This story takes place in the Coteaux du Layon area, where Jerôme Saurigny started his winery a few years ago. This is a moderately hilly region south-west of Angers through which runs a small river named Layon. Incidently, this river will flow into the mighty Loire some 10 kilometers away.
One of the nice things with the natural-wine movement is that there is a high sense of friendship and solidarity among the vignerons who followed this path. They gather regularly, exchange tips and share what they learned both in the arduous organic vineyard management and in the winemaking, which even if non-interventionist, asks for a careful ovelooking of the wine and helping it go in the right direction. Jerome Saurigny, who set up his winery in 2007 and followed a traditional, non-addittives winemaking philosophy, has himself close ties with his neighbors at Les Griottes, and also with another vigneron following the same ethic, Jean-Christophe Garnier. They all can count on the help of the others when there's a need for it in the vineyard or in the cellar tasks and choices. There is a healthy emulation with such neighbors, they can confront their observations and ideas and progress. Still, there is no unified vinification method and each vigneron manages his wines differently, adapting the work to what he want to make with his grapes, the terroir and the vintage.
Outside the facility, the vineyard tools belong in part to Pat and Sébastien; see the two pictures further down, including a wooden gondola (with Sébastien tilting it for me) which was initially designed to be pulled by horses and has been transformed so as to be tied behind a tractor. Jerome learned through them tips about the plows, the de-weeding claws and also the décavaillonneuse, and this was crucial because when you're starting and have modest means, you can't go to the repair shop each time you get a problem with a tool. This makes me think to my visit to the Domaine Mosse nearby in Saint Lambert du Lattay, I had just arrived that René Mosse had to go to the workshop to have a crucial part of the décavaillonneuse welded back in place.
The facility is large enough and he got all the tools with it, including the cement vats that he doesn't use by the way. He uses mostly the resin vats and some casks. More and more, he likes to work with these resin/fiber vats because it preserves what the grapes and the terroir brings.
An interesting detail about their early financing when Jerome and his wife started the winery is that they found 250 people who each bought wine in advance on the three following vintages : It allowed them not to go to the bank to ask for a 35 000 € loan. Each of the 250 subscriptors got each year (for three years) 18 bottles of wine, and they organized each year a gathering at the winery with something to eat and of course to drink to celebrate [I used my calculator and saw that this was a very good deal for the subscriptors : about 3 € a bottle - I'm a taker for natural wine at this price...]. Part of these people were friends or acquaintances (say, a third) and the rest were found by the first group. As Jerome says, his banker could have lend him these 35 000 €, but without these 250 potential future clients...
Jerome says that when he and his wife started in 2007, Pat & Sébastien of Les Griottes had already 5 years of experience behind them and could already share their experience both for the vineyard management and the vinification. What he learned in the enology school was not enough because nothing was taught there about the non-addidives winemaking.
His philosophy is to respect the different varieties and the terroir where they grow, the side effect being that they have quite a big number of cuvées, which is not always easy to handle commercially.
He takes a lot of attention and care on the grapes before and at harvest. They don't use machines, they pick manually and also to avoid damaging the grapes they don't destem the reds. He says that destemming or harvesting with machines damages the skin and accelerates the oxydation, encouraging a more violent exchange between the skins, which is something not positive for the wine. So he favors a 100% wholecluster vinification. He puts the wholecluster grapes in the fiber vats and leaves them there for maceration with a floating, air-tight lid, without even adding carbon ice. He just puts 50 liters of fermenting juice (only wild yeast used) in the bottom of the vat and it helps generate CO2 which will impregnate the whole vat the following day. Speaking of the maceration time, it depends, but they're rather on long macerations these years : in 2008 for example the macerations lasted between three weeks to 4 months depending of the cuvée. As for 2009, they're still on macerations, the 4 or 5 resin vats in the background on the picture on top are full with whole clusters, so it'll be about a 6-month maceration. There's no temperature control in the vats. He'll wait a bit, thay that the temperature inside rises naturally to 12° before pressing these grapes. As there's going to be a small amount of residual sugar, if they wait that's it's a bit warmer to press, the fermentationwill start again and allow the sugar to be finished. Then, everything will be blended in a resin/fiber vat.
__ Domaine Saurigny Sau 8. Sauvignon of course. In 2007, this cuvée was named Sau 6 and in 2007 Sau 7 which in French sounds respectively a little like saucisse and chaussette. Sau 8 doesn't have a decisive sound-alike but they still kept the concept, adding on the fine print "ça a eu marché". This is a white, unfiltered wine with some turbidity as we moved the bottle. Fermentation and élevage in resin vats. Bottled since september 2009. Zero SO2 here al through the vinification and for bottling too. All of Jérôme's wines are made without SO2 or any other additive. Aromas of exotic fruits, lychees, this sort of white fruits. Jerome says that there are floral notes too. 80 ares of vines planted in the 1980s'. They had yields at about 20 hectoliters/hectare in 2008. In 2009 they made 40 ho/ha. The previous vigneron who had these vineyard had probably yields of 100 ho/ha. They worked much to bring down the yields and accompany the vines through these changes. A few minutes later I feel quince. I feel a certain richness but there is no residual sugar here. Jerome says that the vines are on schists and there is not much earth, so there's a mineral side, that may be what I felt as quince aromas actually. He says that the grapes have rapidly a high alcohol potential on these vineyards even if they harvest early. 13 ° for this wine but not felt in the mouth. 2000 bottles of this wine. Mostly sold to cavistes. Public price for this wine : 10/11 €
__ Domaine Saurigny, Chenapan (2008) Vin de Table. a golden-color white wine (Chenin Blanc), not turbid in spite of being unfiltered too. Elevage in 400-liter casks dating from 1999. He didn't try to pass the agreement for the Appellation. He had refusals at the beginning so now he labels the wines as table wine. The agreement commissions always found something about the wines because they're not mainstream and they would bar them. Nice lightly oxydative nose.Richness, citrus, orange peel, the typical bitterness of the Chenin here. Comes from a vineyard from which they used to make sweet wines. Bottled end november 2009.
__ Domaine Saurigny, Ange ou Démon, a blend of Cabernet Franc (about 75%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (2007), labelled as vin de table. A bit of reduction on the nose, an evolved color in the glass, not very dark. In fact the hint of reduction passes away very fast. Lovely mouth, round. Arial and refined, nice wine. He makes such a wine every year. Costs 12 € public price. He made some 6000 bottles of it.
__ Domaine Saurigny, Chenin Liquoreux (sweet) 2007. Thin 50cl bottle. Bottled in november 2009. Gorgeous amber color. Turbid. Aromas of orange jam, orange peel. A complex wine. Very fresh in the mouth. Jérome says that this wine needs one year in bottle to show its best. There will be then even more harmony in its mouthfeel. This wine is _again_ totally SO2 free. Very beautiful. How come I don't drink more sweet wines ? Costs between 25 € and 30 €. And I must say that I omitted in my previous story to include Jerome Saurigny in the short list of winemakers able to make SO2-free sweet whites.
Here is the list of the different cuvées with public prices at the estate.