The mouth of France\u2019s Loire River is a broad, windswept place where land meets the Atlantic horizon. Just a few miles inland, away from the rise and fall of the tide, the landscape undergoes a drastic change, and a secret country of trees, rivers, villages and lots of vines produces great white wines.\r\n\r\nHere, just southeast of the city of Nantes, growers are reinventing the Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine appellation and proving that the region\u2019s wines are not all simply breezy, warm-weather quaffers.\r\n\r\nThere\u2019s plenty of light, big-brand Muscadet on the market, often made by large producers and intended to be enjoyed young. But those wines do not portray Muscadet\u2019s destiny.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe wine styles have changed,\u201d says Jean-Jacques Bonnet of Domaine Bonnet-Huteau. \u201cThey are more complex, more mineral and have greater finesse.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe future for Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine lies in the hands of Bonnet and others intent on linking the Melon de Bourgogne grape to the multifaceted terroir from which it comes. Many are children of winemakers and, as common throughout France, have worked around the world and returned home to make great wine.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe growers have decided to take Muscadet back into their own hands,\u201d says Fran\u00e7ois Robin, communication manager at F\u00e9d\u00e9ration des Vins de Nantes, the local wine promotion association.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s a new chapter for an old wine region.\r\n\r\nDomaine Br\u00e9geon Fred Lailler 2014 Muscadet de S\u00e8vre et Maine Gorges; $40, 92 points. From the Gorges Cru in Muscadet, this wine is now mature, and it shows how well top Muscadet can age, though there's lots of potential for additional development. It has lost some fruitiness but gained a creamy, nutty quality. At the same time, the acidity and freshness are still there. Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. Cellar Selection.\r\n\r\nDomaine Pierre Luneau-Papin 2016 Terre de Pierre (Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine); $24, 92 points. From a stony parcel called La Butte de la Roche, this wine is concentrated and a strong mineral backbone. Its ripe spiciness and smokiness are balanced with profuse quince and citrus fruits. The wine, rich and textured, is ready to drink. Louis/Dressner Selections. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\n\r\nThe land and the grape\r\nThe twin rivers of the S\u00e8vre Nantaise and the Maine flow northwest into the Loire and form a V-shaped plateau. Along the way, the rivers cut narrow, wooded valleys of sudden beauty, where steep cliffs tower over the fast-flowing river.\r\n\r\nIn the village of Clisson, a Tuscan-inspired town in the lush green of the Loire River basin, a massive 13th-century castle towers over the S\u00e8vre Nantaise as it flows over a waterfall. Little landing stages along the river\u2019s shoreline give canoe and kayak enthusiasts access to the rivers.\r\n\r\nAs you drive along the plateau at nearly 230 feet above sea level, you can see massive churches surrounded by villages and vast swaths of Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine vineyards. With almost 15,000 acres planted, it\u2019s one of the most densely planted appellations in France.\r\n\r\nMelon de Bourgogne yields an impressive variety of styles throughout the appellation, from light and fruity to rich and mineral.\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s also a mono-c\u00e9page, or single-variety, wine region. Only one grape goes into Muscadet, the white Melon de Bourgogne. It arrived from Burgundy in the 17th century, though some accounts claim it may have come earlier. Its initial purpose was to produce high volumes of wine for brandy distillation.\r\n\r\nAs it turned out, Melon de Bourgogne found its true home in the Loire Valley.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt is a real quality grape, which is able to produce so many different expressions,\u201d says Gw\u00e9na\u00eblle Croix, one of three partners at Domaine de la P\u00e9pi\u00e8re in Clisson.\r\n\r\nMelon de Bourgogne is neutral in character, which makes it a true grape of terroir. It takes on the character of the soil from where it was planted, and is heavily influenced by the climatic conditions that surround its vines.