Tucked away down a gravel path, off a meandering side road, off the Departemental, hides the farm, chai, and cellar of Claude and Etienne Courtois of Les Cailloux du Paradis. Surrounded by orchard trees, wild forest, and rolling plains, the domaine includes a modest converted barn where pressing and fermentation take place, and a chai built literally stone by stone by the family.
Claude is of impressionable stature, with a full beard and deep set eyes. Now into the “retirement” phase of his life as a paysan-vigneron (peasant/farmer/winemaker), he tends to only a hectare or so of the farm, having left the rest in the capable hands of his son Etienne. It’s after a long run of working in this metier; Claude began work in the vines when he was only a child. Born and raised in Burgundy, he grew disillusioned with the great monoculture of the region and decided to venture south into Provence, where he stayed and tended to the vines and farm until disaster struck in 1991 and led him to the current site of the domaine in Soings-en-Sologne, near Touraine in the Loire. In true Burgundian fashion Claude butt heads with local authorities, refusing to plant only the permitted varietals and instead broke from tradition by continuing to amass cuttings from all over: today the domaine hosts over 40 different varietals. The emblematic cuvee from the domaine, Racines, is an amalgamation of all the different cepages.
While Claude has taken a step back from his work in the vines, it’s fair to say that he hasn’t quite relinquished control of the domaine. Everyday Claude meanders around the cellar, checking the fermentations, tasting the barrels, puttering along with the tools of their trade. In turn, Etienne has softer features than his father and presents as somewhat reserved, chiming in where he feels necessary; an outsider can see how the two personalities balance out. Claude and Etienne still press by hand in refurbished, unquestionably ancient vertical presses, and the wines, although closely observed, go through fermentation, elevage, and bottling without any fining, filtering, or additions.
Over a lunch spent with them I got the real sense that their care for their vines, their property, and their wines paralleled the dynamic of the family. At times bullish or overprotective, but ultimately radiating from a place of absolute love.