What could be more appropriate than to start this blog with the man behind the slogan in our header? First a very brief introduction to a man that shouldn’t need any introduction, and to one of the world’s great vineyards.
Nicolas Joly has for several decades been a leading personality in biodynamic wine, and as such a guiding star with bunches of followers, including the Return to Terroir group. Destined to be a banker, he went on to take over his family estate Château de la Roche aux Moines in Savennières by the Loire river. He was sceptical about the effects on modern agriculture on nature. Once he started to experiment with biodynamic farming there was no way back, and all his lectures, his books, all growers who followed where he led, all this has eventually gained him more than a glimpse of glory.
To say that his wines have been subject to controversy would be an understatement. While some praises the complexity, the concentration – and perhaps the legend – some say that the wines are heavy and oxidized, and the vineyard’s potential is far from fulfilled. Myself, I have tasted a few of the older vintages from the 90’s and early 2000’s, but I am far from an insider. But the wines are surely fascinating, and the owner’s perspective is indeed a very interesting one.
Recently we tasted the current wines. They were undoubtedly of the same family, with a golden to amber colour, smell of apricots, orange peel, nuts, oxidized tones and an alcoholic richness as common features. (Mr. Joly would have replaced the expression oxidized with ripe, but I don’t mean this in a negative way.) And the star amongst them was clearly the one that you might have expected.
Les Vieux Clos 2011 (formerly called Becherelle) of the appellation Savennières, from grounds are primarily schist but also some quartz. The wine has a bright golden to orange colour, notes of yellow apple, herbs and sherry flor, and some oak. It has a spicy, nutty and mineral flavour.
The Clos de la Bergerie 2010 is of another appellation, Savennières Roche aux Moines. This one is from vines around 25 years, also with schist and east facing. It has a slightly darker amber hue, a slightly oxidative smell, hints of mature apple, apricot, quite oaky. Here is some bitterness, honey and hints of caramel.
And finally the Clos de la Coulée de Serrant 2011: The first vineyard was planted here by Cistercian monks around 1130, and the Coulée has been under vine ever since. Today this is an AOC of its own, and Joly owns all of its 7 hectares of steep slate hillsides. The vines used today are between 35 and 80+ years old, and to renew them cuttings from the oldest plantings are used to maintain their Chenins. They are cultivated with horse and hand, and the average yield is 20-25 hectolitres per hectare. The ground is on a red schist bottom with good drainage. It’s a bit of an amphitheater with southern, or southern east orientation, and the grapes are harvested five times during a period of almost a month, to obtain maximum maturity and botrytis. The barrels used to raise all three wines are never more than 5% new.
It has a deep golden with an orange hue, with rich, ripe, complex aromas of apricot, nuts, orange peel, spice, saline, and honey. There is a flinty minerality, and one could maybe say, a slight touch of a young palo cortado sherry. It’s fresh in the attack, has a stony texture, very concentrated and tasty today, and with great lenght. Joly good! Still there is clearly more to come during the next five to ten years.