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Chahaignes (Jasnières, Loire Valley).
We met Jean Pierre Robinot a year or so ago. Meeting him at tastings made us always energetic : Not only are his (natural) wines outstanding, but he shares his passion in the most unpretentious way. He makes non-filtered, long-elevage Chenin Blanc, Pineau d'Aunis and Gamay wines on Jasnières or Coteaux du Loir Appellation, or labelled as "Vin de Table" (when the agreement panel considers the wine as too atypical). His natural wines, made out of his 5,5-hectare vineyard or out of purchased grapes, are exported as far as in Japan.
Before beginning the winery in 2002, he had a wine bar in Paris : L'Ange vin ("Angel Wine" but writen in one word, Angevin also means "from Anjou" ) and was also the co-founder of Le rouge et le Blanc, the very independant wine (quarterly) magazine.
I remember that he told me about his first emotion at 17 when he found a bottle of Jasnières 1947 in the cellar of a friend's father. But the real revalation came when at the age of 23-24, in the 70's, he could buy in an auction several bottles of Pichon Longueville 1964. That was it, from then on, he wanted to learn everything about wine...
Jean Pierre Robinot began to look for vineyards near the village of Chahaignes (his home town) in 1999-2000, in a terroir which is very close to the Jasnières Appellation and shares the same qualities while being much more affordable. In a matter of years he bought several plots, 10 hectares altogether, on unplanted land in the Coteaux du Loir Appellation and gradually planted young vines. He then rented an old house which he converted into a chai. His vineyard is organicly farmed, and the young vines need a little more years to reach maturity than non-organic ones would. When we entered the house, he put aside a bunch of wicker that he will use (with nettle) for a decoction. The first room, which was the main room in this old house, is quite messy. Jean Pierre Robinot grabs glasses and shows us several cellars, some in the hill on the back of the house, some in the other location (picture on top) 50 meters away.
I don't know how many cellars he walked us to, maybe 4, or 5 ? but each was a long, cold and humid tunnel with casks or bottles. The casks always look old because the high moisture has altered the colour of the wood, developping mould on their surface, but he says they are 3-4 years old on average. He says that thanks to the high humidity, the casks "consume" less wine : in a dry atmosphere, the wood absorbs much more wine. The cellars here often have their own fireplace, like on the picture above. He says it is a mystery how the people back then could dig the exhaust duct from the top of the hill with the right orientation and connect it...
Jean Pierre Robinot is a runner, a marathonian. He has always runned, and he says wine was always a good companion in sport. Speaking of endurance, he got some : when he received us at 6 or 7 pm, he was just back from a 2000 km trip to Lyons and elsewhere (for his wines) in a non air-conditioned car (France is hot these days) but he looked full of energy and stamina...
Jean Pierre Robinot makes 2 lines of wines : the "Domaine de L'Ange Vin" wines are made out of his own vineyards and l'"Opera du Vin" wines are made from the grapes he purchases to nearby vignerons. The wines are aged in separate cellars (by law) but he tends them with the same care and non-interventionist philosophy.
In the foreground, casks with Chenin Blanc 2004 from the Opera du Vin line (30 hectoliters/4000 bottles). Behing the plastic sheet at the other end are the sparkling wines made with purchased grapes: In 2006, he will make 2000 bottles of "Les Années Folles" (Pineau d'Aunis), 2000 bottles of natural sparkling Chenin Blanc and 2000 bottles of "Go et alter" a sparkling Gamay pressed like a white. The Gamay grapes are Michel Augé's, who on his side makes the "Alter et Go" cuvée.
he takes wine from the first cask:
__1 Jasnières 2004. In the cask since 2004, it had its fermentation there. 2004 was a difficult year, with lots of acidity that needed to soften in the cask. The cellar is quite cold (10-12°C year around) and the fermentations are not finished, either there's still some sugar or the malolactic fermentation is on. Freshness on the nose, white peach. It begins to open itself, he says. Richness. He says there's a revolution going on at the INAO : When before, the tastings for the agreement were held on february (following harvest) which was much too early for his slow-fermentation wine, they now have a special tasting panel held one year later for the 4 vignerons of the area (including him) who make long cask vinification. Who says there's no hope to reform the system ?...
