Your Guide to Organic, Biodynamic and Natural Wine



Domaine FL

Domaine FL

In Rochefort-sur-Loire, Domaine FL has big plans for the future. A brand new winery building had largely been completed when we arrived last year, but a B&B and restaurant on the upper floors was yet to come. For our visit, we took in a gorgeous view of rolling hills while standing around a table trying the wines in the not-yet-completed top floor.

Founded in 2007 and organic since 2009, Domaine FL is named for owner Philip Fournier’s parents’ names: Fournier and Longchamps. Unusually for the area, the winery’s holdings are spread on both sides of the river, including some in the prized Roche Aux Moines sub-appellation. Wines produced by FL fall are classified as either Savennières or Anjou.

Domaine FL Vineyards

We started with Anjou Blanc, from the hills around the winery. In France, the wine is called “Les Bergeres,” but in the U.S. it is labeled “Le Chenin” -apparently an easier sell. The 2010 was refreshing with pronounced apple and drank easily. A good introductory wine not meant for aging. More intriguing was the 2008 Chamboureau made from Savennières grapes grown on schist. It aged for 18 months in barrels and vats, garnering an intriguing truffle nose in the process. This is a rich, complex wine ready to drink now by contrast the 2009 was fuller bodied but less intriguing. Just as interesting was the 2008 Roche Aux Moines from across the river. The volcanic rock imparted strong minerality to this racy wine. The Anjou Red "Le Cochet” is 100% Cab Franc with pronounced tannins when we tried it.

In good vintages, the domaine also makes sweet wines. We especially liked the 2009 Coteaux du Layon ”Les 4 Villages” – a medium sweet wine (80 grams/rs) balanced by nice acidity, perfect for foie gras or blue cheese.

www.domainefl.com


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Damien Laureau – Loire

Damien Laureau

Damien Laureau

Damien Laureau has been making wine since 1999 but he only started his own domaine in 2007, picking up parcels as they came up for sale. Now his is the newest winery in Savennières and adheres to organic principles. Since he owns eight different plots, he vinifies his Chenin separately then blends the wines together for two of his labels – Les Genets and Le Bel Ouvrage. Laureau also has a quarter of a hectare in the prized Roche Aux Moines sub-appellation, allowing him to bottle with that designation (the 2011 we tasted is his biggest, most powerful wine).

Damien Laureau Vineyard

We compared four vintages of the Les Genets, starting with the 2011, a vintage with good fruit and high acidity. 2010 amped up the acid and added a nice mineral background but was less approachable than the younger wine. 2005 reminded of a rich Savagnin, with half the wine having undergone malolactic fermentation.

We moved on to two vintages of Le Bel Ouvrage, which were more full-bodied. The 2011 was young, yet drinking well. Again the 2010 was not as immediately approachable – as it opened up, it drank well with the hallmarks of being better with a few years. To see where the wines could go, we finished with a 2003 – from that notoriously hot year – finding a very rich, powerful, ultimately delicious wine.

www.damien-laureau.fr


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Domaine Mosse

You’ll rarely come across more of a character than René Mosse. The day we visited, he was perched at a little bar in a Yankees cap ready to pour us wines. I asked him if the cap was for us, since we were from New York, and he regaled us with his last visit to Yankee Stadium. His wife, Agnès, popped in from tending the garden and saw we were in good hands so she left us to René.

Agnes and Rene Mosse

Agnes and Rene Mosse

René, who used to sell wine in Touraine, decided to start his own winery with Agnès in 1999. Since then, their holdings have grown from 9 hectares to about 18 – all farmed biodynamically. We started with two enjoyable entry level wines – 2011 Le Rouchefer, a well-balanced wine with lovely structure and acidity, and the 2011 Arena Savennieres, from young vines in sandy soil, which displayed more acidity and just a hint of minerality.

We stepped up to a more racy acidity with the 2011 Les Bonnes Blondes, from 40-year old vines. The 2011 Initials BB, an ode to an infamous Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot duet, showcased their oldest vines, averaging 60 years, in rich, elegant fashion. This complex wine with an exceptionally long finish really demonstrates how great Chenin Blanc can be. The wines are delicious and show that je ne sais quoi imprint from Agnès and René.


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Domaine Roche Aux Moines

Domaine Roche Aux Moines

Next door to the estate of Nicholas and Virginie Joly, on a hilltop in Savennières overlooking the Loire, sits an ancient cluster of buildings behind a stone wall. This is Domaine Roche Aux Moines, founded in 1981 and named for the area’s highly regarded sub-appellation. The winery is run by second-generation winemaker, Tessa Laroche. A vivacious woman, she is pushing the domaine to new directions, and acheived 100% organic status in 2012. All her wines are unfiltered, harvested by hand and built for aging.

