Ditch the Pageant, Join the Party: France Breton Talks Natural Wine and a New Era at the Domaine

Ditch the Pageant, Join the Party: France Breton Talks Natural Wine and a New Era at the Domaine

Her baby cried as France Breton entered the video chat. Solange is the winemaker’s first child, and the winemaker calms her by walking through the cool, bustling winery of Domaine Catherine & Pierre Breton in the Loire Valley, which as of 2021 is run by France, her brother Paul, and her husband Baptiste Desrrouseaux. Cradled in France's arms, this tiny vocal bundle hit home a message that would become explicit throughout our interview: Wine is nothing without humanity and all its noise, glory, mess, and fun.

Without drunk theater troupes,  long nights in Paris wine bars with new friends, or sips stolen from a barrel of Cabernet Franc, wine is just fermented juice in a pretty container. We can score it, snap photos of popular bottles and brag about them on Instagram, regurgitate stale mythologies, and lecture each other on the appropriate amount of sulfites, the superiorities of one place, winemaker, or style. But that’s not what wine is for. At least not for us.

Without the human element, wine is hollow. However we intellectualize or glorify it, wine is always best when it is a common thread that sews us together. Pageantry aside, pedestals tumbled, it’s a connector. 

France is intimately aware of this — she brought it up a number of times. In one especially funny instance (there’s no other way to put it) she said it was important for her to start drinking again after her pregnancy. Important

Not because she missed the taste (although she did). But because drinking wine and eating good food was always a cheerful moment shared with her parents Catherine and Pierre, the founders of the domaine, Paul, and Baptiste. France wanted to balance the hard work she was doing — running the domaine, making wine, raising a kid — with cheerful moments like that.

The world feels increasingly complicated and painful. Sharing great wine is a way to find balance. To uncover the cheerful moments that are essential to living a full life. Seeing France lull Solange to sleep in the middle of the winery, simultaneously using her free arm to point out their Chinon and Bourgueil sites on a map pinned to the wall, hit that home for me. I hope her words hit it home for all of you too.

This interview took place on May 4, 2022, between Sadie Williams, Brittany Galbraith, and France Breton. It has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Sadie: Bonjour!

Brittany: France!

Sadie: Oh my God, a baby.

Brittany: And a baby. This is the best day. It's so nice to see you again, after all this time.

France: Oh yeah, but she couldn't fall asleep. So she's here. I think she's gonna sleep soon. [She laughs] It's quite the new thing.

Brittany: Well congratulations, France. The last time I saw you, during our Instagram Live, you showed me your engagement ring and I met Baptiste. Now you're married and have a beautiful daughter!

France: Now I have everything, and the winery.

Sadie: So you're in the winery right now?

France: Yeah, it's the biggest space we can have to walk. To have Solange just walking and walking.

Sadie: What else has been going on in your life? You have the baby...

France: I think it's quite a big deal, the baby, just to start with, but at the domaine we didn't have frost, so it's quite good for the moment. Everything is going super quickly as with every springtime. But it's always new every year. It's always the same, but it's always new. 

And this year, yeah, it's quite beautiful. We just realized that commerce is going really well, I think for everyone. So it's nice also because, even if we don't really move for the moment, we see that the wine is moving and they are sending wine everywhere. And all the wine, everything is super juicy, yeah. So I think it's gonna be a good '21.

Brittany: France, you said that you and your brother started working with your parents four years ago. What do you consider your first vintage solo?

France: 2021 is the one we made on our own. '20, it was still my father, and '21, it was really my brother, me, and Baptiste, my husband, so it was really, I think, the good vintage to talk about a take-over.

Brittany: Now, are you and Paul splitting the responsibilities evenly, or is Paul working more in Vouvray?

France: Yeah, it's more Paul in Vouvray, and Baptiste and I are more in Bourgueil. We have all the labeling there, all the commercial parts, and the office, so in Bourgueil I split the work with Baptiste. Baptiste is more on the vines, and I stay on the winery and a bit of the commerce. But most of the time we do everything together, just because it's nice and it's easier. 

And Paul is on his own in Vouvray, but every wine is bottled in Bourgueil and kept in Bourgueil, and then we send them from Bourgueil.

Brittany: I noticed, here at Dedalus, that we brought in a wine that was labeled “Paul Breton.” It was the Pierres Rousses Vouvray. Is that a separate label from your collective effort? Is he starting a private project?

France: It’s considered part of the domaine, it's just that Paul started in 2014. For four years, he did a lot work on the vines because they were not in good [shape] and he made a small quantity of Pierres Rousses. And so to congratulate him, we put his name on the bottle.

Sadie: To show all the work he's done.

France: Yeah, yeah. But it's completely part of the domaine. 

Sadie: So at your domaine, it looks like you host visitors and you do more than making wine and farming. Can you tell us a little bit about what life on the domaine is like and what kind of visitors you see and programs you run?

France: So now we have two or three places to welcome people to stay. We wanted people to come here and to see our life, I think also now with COVID, it fits with the situation, 'cause we are traveling less and I think we want a better life here. Now that we have kids, it's going to be more and more sedentary. And when people came there, we want them to have a real good time of it, and to see what our life is like in Touraine, in Bourgueil or in Vouvray.

