Pouilly-Fumé, Loire, France
Touched by genius, legend and tragedy
Didier Dagueneau’s premature death in 2008, aged just 52, left an irreplaceable void in the wine world and consolidated his legend status. His son Louis-Benjamin has since taken up the mission of preserving his father’s legacy and carrying on producing some of the world’s most unique expressions of Sauvignon Blanc.
Location: Pouilly-Fumé, Loire, France
Viticultural standards: Biodynamic (non-certified)
Interesting fact: A man of restless mind and endless creativity, Didier Dagueneau never rested on his laurels and always sought new challenges. In 2000 he acquired land in Sancerre – nowhere else than on the legendary “Monts Damnés” – and in 2002 he ventured beyond the Loire, to Jurançon.
It was to tend to his vineyards in the southwest that he would usually take his ultralight plane out… another, albeit fateful, passion.
Didier Dagueneau wines
Being the quintessential enfant terrible that he was, Didier Dagueneau was born to a winemaking family in 1956 but decided to break away and become a motorcycle sidecar race driver. He raced competitively in the international circuit between 1978 and 1982, after which he returned to his home village. But instead of taking his turn as the family’s fourth generation winemaker he, as expected, decided to blaze his own trail. He set up his own estate in Pouilly-Fumé, inspired by the great masters of other regions and by the legacy of his grandfather – Louis Dagueneau – with a primary focus on terroir.
He acquired his first parcel, 1.2 hectares of En Chailloux, and began to vinify under his own label in the 1982 vintage. In 1985, he added the now famous (and infamous!) Silex to his range. Pur Sang followed, in 1988.These are now some of the most sought-after wines of wine lovers and collectors.
His single-vineyard approach and his quest to make age-worthy wines was nothing short of revolutionary in the region. As was his fastidious dedication to his vineyards, his continuous quest for perfection and his relentless self-criticism.
With one full time worker for each hectare of vineyard, yields 50-75% lower than those of his neighbours, and soils ploughed without machinery to avoid disturbing the root system, he never cut corners in order to achieve excellence. In the vineyard as in the cellar, where he worked scrupulously without sulphites, relying on natural fermentation only and using barrels made especially for him, with the level of toast defined by himself in close contact with the coopers.
Always adventurous and restless, he died, tragically and prematurely, when an ultralight plane he was travelling in crashed near Cognac. The wine world stopped, in shock, with tributes pouring in from all corners of the world. His obituary in The New York Times, written by Eric Asimov was particularly insightful and moving.
He was survived by his wife and four children. The two eldest, Louis-Benjamin and Charlotte (pictured above), both work at the domaine. Louis-Benjamin has taken up the mission of filling his father’s enormous shoes as winemaker. So far, the wines made under his guidance seem to live up to the Dagueneau legend. (Many critics and journalists even murmur that he might one day surpass the level achieved by his father!)