At the Gate of Manoir de la Tete Rouge
Thanks Paul Boyer for the post from Loire!
On July 7th we made our way through the low hills of Le Puy de Notre Dame in the Loire Valley. Towering above the vines on the central hills is the church’s central spire, where William the 9th is purported to have interred some of the Virgin Mary’s garments after the Crusades. We were greeted at the gate of Le Manoir de la Tete Rouge, an old self-sustaining farm and fortress dating back to 1649, by vigneron Guillaume Reynouard.
Reynouard started his small 13 hectare estate in 1996, which sits on mostly clay and limestone, where he grows Chenin Blanc, Pineau D’aunis, and Cabernet Franc. He explained that this vintage in the Loire had been difficult; frost, hail, and odium had all taken a heavy toll on the vines. The weather that day was sunny and beautiful and he wondered if the vintage could be turned around. In short order he whistled for his dogs to join us in his van and led us through Saumur, down a series of gravel roads before stopping suddenly in the middle of vineyards.
Grape vines stretched to the horizon. “Can you smell that?” he quizzed. “That smell of almonds is the smell of pesticides.” He bent down to examine the soil. “There is no life in this soil, it’s as hard as concrete. It’s impossible to make a wine of terroir here. Now let me show you something else. ”
Quickly we were hustled back into the vans and driven further down the winding hills, the landscape shifted and we were once again among the vines. Only now, not just vines. The rows of grapes were joined with cherry, apple, and pear trees as well as flowers and underbrush. “It is critical for sustainability to have biodiversity in the vineyards. Plants, animals, and insects all have a part to play. Besides grapes I have over forty types of vegetation in the vineyard. Everything is always trying to transmit its DNA, when so many things can survive it indicates a healthy environment, and all the plants here offer a different benefit to the environment. These little flowers love nitrogen,“ he added. He drew our attention to small wax tipped baby vines, newly planted in rows. It will be more Chenin Blanc, though it will be four years before they will bear any useable fruit. Pointing off into the distance he added, “It’s more clean in the middle of New York then in those vineyards.”
From the vineyards we descended along a driveway that lead to the Reynouard’s cellars, a 4.5 kilometer labyrinth deep under the earth that he had acquired from a mushroom farming company 10 years ago. We made our way past an underground cistern that descended several stories below us and to winding passages containing barrels and tanks, concrete and steel. As we tasted from his barrels, used and neutral naturally. He muttered, “To much tannin pisses me off.” The cellars were immaculate; Guillaume explained that he avoids using any sulfur if he can, so everything must be immaculately clean.
Back at his compound, under a large umbrella, dogs lolling beneath our table, we tasted through some of the lineup of his wines.
’13 Sparkling Rose- made from Cab Franc. Pithy, and bitter with citrus notes. No dosage.
“Tete d’ange” ’14, – Chenin Blanc made in concrete from fruit from the 1st and 3rd pass through the vineyard.
Saumur Blanc “Chapitre” ’12 – Chenin from a single green clay parcel planted in 1998 and fermented in large 500-600 liter barrels.
Saumur Rouge “Bagatelle” ’15 a cuvee from 5 different clay and limetone parcells. Made in stainless steel tank from 10-30 year old vines.
Saumur Rouge “Tete de Lard” ’14 – Meaning Fat Head or dummy, the cuvee is a blend of 2 parcels of clay that is vinified in stainless steel and then spends 12 months in neutral barrel.
Saumur Rouge “L’enchantuer” ’10 – a single parcel from vines planted in 1960. The wine sees no sulfur and spends 18 months in neutral barrel.
The wines all showed superbly and paired well with the regional cheeses that Guillaume brought for us to snack on. Throughout the property you could see how all the different aspects were intertwined together, how Guillaume wanted them to be sustainable and healthy, and the intense commitment that he has towards the land. They truly were wines that reflected where they were from and who had made them.