A Visit with Franck Millet—A True Loire Valley Gem
For our 15th wedding anniversary, Cinnamon and I decided to vacation in Sancerre, a region whose wines we have always loved, but a place we had never visited. Located at the eastern end of the Loire Valley, this is the true couer de France, and we found it even more beautiful than the pictures we had seen and the descriptions that we had heard. I promised Cinnamon that we would not spend a lot of time working on our vacation, so we kept the appointments to a minimum. One producer that we could not miss however, was Franck Millet, whom we have been importing directly here at K&L for 25 years.
Not only are Franck and Betty Millet fantastic growers and winemakers, but they are also great people. When I met them back in 2016 on a rare visit the USA, I was struck by their generosity and authentic sweetness. They were the original inspiration for our trip. Their property has grown to 69 acres, and now includes some Menetou-Salon and Pouilly-Fumé vineyards as well as Sancerre. They make about 250,000 bottles a year from their estate. The vineyards are planted 80% to Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Pinot Noir. They have six full time employees, and their daughter Lucille just joined the company. We might be lucky enough to see her in September for a tasting—stay tuned for more on that.
We started our visit out with a tour of the winery, where Franck explained that everything is done to keep the winemaking process slow and cool. They finish picking by 8:30 AM each day of the harvest, so they can get the grapes to the press while they are still fresh. All the white wines and the rosé are fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel at low temperatures, while the red wine sees 30-40% barrel fermentation depending on the vintage. They rotate in one or two new barrels a year so they can control their own wood—buying used barrels is too risky for them.
A visit to the vineyards was a revelation for me. We learned that the Sancerre vineyards are mostly chalk of two different types: Kimmeridgian Marl and Oxfordian limestone. The Kimmeridgian Marl is referred to as terres blanches. While of the Oxfordian limestones are known as Caillottes and Grillottes. Caillottes is dense and rocky. These are the stones that we receive in our boxes of Insolite, Franck’s top cuvée. I have always worried that he was going to run out of rocks—but now I know that is not a concern. Most of Sancerre is like a gravel pit of Caillottes, and, doing some hiking in the area, I learned how to slide on it! The second type of chalk is rarer, and reminded me immediately of Champagne. It is breakable white chalk, mixed with a little clay, and is called Grillottes. There are also areas of Silex, or flint in small patches.
The average vine age at the domaine is 40 years, with many plots of 60 years old. This is one of the keys to the fantastic quality of the wines at this estate. Franck explained that, for him, the old vines on the tops of the east-facing slopes are the best, as they get the morning sun rather than the hot afternoon sun and are exposed to the breezes that keep the grapes dry, clean and healthy.
Returning to the domaine to taste, we were treated to some great wines. We started off with his smallest production wine, the delicious 2018 Franck Millet Sancerre Rosé. This wine is made by selecting the freshest, highest-acid Pinot Noir from the harvest, which then sees direct skin contact for one or two days. In lighter vintages, they will also add some of the red wine, but in 2018, that was not necessary. This wine is loaded with beautiful strawberry aromas but also a surprising amount of similar notes to white Sancerre, with a peachy as well as fresh-herb quality. This dry rosé has persistence and minerality that one rarely finds in even very good Provençal wines, and is a must try for the summer.
After that, we had his 2018 Franck Millet Sancerre Blanc which had a great combination of ripe white peach and bright chalky drive. This wine showed immediately why it is one of the most successful wines at K&L, with so many of our customers coming in to buy multiple cases. The combination of generosity, ease of drinking and virile refreshment was impressive.
We continued with the 2018 Franck Millet Pouilly Fumé, which had a touch of smoke and green grass on the generous nose. It comes from a mixture of flint and clay-infused chalk sites on the other side of the Loire from Sancerre. This was Cinnamon’s favorite of the whites, and had fantastic tart white fruit up front but also some lovely nectarine flavors on the focused, dry finish. This was the first wine that I bought when I got back to work yesterday!
We also tried his fabulous Menetou-Salon, both white and red, as well as the fabulous Sancerre Rouge and the 2018 Insolite that will be coming later this year. Look for those on the new arrivals page website, as we will have them in stock later this year. This was a visit I won’t ever forget, and a destination that I cannot recommend highly enough to anyone travelling the Loire. Thank you, Franck and Betty!