bordelet and Cyril Zangs, with Julien Fremont a close third. Of these I prefer Zangs' output, the better cuvées of which offer a supremely satisfying minerality at a very approachable price. Conversely, I find myself avoiding Bordelet's effortful ciders, mainly on account of their nakedly ambitious price point and vile marketing. (The labels look like valentines exchanged by amorous reptiles.)

To the ranks of these producers we can now add Louis and Joanna Cecillon, whose fledgling organic estate equals if not surpasses the work of their Norman peers.

Joanna's grandparents hailed from Sevignac and had made cider on an artisanal scale in their day, without owning any orchards. Louis, for his part, comes from a long line of winemakers in the Rhône valley, and learned vinification there.

His experience in cider production, interestingly, came after he and Joanna decided to establish their domaine. While assembling the estate's 11ha, he apprenticed himself to Jerôme Dupont of Domaine Dupont for a few years. Yet, hearing Louis speak, one senses that his experiences in Saint Joseph greatly inform his practices making cider. For instance, the very press the Cecillons use was employed for winemaking in his family since 1933. Additionally, the barrels used to age the Cecillon ciders derive from his brother Julien's Hermitage blanc.

A '98 Hermitage blanc from Louis Cecillon's uncle, celebrated Rhône winemaker Jean-Louis Grippat.

Fourteen different apple varieties are used in the Cecillons' various cuvées. All are harvested, pressed, and fermented separately before Joanna makes the assemblage for aging in barrique.

Since the various types of apples ripen at different stages, harvest goes on from September to December. Louis relates that the early ripening varieties are enormous, whereas the late-season varieties are practically the size of cherries. First fermentation takes place in 2000L fiberglass tanks, with pigeage. The juice passes 5-6 months in 250L barrels after assemblage, with bottles being held for six months before release.

The range consists of three ciders in ascending order of richness: "Divona," "Nerios," and "Nantosuelta."

"Divona," made from late-harvesting apple varieties that the Cecillons cite as their favorites, is distinguished by long, shimmering acid. The orchards are cold, valley terroir. It's a brisk, wakeful cider, with a powerfully chilly persistence, rather like the OCD tendencies that render Parquet Courts' ostensible slacker-rock so compelling.

"Nerios" has a more caramelised nose, though it's still a fairly dry cuvée. It derives from more bitter apples, situated on a hill that Louis compares (of course) to Saint Joseph. The result is a beerier, more robust and slightly tannic cider, with pronounced winter spice and echoing complexity. Switching from "Divona" to "Nerios" is like going from Parquet Courts to "Here."

Switching the other way around is inadvisable, as the "Divona" can't help but scan as a bit shrill afterwards.

"Nantosuelta," whose name means 'valley of the sun,' is the off-dry cuvée, and derives from just one type of apple. While not a bad product in any way, it's sort of the runt of the litter, in terms of complexity. It's the only cider the Cecillons produce that doesn't transcend our expectations of cider.

The Cecillons received us in the company of numerous neighbors, and towards the end of the meal treated everyone to a taste of an experimental eau de vie de cidre that spends three years in barrel. At Josh's house I'd already tasted their unaged, clear eau de vie, which is a pure-fruited, grappa-like pleasure in itself.

But the 2011 barrel-aged eau de vie was significantly more interesting, particularly after drinking tons of "Nerios" with lunch. There's a real link to the particular fruit of that cuvée, along with a silvery, horchata-like depth.

Later we took a walk through the Cecillons orchards. In the orchards that yield fruit for the "Divona," we came upon two swarms of bees. Louis, who is also a keen beekeeper, explained to us that its rare to encounter even one swarm, let alone two on the same day within ten feet of each other. It means you're in luck ! he said.

Still beaming from all the magnificent cider at lunch and the Cecillons' wonderful welcome, we heartily agreed, even after Josh got stung on the head.

Domaine Joanna Cecillon
La Villime
Tel: +33 (0) 6 80 40 40 60

Related Links:

A producer profile page on Domaine Joanna Cecillon by my friend Josh at Paris Wine Company.

Breizh Café, 75003 - One of two places in Paris presently stocking the Cecillon ciders. Shortly before this trip, I found myself drinking with owner Jean-Luc Corbel at Repaire de Cartouche Bar à Vin and when I mentioned who we were visiting in Brittany he immediately exclaimed that the Cecillon ciders were his "coup de coeur" these days

The other, weirdly, is Merci.

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