\r\n\r\nWith the huge variety of soils and different base rocks in Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine, the grape yields an impressive variety of styles throughout the appellation, from light and fruity to rich and mineral. Domaine de la P\u00e9pi\u00e8re\u2019s wines range from the light texture of La P\u00e9pie through the tropical fruits of Cru Clisson to the concentration and density of Cru Ch\u00e2teau-Th\u00e9baud.\r\n\r\nMost Muscadet wines are aged on their lees\u2014the dead yeast cells left over after fermentation\u2014and then bottled directly off those lees (look for the term \u201cSur Lie\u201d on the bottle). This treatment gives an extra intensity and richness, as well as a light pepper and yeast character.\r\n\r\n\r\nMother rock\r\nGneiss. Mica schist. Gabbro. Granite. Amphibolite. The names of the appellation\u2019s base rocks, what the French call roche m\u00e8re or mother rock, roll off the tongues of the growers.\r\n\r\nFor Fred Lailler, who produces wines in Gorges at Domaine Br\u00e9geon, it\u2019s gabbro, a black, volcanic rock, that forms the basis of the Gorges Cru wines. His vineyards sit atop a cliff by the S\u00e8vre River. Massive, pitch-black gabbro covers the ground, with tree roots that wind their way through them.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s impenetrable rock, but the roots always seem to find their way through the gaps,\u201d says Lailler. The rocks give his Cru Gorges wines its smoky character, steely structure and tight intensity.\r\n\r\nMany producers like Lailler farm biodynamically, organically or a mix of the two. While it\u2019s difficult to do so in a region so affected by the moist ocean air, producers who have committed to such practices are on the rise.\r\n\r\nDomaine Bonnet-Huteau has been biodynamic since 2010. Bonnet\u2019s wines, especially his top single-vineyard Les Laures that grows out of the granite soil of Vallet, are pure, structured and powerful.\r\n\r\nPierre-Henri Gadais, son of Christophe Gadais, of Gadais P\u00e8re et Fils, is in the process of converting part of the family vineyards to organic. The result is his Cuv\u00e9e Pierre-Henri bottling, which is pure in lemon zest and spice tones.\r\n\r\nJ\u00e9r\u00e9mie Huchet at Domaine de la Chauvini\u00e8re is converting his Chemin des Pri\u00e8res vineyard to organic, which produces an almost salty wine with intense acidity and citrus fruits. Following up on the success of this bottling, he plans to convert more vineyards to organic viticulture.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nLes Fr\u00e8res Couillaud 2016 Ch\u00e2teau de la Ragoti\u00e8re S\u00e9lection Vieilles Vignes Sur Lie\u00a0(Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine); $16, 92 points. Old vines, up to 60 years old, are the basis of this concentrated, ripe and intense wine. It is impressive and tightly wound, with layers of rich citrus fruit and a chalky texture. This is still a little young, so drink from 2018. Vineyard Brands. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nV\u00e9ronique G\u00fcnther-Chereau 2010 Ch\u00e2teau du Coing de Saint-Fiacre L\u2019Ancestrale (Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine); $19, 92 points. This beautiful apricot and melon-flavored wine is still so fruity. It shows no sign of its seven years' aging, still keeping a fresh crisp character. There is just this extra depth and richness that brings in almond, spice and a touch of toastiness. Drink this very fine wine now. Encore Wine Imports.\r\n\r\nDomaine des Tilleuls 2017 Les V\u00e9n\u00e9rables Vieilles Vignes Sur Lie (Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine); $17, 91 points. Vines between 40\u201370 years old form the basis of this ripe, juicy and deliciously fruity wine. With its refreshing acidity and zesty lemon character, it's rich and packed with fruitiness. Drink now. Bordeaux Tradition. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nBonnet-Huteau 2016 Les Laures Sur Lie (Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine); $20, 91 points. This is a rich, complex and concentrated style of Muscadet. It also boasts a steely edge that comes from the granite soil of Vallet. Made from biodynamic vines, it shows intense fruit character, with spice and pepper at the end. It is attractive now, though it could also age further. Nomadic Distribution.\r\n\r\nDomaine de la P\u00e9pi\u00e8re 2017 Clos des Briords Cuv\u00e9e Vieilles Vignes Sur Lie (Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine); $20, 90 points. From 60\u201370 years old, this wine boasts a rich, concentrated backdrop. Its spice and pepper flavors are integrated with the ripe fruitiness, while delicious acidity and a touch of almond grace the finish. Drink now. Louis/Dressner Selections.