The product of a family of Bordeaux winemakers, Thierry Germain realized early on his winemaking dreams: to become the head of his own estate. After searching everywhere from Bordeaux to Hungary for the perfect land, he finally set his sights on Anjou, in the Loire Valley, and the estate Roches Neuves, a property of 26 hectares in the appellations of Saumur and Saumur-Champigny. When he acquired this estate in 1993, it already had a strong reputation for the quality of its wines.
During his first years, Thierry Germain applied a conventional and classical approach, producing expressive wines that however lacked any great length. Indeed, guided by his passions, including his love of horseback riding (The National Equestrian School is located not far from his property) and his love of the vines, he dedcided to change how he grew his vines, in order to be more consistent with his personal beliefs. Primarily in line with the principles of Rudolph Steiner: agronomist, agricultural philosopher, engineer. Biodynamics were the obvious approach for revitalizing the soil, but the soil was already lethargic due to the use of conventional farming methods, such as not letting grass or weeds grow between the vines, and thus the expression or the terroir was muted. For him “the land had swallowed dangerous substances. Our old terroirs, dating back thousands of years, are losing life.”
The Horse is Now Never far From the Vineyards
Having realized the potential of the Saumur appellation – a great terroir where it is possible to produce unusually good Cabernet Francs, which can then be used to add freshness and aromatic finesse to wines – he decided to move away from traditional methods of production in order to better produce wines that express the diversity and characteristics of the terroir. As he likes to say, “I was taught that there were only bad weeds. On the contrary, everything that grows contributes to the diversity.” For him it is the richness of the soils that are the key element in the development of finesse in the Saumur wines. Therefore in 2002 he converted the entirety of his vineyards to biodynamics, not taking into account that the humid regional climate (both continental and oceanic) creates increased risk for the vines and thus for the production volumes. But Thierry Germain held firm to his conviction that biodynamics would work. The vines would protect themselves if given the means to do so, in other words, not introducing unnecessary antibiotics that would weaken the immune system of the vines. Like humans, the vines are blessed with the resources for a system of auto-defense.
The biodynamic approach is therefore inevitable for the revitalization of the soil and thus the ability to produce great wines rich in the nuances of terroir. The agricultural master clarifies, “We transcend ourselves, act with passion for our wines to be able to breathe and please the people who taste them.”
Philosopher of Life and the Guardian of Legacy
Thierry Germain insists biodynamics is not the only a method of work, it is a way of life. In the fight against standardization, he seeks to establish sustainability for the following generations and allow them to profit from the variety of tastes. Thierry Germain is a man of honor who guards a unique legacy.
To develop the expression of terroir and the sincerity of the fruit (the unique taste), as well as the finesse and the freshness, he stopped trimming his vines and focused his activities on the life of the soil. In the end, his work was rewarded with rich, vibrant grapes that were not overloaded with sugar.
In the 300-year old cellar, he uses modern technology to underline the unique character of each parcel. Vinifiying and aging distinct lots allows him to tailor his work for each and better isolate each character that will compose a subtle, complex and authentic whole. Each wine is sublime, blending the character of the fruit with the unique characteristics of the terroir. The wines certainly do not resemble each other and thus Thierry Germain avoids boredom from repetition.
For him the secret of success from a biodynamically managed vineyard is the reactive work of humans, even though the task is quite hard. He says, “The great secret of biodynamics is to be hyper-reactive. Listen to the plants and then have the appropriate resources to care for 26 hectares a day. It takes a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of investment but in the end you are repaid.”
The Potential of the Saumur Terroir
The 26 hectares that compose the estate of Roches Neuves are located in the appellations of Saumur Blanc and Saumur Champigny. Planted o chalky subsoil, locally called “Tuffeau,” clay sediments are blended with sandy soils comprised mainly of limestone. The plantings that showcase the Cabernet Franc, for the production of red wines, also feature Chenin Blanc, the star grape variety of Anjou. Chenin Blanc is used for both dry and sweet whites; wines that are tense, mineral and have breathtaking longevity.
“Insolite” In the Glass: A Perfect Distinction
The “Insolite,” meaning unusual, wine is one of the greatest white wines of the Loire Valey. Made from 100% Chenin Blanc grown on a clay-limestone soil, that is highlighted with silt and embellished with flint. After a careful sorting by hand, the grapes are vinified and aged for 12 months on their lees. The aim of the aging is to preserve all of the minerality of the soil and to translate this unusual expression into the glass.
A very clear yellow color that is almost crystalline with highlights of green and silver, Insolite offers a nose perfectly balanced between freshness and strength. The bouquet reveals a density of fresh white fruit aromas and candied citrus. This is blended with floral notes of lemon verbena and bergamot as well as spices like fresh ginger. In the mouth the attack is straightforward and sensual. The intensity of the fruit is underlined by vibrant freshness and complex notes of spices. Not lacking in density, the persistant finish transends the intrinsic richness. A white Saumur with seriously strong character. A great success.