The domaine Lemaire Fournier is a 30-hectare estate in Vouvray. To be precise, it is located in Vernou sur Brenne, close to the Vouvray appellation area, in a village on the slopes running along the Loire river. We met Marie-Annick Lemaire and winemaker Nicolas Renard at a saturday Caves-Augé tasting and we decided to drop there at our next visit in the region. Discussing with Nicolas Renard while having this tasting, I can say we were impressed by his ability to produce beautiful Chenin wines. But when Chenins are in the way anyway , I am favorably biased and not very neutral...
Nicolas Renard began working in the Estate when the owner, Mrs Lemaire, bought the Domaine. He is about 40 and has this quiet passion to explain his work when with visitors. The estate and its vineyards have been through a lot of work and evolution since they took over the place. The 30-hectare vineyards are split into 40 different plots. In the future, he foresees the total surface going down slightly for an easier work. All is in Chenin Blanc parcels are organic-viticulture certified by Ecocert. There's a late blossoming season this year : Estimated june 20th (our visit took place around late may _ sorry for the delay). When we arrive for our appointment, we entered the chai along the street, a recently-built facility backed to the hill, where the cellar and underground galleries (possibly former quarries like usual) are located.
In the back of the facility, near a black hole that leads to the depth of the hill, we see 6 tronconic vats ( making 25 hectoliters each ). The temperature seems cool when you're coming from the outside ( this was a sunny and warm day ), but that's nothing compared with the
says that they practice a stirring of the lees every year for some cuvées. But not systematically. Pneumatic press. Some racking of the must, then the juice goes into the casks. The casks are cleaned with hot water and steam, and then rinsed profusely with cold water. Cold water rinsing helps prevent giving an oak-marked wine. Relatively long fermentations favored here : What we see today is going on since october ( we're in may ) . Successive rackings, not too massive each time, just to tone it down and have a longer fermentation.
Temperature may play a role in all that : This cellar, dug deep into the hill, is indeed very cold . 95° humidity and a 12°C temperature, year around. Going once to the toilets in the chai, "outside", I felt as if I was taking a bath of comparatively much-warmer atmosphere . He says there are 15 meters of rock over our heads in these galleries.
Speaking of the rock over our heads, I notice these beautiful glistening reflections on the ceiling, like condensation, and take a picture of it [ picture lower on this page ] . On both sides , alignments of 225 liter casks . They come from Burgundy. He says here they are loyal to the same supplier ( Damy ) , for the cask quality . He could pile them up on several levels but prefers to have them disposed like that, on the ground level only : Easier to manipulate individually , plus, he still has enough room in the cellar to do it that way .
Let's taste the first wine. For this first tasting of a wine , we walk back to the chai and its tronconic vats in the front :
__1 Vouvray ( dry ) 2002 . Chenin Blanc, like for the other wines . This is an assemblage of 8 to 10 plots over a 10 hectare surface . Makes a 12-15000 bottles volume . Lemon colour . On this base cuvée, they maintain the continuity so that customers can keep finding year after year Lemaire-Fournier's traditional Vouvray taste . Speaking of the taste, he says that for some plots they got from some one else, he saw a big difference in the wine after just
3 years without chemical treatments in the vineyard . This has an impact on the wine . He tells about one of the workers who already worked ( 20 years ) in the Domaine with the previous owners, and who was used to the "old" way of abundantly spraying chemicals in the vineyard : He needed 2 years to adapt to the new philosophy and way to work in the vineyard . In fact, the hardest for him was that the vineyard did not look "neat" and "square" with this organic viticulture ...
For the first vintage, when the Lemaire-Fournier estate started, he vinified all the plots in seperate cuvées because he did not know the particularities and style of each of them, yet . Now he works on 10-11 cuvées. Terroirs that go well together are harvested together, then pressed and go to fermentation together . Speaking of the soil, lots of silica, especially in " Les Perruches", with big size stones there . For the wine that we're tasting right now, he filled the glasses from a fiber resin vat. The wine was previously partly in tronconic vats, partly in casks. Nicolas Renard says he did not wait the end of the fermentation process to blend the different parts of this cuvée. The fiber vats let the fermentation gas out, just like the casks, they are quite porous also.
__2 Vouvray . half-dry 2002 . There was 20 g sugar left . Now , he thinks there is still 14-15 g . Nice slightly gaseous feel , wich goes well with the aromas in the mouth.
__3 "La Coudraie" Vouvray 2002 . A bottle from the reserve, wich he decorks on a cask , in the cellar . A plot on a northern slope with a clay-silica soil . 80 year old vineyard plot . In spite of its orientation, it takes the sun as a southern slope . 14,5° alcohol . Serve cold and get something to eat with it . Delicate nose . He says 4-5 g residual sugar left . He says it tastes fine after this 1 1/2 year long laying down . Got its clear colour naturally , no filtration here . He says this is a powerful wine that dwarfs many dishes . He tried it with restaurateurs he knows and it paired beautifully with lobster, also with white meats , with rabbit . No carafing for this wine, he says , as it oxidize quite fast . Subtle and powerful at the same time, B. says .
__4 "Les Tartemains" 2002 . Half-dry . Bottle . About 30 g residual sugar at bottling . Nice terroir on southern slope . Less silica and more calcareous stones than in "La Coudraie" . 45-50 year old vines . 13,5° alcohol here .
__5 "Les Tartemains" 2003 . from a cask . Very different . Volontarily on a very very long maturing time . 160 g right now . Will stay at about the same level . To drink for itself, as aperitif . To be bottled soon .
__6 "La coudraie" 2003 ( Cask ) . On the nose, some hints of yogurt and cheese : Malolactic fermentation is on, it may have begun 8 months ago, he says . A delicacy, B.0 says : Like soft fudge or milk chocolate . 200 g residual sugar, but not this sugary feeling that could come with . Bottled in june .
__7 "La Reveillerie" 2003 . A combination of two types of terroirs : One with a calcareous type of soil, the other with a silica one . No malolactic fermentation here, the nose says . 180- 200 g resid. sugar . Vinified together out of the press . After sediments are taken out of the vats, the wine goes in caks. His dog, Peps, is the silent witness of all our wine tasting activity and babble . Sometimes laying and drowsy , sometimes up and attentive when comes from the other end of the cellar ...
__8 Vouvray (dry) 2004 . From a resin vat . Turbid, nice light honey colour . Will be racked and bottled . This one will be filtered . 5 g . Surprisingly vivid after the previous wine we tasted . But happily , we spoke lengthly between the two, and it sort of softened the move... Still in fermentation, not easy to, appreciate ( for me, at least ) . He says it is better to wait next september to taste and appreciate the 2004 wines .
The wine is exported to Japan , the UK , also to Belgium , Germany and Switzerland .