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Roches Neuves

Ravishing Saumur and Saumur-Champigny from a Touchstone Biodynamic Domaine

In many ways, Thierry Germain is a rare producer in the tiny Saumur-Champigny appellation; a grower producing wine of such quality that they demand the wine world sit up and take notice. The style of wine produced here is not only totally unique but has evolved significantly, for the better, in recent years. In short, at Domaine des Roches Neuves, Germain has achieved for Cabernet Franc in Saumur what, for example, François Chidaine has achieved with Chenin in Montlouis; wines of silky, swaggering texture, deep complexity and beguiling purity, made with a passion and an outward-looking mentality that has had a galvanizing effect on the region as a whole. In doing so, Germain—himself inspired by the wines of the reclusive Foucault brothers at Clos Rougeard—has motivated a small legion of local growers. No less than eleven producers (that we know of) have followed him into organic or biodynamic practices.

Since his arrival to the region in 1991 Germain has been hell-bent on producing—with Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc as the loudspeaker—a purist’s expression of this fine, limestone-laced terroir. Biodynamic viticulture, ultra-low yields and ‘hands off’ élevage are the order of the day here.  Sure, with his attention to detail, minuscule yields and cutting-edge technique, he’s shocked many a local and ruffled a few feathers along the way; but this is typical of so many avant-garde growers, especially those that have come from another region to make their mark (Germain came from Bordeaux). 

Today, Roches Nueves holds a coveted three-star rating by La Revue de Vins du France—only one of eight producers in the Loire Valley with this rating and only the second grower in Saumur, along with Clos Rougeard, to achieve this rating

As with any great grower, the quality of the vineyard is the most important foundation. Second, in order of importance, is the vineyard work. Viticulture here is fully biodynamic. Obviously, no herbicides or pesticides are used at all and only a small amount, when necessary, of natural compost is added to the soil.  Germain plants trees to encourage biodiversity in his vineyards (some 100 species of flora coexist with his vines). All harvesting is manual. Each second row is ploughed, with natural plant life holding court in the odd rows. The labour-intensive, biodynamic agriculture at this address is now second to none. Recent developments include the reintroduction of horse ploughing, the establishment of a massale vine nursery, and the hand-tucking of vine shoots back into the canopy.

The last decade has seen Germain completely change his approach in the cellar. Today the Domaine practices very gentle extraction (if at all) by foot or wooden paddle and there is much more reliance on larger and older format oak.  This includes 60 hl oak vats—so big they had to be built on site—25 hl foudres and 1200 litre Austrian oak ovals (for the white, Insolite). These larger vessels bring a far greater level of vineyard transparency, purity of fruit and suppleness to Germain’s cuvées. The wines are neither fined nor filtered, Germain preferring to leave the wines to naturally settle in the cool tufa cellars before bottling.

For perspective on the evolution of the wine style here, we find the following anecdote instructive. Since Germain’s early days at Roches Neuves, his mentor and (late) friend Nady Foucault of Clos Rougeard would often drop by to taste and comment on Germain’s new vintage wines. In the early years, Foucault would share his wisdom over a glass of one of Germain’s cuvées and then move on. As the years progressed and Germain began to master his terroirs and refine his winemaking, Foucault would stay a little longer, indulging in two or three glasses. Nowadays, there is always a bottle or two that gets polished off. Foucault had been sending Germain a clear message and it was one well received: this is a Domaine at the top of its game.

Most of Thierry Germain’s considerable achievements have been viewed through his Domaine’s red wines. Well, les blancs are equally stunning. Years ago, Germain deduced that Saumur’s most exciting Chenin Blanc derived from the region’s most calcaire terroirs, where there were only the thinnest layers of topsoil, barely lining the pure limestone mother-rock beneath. He, therefore, searched for sites that matched this criterion, and today, the Domaine’s Chenin Blancs are wines of remarkable energy and purity.

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“One might think that Thierry Germain was going to take a break. Indefatigable, he continues to progress in refining each of his cuvées. All of his wines are superb, but not easy to obtain because the demand for them is so great.” Michel Bettane

“His goal is to have his cabernet franc exhibit the silky elegance of pinot noir. In fact, many of his Saumur-Champignys do taste more like Burgundy than a lot of pinot noirs on the market.” Josh Reynolds, vinous.com

“Thierry Germain has lead the Domaine des Roches Neuves to become one of the finest wine producers in the entire Loire valley, and surely to become one of the top red wine domaines in Saumur; although, the Chenin Blancs are also more than remarkable.” Stephan Reinhardt, The Wine Advocate

“These wines are some of the most striking examples of Cabernet Franc (and, increasingly, also Chenin Blanc) that you will find in France today… his wines are still on the top tier in the appellation.” Chris Kissack, The Wine Doctor

“Much of the finest Cabernet Franc from Saumur-Champigny is being now made by Thierry Germain at Domaine des Roches Neuves. The elegance, precision and purity of Germain’s Cabernet Franc is something else entirely, almost Burgundian.” Jason Wilson, Vinous



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Winemaker: Thierry Germain



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