Sologne is a large wooded area south of Orleans, stretching between the rivers of the Loire and the Cher. The impermeable tertiary clays that characterize the soil of a large part of the area have largely prevented it from becoming a crop-growing region and explain the high number of ponds and lakes which give it this taste of wilderness and virgin forest. Sologne is foremost a hunting region with a very rich diversity of gamey, and this royal hunting groung is dotted with some of the most beautifull chateaus of France, like Chambord, Cheverny and Chenonceau.Hervé Villemade's Domaine du Moulin is located near one of them, Cheverny, on the same-name AOC Appellation.
Hervé Villemade makes red and white wines from a 17-hectare surface near Cellettes on the Western wing of Sologne, mostly on the Cheverny and Cour-Cheverny Appellations. The vineyards sit on a light slopes with a clayish/sandy/flint-stone soil where the water doesn't stagnate. Part of the area is the former bed of the Beuvron river which flows nearby.
Villemade is foremost known for his whites, the Cour-Cheverny (Romorantin grape variety) and the white Cheverny which is made of 60% to 85% Sauvignon, plus at least one of the complementary varieties : Chardonnay, Menu Pineau and Chenin. He also plans to plant both Sauvignon and Menu Pineau on Sigolelle, a full-East-exposition plot, and have them both grow and ripe together. About the red Cheverny varieties, he grows Gamay and Pinot Noir. he also has some Cot (Malbec) which he could blend into the red Cheverny, but he prefers to keep the Cot separate and bottle it as "Vin de pays du Loir-et-Cher". We walks through a 1977 massal selection of Pinot Noir (this is a very good terroir for Pinot Noir here), further another from 1980, others from 1980 and 1992. He also has massal grafts that he got from Prieuré Roch (this was before a new rule which forbids such inter-regional transfers).
The grape varieties at Domaine du Moulin are Sauvignon, Chardonnay (for the Cheverny white), and also Pinot Noir and Gamay (Cheverny red), plus Cot (Malbec) and Romorantin (the local white variety behind the Cour-Cheverny Appellation). He shows a bare plot bordering the woods where he will plant the famed Romorantin. Romorantin [see portrait near a Romorantin vine on the left] is grown exclusively in this part of the Loire and makes wines that are very different from the other whites found in the Loire with a very wide aromatic range and, like for Villemade's Cour-Cheverny, a light oxydative feel which makes a very strong-character wine. He says that in the past, Romorantin was planted in poor soils because of the rusticity. This grape variety is said to have been imported from Burgundy to the Loire by King François Ist in 1519. He had the vines planted in his mother's property in Romorantin (a village in Sologne) and the variety took its new name there. It is a late-maturity variety and its thin-skin grapes are fragile, with the rain often causing the mature grapes to burst. Because of this, he thinks that it is interesting to plant it on a "warmer" terroir like this bare plot which he considers perfect for a white variety with a mix of clay and sand. Romorantin doesn't give a lot of juice and with the short pruning on the cordon tresilling he has relatively low yields, 35 ho/ha being the maximum he gets usually.
So, how does he vinify the Romorantin for example? The grapes are pressed and stay put a dozen hours for a cold settling, then the fermentation starts in temperature-controlled vats. He likes to have a fermentation peak at about 1050, and he prefers to prevent the temperature from going over 20C. Then, when the wine goes back to a density of 1030, there is no temperature threat anymore, they rack the wine and put it into the casks where the wine will keep fermenting quietly well into winter, sometimes even in the following spring. The malolactic fermentations start thereafter, and they rack somewhere in spring, before the elevage in casks, which for the Romorantin lasts between 15 and 24 months. During all this vinification, the only SO2 for the Romorantin comes with a sulphur wick at the spring racking. Usually this is the only SO2 addition for these long-elevage Romorantin, and a check at bottling would show a free-sulphur level of zero, and a total-sulphur between 5 and 10 (read this page to understand the difference between free sulphur and total sulphur). Because they have a very long elevage, they work on the ability of the wine to get a bit of oxydation. Hervé Villemade likes to say that it is like children who need to be let out to play so that they are accustomed to the real world : this way, the wines don't suffer from oxydation and are less fragile. Protecting your children with antibiotics for the smallest ills is not the best upbringing you can think of. Same for the wine Remembering that natural wines need longer time to recover after bottling, I ask him about the recovery delay: he says that his Romorantin need another year. He recognizes that if he needs money he has sometimes to sell them before a year in the bottles, but right now he sells the 2005 which was bottled january 2007.
Then 10 to 20 days of maceration depending of the grape variety, then pressing. Then the Cheverny "Cuvées Domaine" go back to the wooden vats for the elevage, while the red Cheverny Ardilles and the white Cheverny Bodice will have their elevage in demi-muids (big-capacity) casks or normal casks. He uses also his metal vats for the fermentation of the Cuvées Domaine, before the elvage in the wooden vats. His nice Pinot Noir from the Ardilles plot for example ferment and macerate in these same wooden vats before continuing in 1/2 muids (550-liter) and casks (220-liter). The more concentrated a wine is, the easier it will stand elevage in wood. He likes to use different casks, regarding the type of wood and the age of the cask.
__ Domaine du Moulin Cour-Cheverny "les Acacias" 2007 (from the cask). These Romorantin resisted well to the mildew pressure, which was very high in 2007. Yields at 33/34 ho/ha on these plots. The maturity was not very high but the grapes were ripe, at about 11,6. This wine was racked not long ago. Lightly turbid. Freshness. Richness in the mouth. Because of the lower alcohol he will shorten the elevage for this millesime, ending probably next september. This way, he want to keep this freshness in the wine. He plans to name it "les Petits Acacias" because of this unsusual millesime, and price it 5,5 Euro without tax, instead of 7,5.