Tessa led us on a tasting of Domaine Aux Moines, their label of 100% Chenin, starting with the 2011. The wine shows promise, thanks to a mineral backbone, and is already drinking well. The soil here is schist and clay, imparting a flintiness to the wines and making them ideal for aging. How ideal? We soon found out.

Monique et Tessa Laroche

Monique et Tessa Laroche

We travel back in time to the 1999 vintage, for a very different wine. Honey notes are predominant in this full bodied wine. 1998 reveals a more austere version and 1994 brings more acid and staggering complexity. All these wines are from the same plot, yet are vastly different. The 1992 brings it all into harmony – acid balanced with minerality and ripeness. This is our favorite.

We also tried a 2010 Les Moines, the first vintage of this wine, unfiltered with no sulfur and aged 24 months in new and old barrels. The wood was a bit too prominent, but the aging potential was evident. Clearly, the domaine is in good hands with the next generation.

Website: www.domaine-aux-moines.com


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Fred Niger Van Herck

Fred Niger Van Herck

When Guy Bossard was looking for someone to take over his winery, he could hardly have found a more unlikely partner than Fred Niger Van Herck, a lawyer who once owned a web hosting company. The organic tradition runs deep at ECU, spanning almost 40 years, but Bossard’s new partner was determined to push the boundaries – a trip through the winery reveals some surprises.

Anforas at Domaine de la ECU

Anforas at Domaine de la ECU

For starters, Fred says he makes reds “just for him,” and we are surprised to find 2012 Cabernet Franc in anfora in the middle of Muscadet. Having taken over as winemaker in 2009, Fred is just now starting to play with things like anforas. At this stage the cab franc displays more minerality than fruit, but Fred is hopeful about the wine’s future. Next, we tried a barrel sample of 2012 Ange, a Pinot Noir that already has a surprising depth of flavor.

Domaine de la ECU Vineyards

Domaine de la ECU Vineyards

Back in his tasting room, we dive into the whites (all 100% Melon), starting with a 2011 Vintage Classique, which proves young and chalky with a mineral backbone An easy drinking wine. Interestingly, ECU names wines after the terroir, which makes sense when we jump to a 2011 Gneiss that immediately amps up the minerality. The 2011 Granite is bigger, yet pair this one with Epoisses – it can take it. 2011 Orthogneiss is a rounder and fuller expression of Melon. 2011 Taurus brings together grapes grown on granite and orthogneiss (50/50) for a rich, Burgundy-style wine. Aged in old barrels for six months, this unfiltered bottle should sit in the cellar for several years.

For more info, go to domaine-ecu.com.


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Domaine Le Fay d’Homme

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Already certified organic, Domaine Le Fay d’Homme is in the midst of converting to biodynamics. Making wines for over 27 years, fifth generation winemaker Vincent Caillé is an enthusiastic spokesman for the region, yet his wines don’t always fall into the traditional Muscadet box. His plantings are 80% Melon de Bourgogne, 10% Folle Blanche (Gros Plant) and 10% various red varietals – all spread over four towns with three different terroirs: geniss, orthogneiss and gabbro.

We started off with the 2012 Gros Plant du Pays Nantais, a bright, fresh and lively white with an acidic tang made with folle blanche grape (grown on gneiss with silex) that in Caillé’s hands transcends the most acidic local versions. The wine is made under the domain’s La Part du Colibri label,along with a couple of reds, and is a terrific warm weather quaffer.

We jumped into Muscadet with the 2012 Le Fay d’Homme, which had nice minerality and a long finish. The signature Muscadet of the domaine, this wine is made from Melon de Bourgogne 35+ year old vines planted on gneiss and aged in traditional glass lined cement tanks, offering a classic expression. The 2012 may have been a stingy vintage with low yields and small production but it produced some great quality juice.

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Things got interesting with the* 2012 Vieille Vignes* from 60 year old vines – though young, it drank like a much older wine, already round, with a balanced minerality and great aging potential. The vines are planted in gabbro, black volcanic stone. While wines from gabbro grown-vines can be austere in their youth, they age well for ten or more years – we got a peak at its potential when tasting the 2009 as well.