__2 Jasnières 2004. Other cask. Some CO2 here, slightly pearly. Fermentation still going on...He says that when he began to taste the 2004, he knew instantly that this wine would need a long time to mature, especially that this particular cellar is very cold and that it did not store wine for years.
__3 Jasnières 2004, still another cask. Great mouth, here,superb. slightly oxydative, with corinth grapes aromas. I ask him if he will blend these casks together. He says : "we'll see..." He adds that with the warmer weather these years, he will change a few things, on the harvest, and also with leaving a bit more clusters on the vines to have a little less concentration. He is looking for a 13° wine, not a 15°.
He tastes another cask but says this one is not ready, we"ll not taste it : Malolactic fermentation is not over and there is still some sugar. He will probably set this cask aside. He says that's the risk with his non-interventionist approach, the wine goes to his own rythm. This one had lots of noble rot, the malo is getting on the sugar and this brings volatile risks. "To watch closely", he says. The cask he is worried about is marked by an "Att", like attention [pic upper left].
__4 Go et Alter 2004. Natural sparkling Gamay made from Michel Augé's grapes. We walked to another cellar for this one. Jean Pierre Robinot grasped a crown-capped bottle and disgorged it manually in front of us [picture upper right]... Nice onion-peel colour and nice bubbles. Direct pressing, but Gamay is not a very coloured variety anyway. What we have in the glass is 100% grapes, not the tiniest thing added, not even a light dose of SO2. It was bottled with 17g residual sugar, which made the CO2. It was immediately ( in 2005) put on the riddling tables (to be turned twice a day), to allow a faster disgorgement. Sells as far as in Japan, with very careful transportation of course. 12,4 Euro.
We walk to another cellar, the "Domaine de l'Ange Vin" one, to taste the 2005 millesime. Each of these cellars is a wonder, sleeping architectural-beauties only shortly disrupted by my occasional flashlight, like here above. 2005 is a great millesime, he says, for Jasnières as well as Coteaux du Loir, that will pair with the great millesimes of the 20th century : great balance, acidity, pH, tannins. He shows us a cask with a rubber seal letting sounds of whistle out : fermentation is going on here...
__5 Pineau d'Aunis 2005. No agreement yet, but it is a Coteaux du Loir. Will be named "Le Regard du Loir" as Vin de Table if the agreement is refused. 13,5-14°. The mouth is "gourmande".Toght and very thin tannins. Begins to be tasted. Minimum 12 months in the cask. Whole-cluster vinification (one month) in fiberglass vats. Bottled next spring probably. 18 Euro for the one on sale now..
__6 Pineau d'Aunis 2005. Other cask. Very tight. Malo going on.
__7 Coteaux du Loir, Chenin Blanc. First cask made out of the young vines (3 years old) up the hill . The vineyard was never pushed with products and the terroir is strong. The roots (which already go deep as the ground was plowed) reach very easily the limestone over our heads. Very rich mouth, surprising for a first harvest. Nose is less expressive. He says that the wine is in the middle of its malolactic fermentation plus alc. fermentation. Grapefruit and peach on the nose, still. And this superb mouth...
Jean Pierre Robinot put his head to listen to the fermentation : you can hear the wine whisper here.... He says they are going on for 10 months. In a "chemically vinified" winery, there would have been industrial yeasts added and the fermentation would not have lasted more than 15 days...
__8 Jasnières 2005. Explosive nose with lemon, orange, citrus peel. Spices, too. Very turbid. Will be named "L'Iris du Loir". Slightly pearly in the mouth. The Jasnières 2005 will have a minimum elevage of 24 months in casks. Some will even stay there 3 years. Potential was 15,5° here.
__9 Jasnières 2005, other cask. 16,5° potential. Turbid. Tangerine, citrus aromas, botrytis aromas too: Apricot jam. Noble rot here. Will be Cuvée "Juliette Robinot" (his daughter's name), the Prestige Cuvée of Domaine de L'Ange Vin. 20% non grafted vines.