__ Domaine du Moulin Cheverny (white) La Bodice 2007. Very clear and bright. 70% Sauvignon and 30% Chardonnay. From a 500-liter demi-muid (named a "tonne" in the region. Very different nose indeed. Nice maturity. Very dry. Beautiful. Only got a sulphur wick at the spring racking. This wine should be bottled before the next harvest. Aromaticly, it will grow and open in the next months.
__Domaine du Moulin Cheverny (white) La Bodice 2007. Same wine but from a cask which hasn't been racked. On its alcoholic- & malolactic-fermentation lees. The malo-fermentations weren't finished a month ago but he thinks they are now. On the nose, more on fermentation lees and wood : the secondary aromas haven't surfaced yet. The former wine having been racked, the different casks and demi-muids have been blended before being redispatched to the different casks, this explains also a lot. Here, perly feel in the mouth. He says that there is a lot of CO2 in the wine as the malo-ferm just finished. At the end, this cask will be blended with the other one that we tasted before.
__Domaine du Moulin Cheverny 2007, Cuvée Domaine (bottle). Vineyard on the lower part of the property. 70% Sauvignon 30% Chardonnay. Bottled in mid februray (He still keeps some of ths wine in casks). 6 Euro at the estate. Nice wine.
__Domaine du Moulin Cheverny 2006, Cuvée La Bodice. Bottled last december 2007. Sauvignon/Chardonnay, same proportion, from the Bodice vineyard uphill near the woods (near where he will plant some Romorantin). Costs 8 Euro at the estate. Very different wine, from a very different soil/terroir. 14,2° maturity. 2006 was very sunny. Very round and gourmand. you really don't feel the alcohol. Nose : ripeness, pear skin. The light oxydation brought by the elevage is important too. He says that it will be perfect next autumn. A real pleasure in the mouth too. On the Cheverny we tasted before, the Sauvignon was more prominent, with vegetal notes typical of small millesimes. Here with the higher maturity, the aromas are more on white fruits. he says the la Bodice 2007 will be inbetween, with citrus, rose-grapefruit aromas.
__ Domaine du Moulin Cour-Cheverny "Les Acacias" 2005. Romorantin grape variety. Honey on the nose, hazelnut. Rhubarb aromas, he says. B. and I actually drank a bottled of this wine after this visit. I had bought the bottle at Caves Augé before the visit but we didn't find the time to drink it. When at last we could, it was a real pleasure. This wine opens a wide range of successive aromas while you chat and the second glass brings more surprises, same additional surprise and jubilation at the 3rd pouring. Outstanding wine, really [about the glass, I actually only fill maybe one fith of the glass each time, for both a better aeration and to keep the rest of the bottle in the fridge]. It costs 13 Euro at the estate. B. shares my enthusiasm for this Cour-Cheverny, this is an exceptionnal wine. Very long in the mouth. Still lots of freshness. This bottle can stand 15 or 20 years, he says. Romorantin is known for being able to have both a high maturity and a high acidity (like Chenin, Semillon). 13,5° on the label, actually 14°. No industrial yeasts used in this estate, these aromas come from the grapes only. Pairs well with spicy dishes, he says. He tried it once (a Cour-Cheverny 2002) with a Morrocan Tajin, it was a perfect match. Some of the other Cour-Cheverny producers keep the high acidity by adding SO2 to prevent the malolactic fermentation from starting. But the gustative qualities of these wine suffer from this manipulation. Some even choose to block the alcoholic fermentation (like for the 2007 millesime which was a high-acidity, low-maturity millesime) before the end to keep 5g of sugar and create artificially some tenderness in the wine. But the resulting wine is completely distorted and strange.
__Domaine du Moulin red Cheverny Cuvée domaine 2007 (bottle). 50% Pinot Noir 50% Gamay, the lower part of the vineyards, near the winery. Elevage in the big tronconic vats. Relatively clear color. Hervé villemade says that for him the color is not very important. Some wines can be very clear bust still very concentrated. No filtration here. Sometimes if the last 200 liters in the bottom of the wooden vat are really turbid, he may opt for a light filtration, but only for this remainder. And it is very rare. Even for the "Vin Primeur", he filtered only the last third of the vat. Raspberry, cherry with kirsh notes. The Gamay is more prominent here, there may be more 60% of it in the blend.
__Domaine du Moulin, Cheverny Les Ardilles (red) 2007. From one of the tronconic wooden vats ( picture on right, the one on the right, #26, 51-hectoliter). 80% Pinot Noir 20% Gamay. It was in the 1/2 muids casks before and he pumped it back there for a lighter wood imprint. Refined. Darker red. Lightly perly, very good for the protection of the wine because it never had any SO2 and the natural CO2 does the job. Usually it is bottled in september but for this lighter millesime it may be next june. Speaking of next june, he will bring all his wines at the Caves-Augé tasting next june (check at the wine shop for the day).
__Domaine du Moulin red Cheverny "Les Ardilles" 2006 (bottle). Same Pinot-Noir/Gamay blend. Nice depth in the mouth. Nose is more on the spicy side, like saffron, caraway. 13,2°.
As you can see on the pictures, Hervé Villemade is beginning to make natural sparkling wines and they will be available later this year.
Hervé Villemade's wines are imported in Japan (by Racines), Russia and the US (Savio Soares Selections, NY). For Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and France, see the retailers here.
Hervé Villemade and his wife have three children.