Brendan Stater-West

Brézé Strikes Again—Cracking New Saumur from Guiberteau's Right-hand Man

Brendan Stater-West’s wine epiphany came in the form of a bottle of 2008 Domaine Guiberteau Brézé, a wine of such intensity and minerality it would literally change the course of his life. A native of the Pacific Northwest, Stater-West arrived in Paris in 2007 with a French degree and initially earned his crust teaching English. Like many before him, he would soon find himself reeled into France’s seductive food and wine culture and, aged 21, he changed path, scoring a job at Spring, a small wine store in the 1st arrondissement. As he began travelling and tasting to tune his palate, Brendan became drawn to the purity and electricity of Chenin Blanc grown on limestone: the Loire Valley became his stomping ground.

Back to that 2008 Brézé. As Brendan tells the story, the very next day after tasting he tracked down Romain Guiberteau’s number and called him asking for a job. Initially rebuffed, Stater-West was not going to take no for an answer and continued, in his words, to “harass” Guiberteau for a month or two, until finally Romain gave in and accepted to take him under his wing.

Arriving in the summer of 2012, Stater-West quickly established himself as Romain Guiberteau’s right arm. As we visited the cellars from 2013 onwards, it became increasingly apparent that the fast-learning apprentice was becoming an indispensable cog in the day-to-day running of the Domaine. Indeed, during one of these visits, Romain Guiberteau told us that without Stater-West’s assistance, the wines would not be at the level they are today. As it turned out, he would soon be able to return the favour.

Right from the start, Stater-West had been clear that his long-term goal was to make his own wines under his own label, and the opportunity arose sooner than expected. In early 2015 Guiberteau liberated his family’s vines in the terroir of Les Chapaudaises from the local co-op and offered to lease Stater-West one hectare of Chenin Blanc (while keeping the Cabernet Franc vines for his own Domaine).

It’s no surprise that similarities can be found between the wines of Guiberteau and Brendan Stater-West and yet, commendably, Brendan’s wines have a personality all of their own.

Domaine Brendan Stater-West got off to a flying start, releasing a 2015 that sold out in no time. But the young winemaker’s progress was curtailed when Les Chapaudaises was severely frosted in 2016 and 2017, leaving next to no wine to work with. As Brendan tells it, he had as good as given up on this dream before, by chance, Romain Guiberteau was offered the vineyards from an old winegrowing family without an heir to take over. Judging he already had enough on his plate, Romain recommended they talk instead to his ambitious chef de culture.

The purchase (in 2018) gave Brendan Stater-West a fully-fledged Saumur Domaine replete with an old wine cellar in nearby Chacé, within the appellation Saumur-Champigny. In addition to Les Chapaudaises, the key sites are old-vine parcels in Brézé: Cabernet Franc in La Ripaille (where he has now also planted Chenin Blanc); and Chenin in the lieu-dit of L’Ardillon. In total, he is now working with 3.5 hectares of vines.

In the vines, Stater-West follows the teachings of ‘soil guy’, Yves Hérody, to improve the health and structure of his soils through the introduction of fresh organic fertilizer and cover crops that capture nitrogen and put it back into the soil (like fava bean, rye, clover and mustard). The plants are tilled into the soil during the winter along with the composted manure.

It’s no surprise that similarities can be found between the wines of Guiberteau and Brendan Stater-West and yet, commendably, Brendan’s wines have a personality all of their own. Stater-West’s second love is red Burgundy, and in contrast with his mentor’s Cabernet Franc, he works with a shorter time on skins and only vinifies free-run juices, looking for a lighter, finer palate. With Chenin Blanc, Brendan uses less lees than Guiberteau, and racks tighter after pressing. Without sacrificing the limestone crackle from the tuffeau bedrock, the results are slightly less austere: you could say a Stater-West Chenin is rounder and more Burgundian in feel than a Guiberteau Chenin.

At some point in the future, Brendan will fly the Guiberteau coop with all the right ingredients to become a terrific vigneron in his own right: a selection of great terroirs; superb work ethic; and, in Roman Guiberteau, the ear of one of the most celebrated vignerons in the Loire Valley. And man, can he make a mean Saumur.

The Range

Brendan Stater-West Saumur La Ripaille Rouge 2020
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Brendan Stater-West Saumur La Ripaille Rouge 2020

La Ripaille is a strict selection from the oldest vines in the Brézé lieu-dit of the same name. The grapes are sorted directly in the vineyard (with a sorting table), fully destemmed and then fermented in concrete with infusion-style maceration for up to one week. It’s aged on lees in ex-Guiberteau barrels (mostly 2-5 years old) with one new barrel added each year. As expected, you’ll find more amplitude and intensity than in the Saumur Rouge, yet there is a surge of vibrancy and lift to maintain the producer’s refreshing signature. Earth and spice are joined by deep berry and black raspberry flavours, while the enveloping structures and juicy fruit drive a lingering and focused close. The balance between the fruit and the limestone-derived form is mouth-watering. A terrific Saumur rouge with a long life ahead of it.