\r\n\r\n\r\nKnow your cru\r\nFrom a panoramic viewing platform at the highest point in S\u00e8vre et Maine, it\u2019s easy to see the vast expanse of vines, the Loire River and the city of Nantes in the distance.\r\n\r\nBut if you drill down to find some focus, there\u2019s something new about the appellation\u2019s wines worth getting to know.\r\n\r\nCrus, or specific vineyard sites, are the most recent expression of what the dedicated growers in S\u00e8vre et Maine believe are Melon\u2019s potential for great wines.\r\n\r\nThere are currently three officially recognized crus of Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine: Clisson, Gorges and Le Pallet. There are also seven under consideration\u2014Ch\u00e2teau-Th\u00e9baud, Champtoceaux,\u00ad Goulaine, La Haye Fouassi\u00e8re,\u00ad Mouzillon-Tilli\u00e8res, Monni\u00e8res-Saint-Fiacre and Vallet\u2014that are each in various stages of the approval process.\r\n\r\nThink of wines from any of the cru vineyards as first growths of the appellation.\r\n\r\nThink of wines from any of these vineyards as first growths of the appellation. As Bonnet says, the crus make \u201ca family of vineyards, and, just like a family, they all have their own personalities.\u201d\r\n\r\nCru-designated wines must come from vines planted on the most typical rock of each village. They have different and often surprisingly long aging periods before they can be released. Clisson and Gorges wines have to be aged a minimum of 24 months on their lees, while Ch\u00e2teau-Th\u00e9baud can be aged up to 48 months.\r\n\r\nFor G\u00e9rard Vinet of Domaines Vinet, the jewel of the winery\u2019s many vineyards is the walled Clos de la Houssaie\u00ad, whose mineral-driven wines need to age at least six years. Since 1926, this high-quality, 1.7-acre vineyard has been regarded as an unofficial grand cru of the region.\r\n\r\nFor now, the production of these cru wines is small, as it only accounts for about two percent of all Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine bottlings. Expect those numbers and quantities to ramp up, especially as more crus are approved.\r\n\r\n\u201cOur American clients can\u2019t get enough,\u201d says Croix.\r\n\r\nMuscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine is an appellation on the move, with new people, new ideas and a determination to evolve. There are still plenty of inexpensive Muscadets to enjoy, and they\u2019ll always be available at a good price. But dedicated growers now think beyond that restrictive box. They\u2019re on course to turn Muscadet into a great wine.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nLieubeau 2017 Domaine de la Fruiti\u00e8re Gneiss de Bel Abord Sur Lie (Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine); $18, 90 points. The schist and granite soil of this vineyard yields a wine that is strongly mineral. Its acidity and fruitiness are restrained by a tense texture and steely character. This fine wine needs to age a few more months, so drink from early 2019. European Cellars. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nDomaine Salmon 2017 Grande R\u00e9serve Sur Lie (Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine); $29, 90 points. This rich, intense wine is deliciously juicy and fresh. Its acidity and lemon flavors are balanced by a creamy apple tone that gives a ripe feel. It's a fine wine, ready to drink now. The Organic Cellar. Editors\u2019 Choice.\r\n\r\nPierre-Luc Bouchaud 2016 Le Perd Son Pain Sur Lie (Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine); $15, 89 points. This warm, ripe wine, with its balance between creamed quince and lemon acidity, is immediately attractive thanks to its fruitiness, touch of minerality and final bright acidity. Drink now. Serge Dor\u00e9 Selections.\r\n\r\nSauvion\u00a02016 Ch\u00e2teau du Cl\u00e9ray Haute Culture Sur Lie\u00a0(Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine); $17, 89 points. The original home of the Sauvion family, this estate has produced a ripe and generously styled wine, with fresh fragrant aromas. It has a soft texture and upfront green-apple fruit. Drink this ripe and crisp wine now. Advantage International.\r\n\r\nDomaine de la Foliette 2017 L\u2019Origine Sur Lie (Muscadet S\u00e8vre et Maine); $18, 88 points. Soft, ripe and full of great fruitiness, this is an easy, crisp, apple- and citrus-flavored wine. The delicious fruits are sliced with tight acidity and a mineral edge. Drink now. Vigneron Imports.