The beautiful, storybook-like village of Irancy is located in the Yonne region of Northern France, just a few kilometers from Chablis. This old picturesque town sits in a valley surrounded by relatively steep vineyards which form a dramatic amphitheater around the town. Irancy represents a tiny island of red grapes - primarily Pinot Noir, but also an ancient varietal called César – which sits amongst a sea of white wine production, most notably Chablis itself, but also St Bris and Chitry, each with its own unique set of wines. The region is known for its limestone-laden soils, which impart a clear and fine underpinning of minerality in the wines both red and white.
Walking around the village of Irancy, Thierry seems to be like a de-facto Mayor. Everyone waves in deference and respect. This is helped by the fact that he looks a bit like the actor, Gerard Depardieu. He is tall and sprightly with longish locks and an engaging smile, a youthful 50-something with lines on his face and rugged hands which let you know he spends a lot of time in the vineyards.
Thierry Richoux’s family has been growing grapes and producing wine in Irancy since 1610. Over the years, they have accumulated a fairly sizable patchwork of vineyards in various sectors of the appellation, 20 HA in total. Tenth generation Richoux is a true master when it comes to his vineyard work, so much so that, along with his own estate vineyards, he also farms the Irancy vines for Vincent Dauvissat. He is also one of the only producers in the appellation who farms organically, a true challenge in this northerly and often inhospitable growing climate. He is driven by an unwavering commitmet to always respect both the terroir and the vintage.
At harvest, everything is picked by hand with careful sorting of all his grapes in the vineyard and in the cellar. He employs two tables de trie, or sorting tables, in order to remove any inadequate bunches. In the cellar, the grapes are de-stemmed 100%, and then fermented with indigenous yeasts in tank. Richoux also believes in a long élévage for his wines, so they spend their first year in tank, and then a full second year in large foudres. This helps to harmonize the wines while maintaining the purity and transparency of this unique terroir.
Compared with the white wines of the Yonne – especially Chablis itself - which have certainly etched their way into the hearts and minds of the American consumer, the red wines of this region remain paradoxically unknown. Like the red wines of Jura, the wines of Irancy have benefitted greatly with global warming and with improvements in modern viticulture. They are certainly ‘northerly’ in spirit, leading with minerals and earth rather than luscious fruit which itself plays a more supporting role in the background. The wines are lovely and fresh, but like a great Cru Beajolais, they can also age amazingly well. On our first visit, Thierry served us a nearly 20 year old Irancy from his cellar, which though drinking beautifully, still had many years ahead of it!