May 20, 2011 Domaine des Roches Neuves
Domaine des Roches Neuves L’Insolite
On the day of our arrival in France, a two-hour train journey from Paris brings us to the small Loire city of Saumur. It offers the quintessential French experience — eating escargot at a restaurant called L’Escargot, with a bottle of exceptional local wine. Catching my eye on the list is a chenin from Domaine des Roches Neuves, labelled L’Insolite, which my pocket dictionary translates as ‘unusual’ or ‘extraordinary’.
My goal over the course of the vacation is, of course, to experience a broad range of Loire wines. This is excellent choice.
Domaine des Roches Neuves L’Insolite 2008
Un choix excellent, indeed, with a lively elegance and subtle, sophisticated mineral character. A delicate nose, lightly floral, lightly fruit infused, reminding me of some exceptional Austrian whites. The taste, fresh, with vibrant acidity, with white fruit and citrus notes I find hard to pinpoint. Yet isn’t that the beauty of wines — presenting a taste experience for which language fails, and what takes over is pure, undefined enjoyment. $
The vigneron is Thierry Germain, originally from Bordeaux but replanted twenty years ago by choice to the Loire, to Varrains, just outside Saumur. In some minds his early red vintages were too much in the style of Bordeaux, too heavily oak-influenced. In more recent years his wines have taken on a new profile — less oak, a much greater feel for the terroir. This goes hand-in-hand with the conversion of his 22 hectares to biodynamics.
A more openly passionate vignernon I am not likely to encounter. We anticipated a half-hour appointment, and two hours later we slipped away much convinced by the man and his wines. Winemaking can be very business-like, and one without passionate roots to the land. Domaine des Roches Neuves is very far from this approach; it is by firm choice that the logo for the estate shows a man rooted in his vines. One of the first comments Germain makes is to give a human parallel to his vines — the soil – the mother, the sun – the father, and the vines – the children, with the roots as the brain.
He makes a limited range of much-praised red wines. L’Insolite is his only white, made from a plot of 80-year old chenin blanc. Hand picked with very low yields and perfectly ripe fruit, slow fermentation in large barriques. After a year it is transferred to even larger oval foudres of 1200 litres (Austrian oak), that further cut the oak influence and help retain the minerality. Unfiltered, unfined, and unusually good. 12,000-bottle annual production.
But it is Germain’s pride in being a vignernon (never an easy task– to combine the business side of wine production with the hands-on, day-to-day work in the vineyards and the chai) that bodes very well for this domaine. I see it in his latest (and very special) project — a small, newly acquired and newly planted, rock-wall enclosed plot of land (a ‘clos’). It’s there as his well-worn Land Rover slows to show us his horse, the one he will use the next day in his .2 ha vineyard that provides the fruit for his small bottling of a red he calls ‘Franc de Pied’. And again when he chats to a local farmer who supplies the domaine with cow manure.
Throughout the course of the visit there is palpable enthusiasm for new projects that will offer a previously unexplored expression of his terroir. To witness it has made for a very memorable encounter with the man and his vines.