__10 Other cask of Chenin Blanc. The only cask of Coteaux du Loir Chenin Blanc. Very turbid. Very refined. Lots of sugar left but it does not taste too sweet, lots of acidity. From low-yield old vines. We put our ear on the cask opening and listen to the grumbling sound of the (alcoholic) fermentation...These 16,5° potential will maybe get 36 months in the cask. "We'll se", he says. When asked about who is "we" ? he says "me and the wine". He often comes alone in the evening, to taste...
__11 Jasnières 2005. A 2-casks cuvée with 20° potential. Special cuvée, "P.M.G.", "Pour Ma Gueule", slang for "only for me". This is a noble rot sorting, harvest in october. Very refined nose, full with many things that I have a hard time to try to name...Sugary, creamy mouth. Minimum 4 years in the cask for this one, without a hint of sulphur added.
We walk to another cellar, with wines of L'Opera du Vin (purchased grapes).
__12 Pineau d'Aunis 2005. Quite clear colour. Typical mouth of the Pineau d'Aunis. He feels a risk of volatile here, or it could be the malolactic fermentation. He'll watch out this cask (ATT marked on it). The cask is supposed to be blended later with 2-3 others.
__13 Pineau d'Aunis 2005, other cask. This one also worries him. He wil come back tomorrow and look for the volatile. Maybe he'll stir the wine and add some SO2 to stop the bacteria.
__14 "Symphonie du Temps" 2003, a bottle. Labelled as Vin de Table, but made from Jasnières Chenin-Blanc grapes. Nice straw-yellow colour. The half-empty bottle was opened 2 weeks ago, maybe 3 weeks ago, he says, and the wine quietly evolved. Incredible mouth, here... That's, I guess, the miracles natural wines can do : this was opened several weeks ago, re-corked with an ordinary cork, and this is so much alive and complex...
__15 Lumière de Silex 2003. Bottle. Chenin Blanc. Beautiful nose, lightly oxydative. 20-months elevage in cask plus 1 year of laying down (bottled) in the 10-12°C cellar. He says "that's not too much", "bottles of wine should never be sold before 1 year in the cellar". The mouth, which is very neat, bounces back with a long lasting. 18 Euro.
__16 Symphonie du Temps 2003. Chenin Blanc. Special cuvée. 4 casks of it, or 1200 bottles. Not for sale yet. Nice mouth, with complexity. Will be priced 22 Euro.
He walks to a lone cask at the end of the cellar and sits on it amorously [picture above] to take a sample :
__17 "Cuvée Juliette Robinot" 2002. Will be bottled soon, after nearly 4 years in the cask...It fermented slowly during 3 years and never had stirring. The cask is black from moulds. Ample nose with lots of aromas. Extremely complex wine. He says it could have easily spent another year in the cask. Still some gaz, and a little bit of sugar. This is his first millesime ! At first, when he decided to make this botrytised dry, people were very sceptical... 50 Euro.
__18 Symphonie du Temps 2005. The nose is awesome. Even on the empty glass, a pleasure...
__19 Symphonie du Temps Cuvée Spéciale 2005. Will have another name later. Turbid. Deepness and complexity. No need to stirr the lees, he says. Never been racked. Still lots of residual sugar. Will stay there another 2 years.
Great visits and wines, Jean Pierre, Thank you.
After Mr Robinot opens the cellar door with his big keys, we walk to
__a first cask : the wine here emits a barely audible tickling sound through the rubber seal. It is a Jasnières "Charmes du Loir" 2005, harvested at 16,5° potential. Sugar now is at 1034 as Mr Robinot checks himself [pic on left].
__on the second cask, he opens the closure and we also listen to the bubbling noise. It is a Coteaux du Loir (Chenin Blanc also) 2005, cuvée de L'Iris du Soir (only one cask only of this wine). Residual sugar is measured at 1032 now.
__we then walk to a third cask to listen to a different bubbling noise : Cuvée Juliette Robinot (Jasnières) 2005 (3 casks of it). Was at 20° potential at harvest. Now it is still at 1065 residual sugar.