As expected, you’ll find more amplitude and intensity than in the Saumur Rouge, yet there is a surge of vibrancy and lift to maintain the producer’s refreshing signature. Earth and spice are joined by deep berry and black raspberry flavours, while the enveloping structures and juicy fruit drive a lingering and focused close. The balance between the fruit and the limestone-derived form is mouth-watering. A terrific Saumur rouge with a long life ahead of it.

Brendan Stater-West Saumur La Ripaille Rouge 2020
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Brendan Stater-West Saumur Blanc Brézé 2019
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Brendan Stater-West Saumur Blanc Brézé 2019

Stater-West has opened his Brézé account with 0.5 hectares in the lieu-dit of L’Ardillon; a single south/southwest-facing parcel of Chenin planted in the 1960s. The topsoil (about 80cm deep) is a mix of clay and loam above Turonian limestone. The soil’s deeper structure brings more austerity, a more ‘horizontal’ profile than Les Chapaudaises. It’s worth repeating that the terroir of Brézé is not typical Saumur. The vineyards are at a higher elevation than most of the surrounding areas and sit directly on a hill of tuffeau—a porous, chalky limestone intermixed with clay and sand. Something like 70% of the vineyard has less than one metre of topsoil so vines of any age must establish roots in the chalky bedrock. This terroir creates a far more citrus, floral and mineral expression of Chenin. Even in ripe and powerful vintages, the wines remain cool, pure and fresh. It’s hardly a large holding, yet Stater-West further reduces the yield by sorting out any less-than-perfect bunches. This inaugural Brézé bottling was crafted like Chapaudaises: aged on fine lees for 12 months in barrel followed by six months in stainless steel. Brendan uses less new wood than Guiberteau—the lion’s share of the juice is raised in barrels after their second and third uses—giving the wine a certain youthful approachability compared to his mentor’s wine. Future releases will see two winters in oak. Due to the very low pH (between 3.07 to 3.12), the malo never gets started, so Stater-West gives this wine a very low dose of sulphur (one gram per hectolitre) to prevent any ‘accidents’ happening in the bottle. It’s a deeply alluring and complex wine packed with the fine detail, extract and vinous intensity that are crucial features of Brézé’s finest wines. It lures you in with bright and perfumed citrus, florals and savoury herbs before electrifying your taste buds with its potent fruit and generous texture draped in crystalline acidity and chalky structure. The persistent, saline-drenched finish is worth the price of admission alone. It’s what you could call a serious bit of kit. Although it’s more approachable than Guiberteau’s smoky powerhouse, the longer you leave it, the more rewarding it will become. Serve it as you would a fine white Burgundy.

It’s a deeply alluring and complex wine packed with the fine detail, extract and vinous intensity that are crucial features of Brézé’s finest wines. It lures you in with bright and perfumed citrus, florals and savoury herbs before electrifying your taste buds with its potent fruit and generous texture draped in crystalline acidity and chalky structure. The persistent, saline-drenched finish is worth the price of admission alone. It’s what you could call a serious bit of kit. Although it’s more approachable than Guiberteau’s smoky powerhouse, the longer you leave it, the more rewarding it will become. Serve it as you would a fine white Burgundy.

Brendan Stater-West Saumur Blanc Brézé 2019
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Brendan Stater-West Saumur Les Chapaudaises Blanc 2020
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Brendan Stater-West Saumur Les Chapaudaises Blanc 2020

The lieu-dit bottling hails from the site’s oldest and most unproductive vines. Les Chapaudaises has been farmed organically since 2010 and is a site Stater-West explains is finely tuned for “the style of Chenin that I am crazy for; elegant, pure, vertical, with salinity from the limestone.” The vineyard is picked slightly earlier than Guiberteau’s Clos de Guichaux, and Stater-West works with fewer lees than his colleague, giving a Chenin of radiant succulence, cut-glass precision and sappy length. The 2020 was fermented naturally in stainless steel and then aged in used, large-format barrels (sourced from Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau) for 14 months. On a par with the 2019 release, it’s rocky, overtly mineral and flush with flavours of citrus, iodine and a touch of fennel. Lithe and full of engaging clarity, the palate balances its fleshy, citrus-noted fruit and limpid succulence with chiselled freshness, a mass of energy and a lovely phenolic bite. The finish ripples to a long, salty close. Pure class. 

On a par with the 2019 release, it’s rocky, overtly mineral and flush with flavours of citrus, iodine and a touch of fennel. Lithe and full of engaging clarity, the palate balances its fleshy, citrus-noted fruit and limpid succulence with chiselled freshness, a mass of energy and a lovely phenolic bite. The finish ripples to a long, salty close. Pure class.

Brendan Stater-West Saumur Les Chapaudaises Blanc 2020
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“With a strong sense of commitment, perseverance and grit, and a very impressive start in the 2015 vintage, the future looks bright for Brendan and yet another corner of the Saumur appellation.” Chris Kissack, The Wine Doctor

Country

France

Primary Region

Loire Valley

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Winemaker: Brendan Stater-West

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National

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