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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.

Currently Available

Roches Neuves Bulles de Roche 2020

Roches Neuves Bulles de Roche 2020

Biodynamic. The fruit for this delicious sparkling comes from a range of biodynamic parcels in Saumur alongside a vineyard in Le Puy-Notre-Dame (an appellation only for red wines). It's a blend of 90% Chenin Blanc, with the remainder split between Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay. The fruit was picked quite late for sparkling—when ripe and full of character—then whole bunch-pressed and naturally fermented in a mix of stainless steel and barrels formerly used for the Insolite cuvée. In the bottle, the wine was then aged for around 18 months on lees before being disgorged with no additions (zero dosage). In short, it’s a Saumur méthode traditionnelle—à la Germain. It has the character, deliciousness (there's that word again) and class to leave a great many Champagnes in the shade. Expect a layered yet super-mineral, chalky white with a salty, bone-dry finish. A joy to drink, with texture and length to back it up.

Roches Neuves Bulles de Roche 2020
Roches Neuves Saumur Blanc Clos de l’Échelier 2021

Roches Neuves Saumur Blanc Clos de l’Échelier 2021

Biodynamic. If Saumur were drawn up along Burgundian lines, Roches Neuves would claim several Grand Crus sites. One of these would be the two-hectare Clos l’Échelier, surrounded by a wall built 300 years ago. This is a magical site. Thierry explains that he had his eye on this limestone-rich clos since he arrived in the region 20 years ago. He was finally able to purchase it in 2012. It lies in Dampierre-sur-Loire above the old troglodyte caves that skirt this section of the river. Much of the site is planted to Cabernet Franc, though Germain has been planting more Chenin to add to its 0.4 hectares of 60-year-old vines. The soils are sandy and shallow with just a 30cm layer of argilo-calcaire over pure Turonian limestone. The combination of site, vintage, meagre yields and Germain's precise biodynamic farming has delivered a dramatically tense, crystalline, mineral-bound white this year. Expect dazzling floral and stone fruit flavours seamlessly entwined with old-vine power, rocky structures and a penetrating saline finish. If any doubt remained that Saumur is blessed with one of France's most singular white wine terroirs, a bottle of this would end the conversation. Think of it as the equivalent of Premier Cru Burgundy, Grand Cru Alsace and top Grosses Gewächs.

“The 2021 Clos de L'Echelier is a delicate and tender style, with impressive purity of fruit. It is almost cloud-like in its lightness on the palate. The finest of chalk-like tannins covers the mouth in a blanket of finely-pixelated image, which can no doubt be attributed to this limestone-rich, north-facing site as well as a very delicate hand when it comes to extraction. Being 2021, there's no shortage of acidity, but it is entirely integrated within the wine, providing a thread of tension that courses through its core, leaving everything tied up on the precise finish. This is a harmonious, well-crafted example.”
92 points, Rebecca Gibb MW, Vinous
Roches Neuves Saumur Blanc Clos de l’Échelier 2021
Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny Terres Chaudes 2021

Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny Terres Chaudes 2021

Biodynamic. Previously a blend of two terroirs, Terres Chaudes now hails exclusively from the Poyeux terroir in Chaintres, near the heart of the appellation (an area made famous by the Clos Rougeard bottling). The vines for this cuvée are about 50 years old on average and come from the coteau, or slope, where there is very shallow topsoil before the roots hit the limestone bedrock. All the fruit was de-stemmed and fermented in cement (with some foot stomping), followed by maturation in 60-hectolitre, neutral wooden vats. This vintage must be one of the most impressive, vibrant and nuanced Terres Chaudes that Germain has crafted. You can't miss the imprint of Poyeux's ripe berry, spice and mineral-charged fruit, yet Germain's seamless 2021 is rendered with rare elegance for this terroir. Pure, bright and floral, its silky, floral flecked palate is sculpted by limestone-derived freshness—a fascinating contrast to the Clos Rougeard bottling.

“First tasted in barrel in July 2023, and again from bottle in December, the 2021 Terres Chaudes is a highly aromatic, light-bodied style although there is a touch of juiciness through the mid-palate. True to its vintage, there's no doubting the refreshing acidity and the touch of herbal in the flavor profile. The tannins are well handled, and the fruit is pure and adulterated, as well as lightly spiced.”
89 points, Rebecca Gibb MW, Vinous
Roches Neuves Saumur-Champigny Terres Chaudes 2021

“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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