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Thomas-Labaille came into being as a merging of two families. Claude Thomas was a lifelong vigneron in Chavignol, a tiny hamlet in Sancerre widely considered to be the region’s finest terroir, with significant holdings in the esteemed Monts Damnés vineyard. He was ready to retire at the point that importers Joe Dressner and Denyse Louis met him at the recommendation of a mutual friend (who had identified Claude and the Cotat family as the last to be working in a truly old-school style). Claude’s son-in-law, Jean-Paul Labaille, had been working as Claude’s assistant during harvest for 10 vintages while keeping his civil servant job; when Jean-Paul quit the day job, Claude handed over the reins to him and his daughter.
The estate vines lie entirely within Chavignol, noted for its rocky Kimmeridgian limestone soils and hilly vineyards.
Thomas-Labaille farms sustainably and harvests by hand. 80% of their vines are Sauvignon Blanc, the remaining 20% being Pinot Noir for rosé and red (not imported). Various Chavignol parcels are blended into their Authentique white and rosé bottlings; the vines for these average 25 years old. Their top wine naturally comes from the finest site in Chavignol, the infamous Monts Damnés. Its name (“damned hills”) is indicative of the difficulty in cultivating it; anything but manual harvest is impossible here on this steep, slippery slope. Monts Damnés’s southern exposure, drainage and red clay-limestone soils make for structured, complex and rich Sauvignon Blanc. Thomas-Labaille’s vines here average 30 years old, a number which belies the presence of much older vines in their holdings.
Jean-Paul rebuilt the old Thomas cellar in 2012 but has changed little in how the wines are made. The fruit is destemmed, gently pressed and fermented in a mix of fiberglass tanks and concrete vats with native yeasts. The wines are aged on the lees, mainly in steel or fiberglass tanks with a small proportion of used barrels, depending on the vintage and wine (plus two foudres are used to age the finest portion of Monts Damnés for the Dressner-exclusive “Cuvée Buster”), and bottled without filtration. They remain true to the Thomas tradition of pure and expressive terroir wines without bells or whistles.