And so we just did a renovation of the houses that were part of our patrimony, and we made two guest rooms, and we made a caveau, a shop, where we can welcome people. It's in Chinon and we can welcome people that are just passing by and we also can have tastings at the domaine, but now in the summer time we are welcoming people in the shop because we made an exhibition, we have a concert, we’ve made it much more...

We want to reflect the life of our family [for our guests] and I think if you remember our Instagram live tasting with Dedalus…

Brittany: Never a dull moment with the Bretons. Always fun.

France: But you have the same idea, in Dedalus. It's not only a shop, it's something where people can have a real good moment and be part of our life.

Sadie: You talk about sharing your family spirit and your way of life with people. When you were growing up, did you know that you were going to continue this tradition with your family?

France: Definitely my brother... He really wanted to do that. He made his first wine at 11. I was like, what is he doing? But it wasn't vinegar, so ...  

I was more distant with the production but really involved on the lifestyle of the farm and the life of my parents, the fairs, the restaurants, the bar, everything, and then I went to Paris to study theater and I was directing. So nothing linked with the wines, except that people in theater, they drink a lot, so it was the common point. And also I think that there is something linked with directing actresses and actors and directing yeast and grapes because [she laughs] it's quite the same mess, they do what they want to do.

But also we made all those plays, all those activities and creativity at the domaine because I think we just don't want to be focused only on the wine.

Sadie: Yeah, you want to tie it to all the things that it supports.

France: I've just realized the last... Yeah, of course, and it's global, making wine. You can't just stay on making vines, and the wines, you have to live with people that drink them. If not, to you are not really interesting. And I just realized because of my pregnancy — I didn't drink for nine months completely, and to me, it became really important to drink again because I was quite disconnected from our work. So it's not only a question of life and creativity, you also need to get a balance in between activity of these cheerful moments.

Sadie: What was the first wine you drank after your pregnancy?

France: Well, it was Cabernet Franc [she laughs].

It was from Breton because I just tasted the 21 during the fermentation and a bit after, but then I completely stopped tasting in-between December, January, I would say, and March. So two months without any taste of the wines. So the first glass I had, it was a Cabernet Franc. And you just realize that it's part of your story, it's part of your taste, your memory, and it's really joyful to drink it again.

Brittany: When you and your family aren't drinking wines from the Loire Valley, what are some other wine regions or producers that you enjoy together?

France: We drink lots in the family, and we drink a lot of everything. We opened a wine bar on a small island on the Atlantic coast of France, [L'Île-d'Yeu], it's the summer bar, it's called Le Dilletant. It's been now 13 years. And so every year for this wine bar, we buy a lot of wine from all over the France, mostly French wine, but from a biodynamic and natural winemaker, and so we have the chance to drink a lot of different things and just to get to 24 bottle of these, 72 of that. So I think we don't have a favorite list of regions... It is quite large, the palette of wines that we drink, but if I say now, at this perfect moment, I will say a white from Antoine Arena in Corsica.

Brittany: Oh, yes.

France: I would drink a Carco or something like that. 'Cause I didn't drink them. I think there were two times they drank it during my pregnancy, and they were like, it's super good, and I was really missing something.

Sadie: When you do make it out, or when your dad makes it out and he's traveling, are there any other favorite wine bars in cities around France that you like to visit?

France: But we go really, really often in Paris because we are like three hours by car from Paris, and it's quite part of the history of the domaine. My father was going to Paris every 15 days. So we try to continue to do that, even if it's completely different. Because when he started making wine and selling wine, there were like six wine bars. And now ... As you see, like in Paris, if you can't sell your natural wine in Paris, you have to change your work...

Because Paris is only natural wine bars. So now the difficulty is going there and not being hurt or not being shocked by how people go super quick, drinking new thing and not taking really the time to discuss the wine. Sometimes it's quite violent, because we are part of a family where everybody was taking the time to talk about natural wine. And it was like like a religion, a little religion, and now it's more. 

There is something less ritual with natural wine and people are drinking it, they're drinking it like super fast. And they are going from one reference to another region and having like —I often say like — the election of the Ms. Texas or Ms. Washington.

Now in natural wine, like you have a new domaine and...I'm sure that in France it's much more... You see it with a bit of violence because we only drink French wine. I'm sure that abroad, you don't see it because you drink French, Italian, Czech, every European or American wine. But in France, it's like every year it's a new election of who is gonna be the little Ms. Natural wine.

But I think because we are joyful and because we continue to make wine we want to drink, people see the authenticity, and people who like wines, they always love it. But I think the way to sell natural wines, completely changed from my father to us. He was going every 15 day to Paris to sell wine, and now when you go once a month, you are really tired because it's a bit tough there. And also, Jean Foillard times and every big reference we have in natural wine, when they were 30 years old, they also were in the Paris, and so it was less stressful.

When they were getting to Paris, their life was stressful in the winery because they didn't know if they were going to get money and everything. And they were going to Paris just to decompress and to drink. And to meet people. Now it's quite the opposite because the domaine... I will say like our domaine was in transition, it's settled and it's more relaxed here at the domaine. When we go to Paris, it's the opposite. We'll get the stress of the city. So, that's also why we made all this new action of all these new places to welcome people...

Sadie: You’re bringing that culture to the domaine.  It sounds like you're saying that the kind of scene around natural wine has just changed a lot.

France: Well, it's... you have to be convenient and to fit with how people think, like when you go to fairs, people, they have a standard, they have a common style. And so I think the deal now is to keep your authenticity in this world.