The 2010 Clos de la Fevrie (from orthogeniss), which Caillé deservedly calls “Grand Muscadet,” underwent a long fermentation and spent 15 months on lees. It drank beautifully, with supple, deep flavors, power and richness. The 2009 Monnieres Saint Fiacre, from vines on gneiss, yielded a high acid yet elegant wine after 39 months of lees contact. We couldn’t help but marvel at how these wines must evolve with age. As we talked about Muscadet’s aging potential, we were surprised by a bottle of a 2003 Le Fay d’Homme Muscadet, a rare and delicious treat we enjoyed over dinner with the winemaker and his daughter. Despite the hot vintage, the wine showed very well and was big enough to stand up to dishes beyond the typical seafood pairings.

Caillé also makes a couple of very good sparkling wines: the dry X Bulles and the moscato-like demi-sec Z Bulles, both made according to méthode ancestrale – a very traditional way of making sparkling wine where it is bottled before all the residual sugar is fermented into alcohol, without dosage and often riddling.

Humble, passionate and very personable, Caillé may not be one of the most widely known producers in Muscadet, but he is one to watch and his wines are worth seeking out.

www.lefaydhomme.com


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9th-generation winemaker Pierre-Marie

9th-generation winemaker Pierre-Marie

Luneau Papin in Le Landreau (Muscadet) is in the process of converting to organic. As of now, 25 hectares out of 40 have been converted with the rest in process – they have already ceased using pesticides on all their lands. For 9th-generation winemaker Pierre-Marie, with his colleagues in the Loire already at the forefront of organic winemaking, this is a giant step for a storied domaine whose name arose from the joining of two area winemaking families. With 35 different cuvees, the domaine makes a wide variety of wines, using common local grapes like Folle Blanche (used in Gros Plant) and Melon de Bourgogne, as well as Chardonnay, Gamay and Merlot in some blends.

Wines tasted came from vines ranging from 25 – 75 years old, and many displayed minerality and good depth of flavor. A quartet of four 2012 vintages started the tasting – 2012 Folle Blanche showed nice richness for such a young wine, while the 2012 Domaine Pierre de la Grange, made with grapes from 45-year old vines, was delicious and easy to drink, delivering nice minerality and some complexity. Both 100% Melon, Clos des Allées showed good minerality and acid, while Les Pierres Blanches was very pure and almost saline; the fruit from 55-year old vines.

The Terre de Pierre wines from Butte de la Roche, which has a unique soil comprised of elements like magnesium, were powerful and rich – and age-worthy. The 2010 Terre de Pierre spent 18 months on lees, yielding a full, rich, stony wine; the 2008 more full-bodied with prominent acidity. The winery holds back a good number of wines to age, unusual for Muscadet. Some to seek out include 1999 Le L’D’or, which is getting very elegant in its not-so-old age, and the 2003 Excelsior from that year’s infamous hot summer which remarkably has kept its freshness.

Domaine Pierre Luneau Papin Website


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Coulee de Serrant

Coulee de Serrant

Nicholas Joly is as close to a living legend as the Loire Valley gets, especially in terms of organic and biodynamic wine. He holds court in a rambling old château in Savennières, hidden behind ancient stone walls, vineyards covering the hill behind the study. He does not live here but, instead, resides in the 12th Century monastery behind the hill.

Nicolas Joly and his daughter Virginie

Nicolas Joly and his daughter Virginie

Joly is an evangelist for natural winemaking and the moment you meet him, he will challenge your ideas on the subject. Sure, people may not use pesticides, even follow biodynamics in the fields, he says about his fellow winemakers in the Loire and elsewhere, but when they go into the cellars there are almost no restrictions. That, he warns, is when the funny stuff happens – like re-yeasting, which he alleges is a common practice.

If you let him (and face it, you have little choice) he will talk about his new passion – truth in wine labels. He lists ingredients used to fine wines or additives being used and says “consumers should know.” It truly is horrifying and you can’t help but agree with him. This will go on for a while and then he might be called away to the phone. He’ll point to the wines, three carafes lined up on a tray, and simply say, “help yourself.”

All Joly’s wines are hand-harvested in four or five passes as they reach botrytis stage, and have been farmed biodynamically for the past thirty years. Compost comes from 10 cows and 2 bulls, plus a herd of Ouessant sheep that winter in the vineyards.

The three wines tasted were 2011 Le Vieux Clos, 2011 Clos de la Bergerie and the 2011 Coulée de Serrant, the last his very own appellation. The wines were open for seven days and showed exceptionally well – he posits that Chenin picked at this late stage gets better after it is opened. The Clos de la Bergerie especially shined, a very rich, very refined Chenin that clearly benefited from being open so long.

Website: www.coulee-de-serrant.com


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