Domaine Les Roches is a small family estate near Chinon where father and son Alain and Jérome Lenoir make long-elevage wines from Cabernet Franc. Working from a very small vineyard surface (3 hectares), they have mostly a single wine every year, but this wine leaves their cellar only after an enormous amount of time. By long elevage, I meant it : 3 years at least in old casks and big-capacity foudres in this deep cellar which hasn't changed (except for the now-old electricity wiring) since it was dug into the "tuffeau" limestone rock between 1400 and 1500 A.D. I tasted their wines for the first time at a Caves Augé Loire tasting and was struck by their substance and character. These earthy, unfiltered wines show themselves without subterfuges, as if this long cellar life had imprinted the simple beauty of the place.
Beaumont en Véron is a small village 7km East of Chinon, on the way to Bourgueil, whis is a mere 10km further. It sits in Touraine, which is roughly in the central part of the Loire Appellation region. This is very close to where the Vienne river joins the mighty Loire. When you look at the Bourgeuil-Chinon map, Beaumont-en-Véron is right in the middle or the area. The Domaine Les Roches lies outside of the village, on a hill not far from the next village, Avoine.
This family farm or winery (today wine is its sole production) has actually never changed its ways, they still take the time for a long elevage in the cellar. A few years ago they used to keep their wines two years in casks, now it is something like 3 years. Usually when a vigneron wants to sell his wine after a few years of elevage, this is a heavy investment for him because he will not get revenues from this wine until the end of the time. Well, some wineries sell futures to ease the financial pinch but only prestigious Bordeaux or Burgundy wineries can do that. Other wineries usualy can do it for their high-end wines only, the rest of the production pays for the bills until the long-elevage wine is ready.
As you understand it, the wine here goes through a long cask elevage PLUS more time in the bottles before going out and sold.
The wine will then go through 3 years in this cellar, sometimes more, depends of the millesime. There is only one cuvée, like it used to be in the past, and anyway they have only 3 hectares. Asked about the importance of the elevage and about this mold on the rock and everywhere, Jerome Lenoir says that he and his father think that their wine wouldn't be what they are if the elevage had taken place in a "clean" temperature-regulated surface warehouse. He says that all this humidity and these mold cultures have made of this cellar a perfect home for the wine. Btw, he says that the wine feels so good that after 3 years or more in there, it needs more time to recover than usual. A natural wine is said to need 90 days to recover from bottling (a commercial wine doesn't need such a long delay, maybe because it has lost its life). Here 6 months is the minimum. Seems that this wine has learnt to be patient...
__Chinon Les Roches 2001. This is it. Authenticity and just enough rusticity to go with the fruit. The prices for these wines is something like 6,5 or 7 Euro. Really good value for this quality of wine.
__Chinon Les Roches 2000. Some leather. Fruits. Elegance. I spoke later with sommelier Alain Segelle about this millesime of Les roches, this is one of his favorites. He said that it is sold out at Lavinia (the Paris Wine shop) and that he really enjoyed it. He said the only thing is that as it is sulphur-free the bottles have to be stored carefully. Back to the cellar. Alain or Jerome Lenoir speaks about the 2003 and says that it was the first year they made lab analysis for the wine (it was the heat-wave year). People around were so anxious, especially those who had sandy soils : the leaves were falling in the middle of summer. But at Les Roches it was OK, the roots had probably dug deep enough into the tuff stone. The way the vine and canes are pruned year after year is also very important. If you do it the wrong way, the clusters will be massed together with no air to aerate them properly. If you leave a branch out, it makes room for the air.
__Chinon Les Roches 2002. Bottled in october 2006. Leather, underwoods. Nice, immediate pleasure. The color is not very intense. He says that with the years the color looses some intensity but that the tannins are there and do their job. Alain Lenoir (Jerome's father) says that more and more laws threaten the good products in France and in Europe, like these norms that say that cheese must be transported in thrucks at a maximum temperature of 3°C. He says that such a cold temperature kills everything in a real cheese. He wonders if someday the regulators might forbid to the artisanal vignerons to bottle their wines themselves for sanitary reasons.
__Chinon Les Roches 1990. 6 years in casks...Ample, round mouth. Nice color. Bottled in 1997. They kept tasting it, checking the wine and one day they decided that it was time to release it. When they had it bottled, the wine was in shock for a longer period of time : They had to wait another year before selling the bottles. They tasted it every 2/3 months and it was still in a bad mood, as if it was angry to have been forcefully moved into the bottles. Then it eased up and began to breath again.
For those who have the chance to come at the winery, note that Jerome and Alain Lenoir also sell their wine in bulk. The bulk wine will be a Chinon (Cabernet Franc) with a 2-year elevage in cask, and the price is really a bargain : 2,8 Euro a liter.
Their older vines are about a hundred years old, the others were planted some fifty years ago. He shows me how they do when a vines is dead, they look at the next vine in the row and if it is healthy, they let a branch grow and put the end of the branch in the ground when it is long enough to reach the bottom of the dead vine. This is called marcotage and this way they can grow another vine with the same qualities. This vineyard has very little ground, maybe only 20cm, then you reach the tuff rock in which the cellar was dug. The soil is clayish/siliceous. We look at these 100-year-old vines, they are amazingly small for their age. He says that the reason is not only that they never used any fertilizers but that the growth of the vines depends also from the way you prune and cut them. Jerome says that on the top of the hill the soil is even thinner, something like 10cm, but the roots find cracks in the rock and feed from there. In 2003 (heat-wave year) they apparently could find some freshness to compensate from the above hellish heat.
Domaine Les Roches' wines are exported in Switzerland, Germany and Holland.
Jerome Lenoir and his wife have two boys, aged 3 and 5.