A Visit with Thierry Germain at Domaine des Roches Neuves

When I first met Thierry Germain, he was a young Turk making waves with his focus on terroir and biodynamics. Now he is a well established example to others, perhaps even something of an elder statesman. He’s the six generation of winemakers from his family in Bordeaux, but he left there in 1991 and bought this old domain in 1996. There was a single tiny building when he started, but this has now been extended into a modern warehouse. He’s presently expanding in order to be able to stock older vintages.

Tasting with Thierry is an exercise in terroir and its implications. All the reds are Saumur Champigny, which can be the most distinguished AOP in the Loire for Cabernet Franc. Cuvées are distinguished by their soil types, varying from sandy to calcareous to siliceous. The introductory Saumur Champigny red, from calcareous terroir,  is a typical expression of Cabernet Franc from the area: bright and fresh with a touch of asperity. It ages in stainless steel and wood vats. The color of the label changes each year to express Thierry’s view of the vintage. “2021 is a very pure, saline year,” Thierry says. The 2021 label is green. (2020 was blue.)

Terres Chaudes comes from the Poyeux lieu-dit “but it’s calcareous clay, less sandy than Clos Rougeard’s plot.” It shows the typical sense of precision from this lieu-dit. It ages in a mix of 12 hl and 60 hl oval foudres. Les Marginales was the first cuvée Thierry produced, in 1996. It comes from deeper clay. It conveys a broader impression than Terres Chaudes. It ages in foudre. “We always do élevage from clay in a large container. If you use a smaller container you constrain the wine.” Clos L’Echelier comes from pure limestone–this is the calcareous material that was excavated to construct the houses of the region. It ages in oval 12 hl foudres. “It is very vertical. If you use a round container for limestone terroir it abolishes the energy of the wine.” Les Mémoires comes from siliceous terroir on the plateau Dampierre. The vines are 118 years old, growing as individual bushes (they look like old Grenache in Châteauneuf du Pape). It includes 80 areas that were the first plantation after phylloxera and another 40 areas that were planted later. The wine ages in round foudres and some old barriques. Franc de Pied comes from vines planted at high density (8000/ha) on their own roots. It is vinified as whole clusters and ages in oval foudres. The terroir is quite sandy, which makes it appropriate for ungrafted vines because phylloxera doesn’t penetrate so well. The vines are still in good health, indeed they seemed to be flourishing when I visited the vineyard. This is perhaps the most elegant of the red cuvées, with the palate showing very pure fruits and texture.

Thierry German in the high-density vineyard of vines planted on their own roots.

All the four white cuvées are Saumur Blanc. L’Insolite may be the best known. Coming from 90-year-old vines on siliceous terroir, it ferments as whole clusters at low temperature, and then ages in oval foudres. L’Echelier comes from tufa; a slightly spicy nose leads into a really elegant palate, fine and silky, with an unusual sense of precision for Chenin Blanc. Clos Romans comes from hard limestone and ages in old 400- or 500-liter barrels. It shows the savory side of Chenin Blanc, lots of flavor, quite elegant, but with greater underlying breadth than L’Insolite or L’Echelier. The finish shows almost an impression of umami. Terres ferments in 800-liter qvevri, buried underground in the Georgian style; after 4 months it’s transferred to old barriques for aging. This is not an orange wine but it has a similar sense of texture on the palate. Thierry’s view is that the style of most of the wines in Saumur Blanc is too rich; these all definitively offer more precision than is usual.

The vineyard is worked by a horse.

Tasting Notes

Saumur-Champigny, 2021

A slight sense of piquancy to the nose is followed by fresh acidity on the palate, which is typically Cabernet Franc with a characteristic slight note of asperity. This is quite a bright, pure expression of the variety with lots of flavor.    90 Drink 2023-2031.

Saumur-Champigny, La Marginale, 2020

Broader than Terres Chaudes, with fresh acidity on the palate, and a sense of tobacco on the finish. The clay has replaced the tension of limestone with a broader expression, more granular, of Cabernet Franc.    90 Drink 2024-2032.

Saumur-Champigny, Clos de L’Echelier, 2020

Faintly spicy notes to the nose. Almost a chalky texture to the palate. More grip on the finish with chalky tannins showing a little bitterness. Acid support is almost piquant but overall the impression retains that sense of chalkiness.    91 Drink 2025-2033.

Saumur-Champigny, Les Memoires, 2020

Slightly spicy notes first, with black fruits following. Not quite tight, but the palate certainly conveys a sense of precision with fresh supporting acidity.    92 Drink 2024-2032.

Saumur Blanc, L’Insolite, 2021

Slightly spicy nose leads into palate with typical savory notes of Chenin Blanc and a nice spicy finish showing white fruit and floral aromatics,    90 Drink now-2026.

Saumur Blanc, L’Echelier, 2020

Slightly spicy nose leads into really elegant palate, fine and silky, with an unusual sense of precision for Chenin Blanc. I would not have expected such elegance from tufau.    92 Drink now-2028.

Saumur Blanc, Clos Romans, 2020

This shows the savory side of Chenin Blanc, lots of flavor, quite elegant, but with greater underlying breadth than L’Insolite or L’Echelier. This finish shows almost an impression of umami.    91 Drink now-2028.

Saumur Blanc, Terres, 2020

Not an orange but offers a similar sense of granular texture on the palate. Faintly spicy impression to nose. Palate has rounded out the savory impression of Chenin Blanc to bring more obvious white stone fruit flavors to the fore, with a slightly spicy finish. In effect the maceration has overlaid the character of Chenin Blanc with more texture.    92 Drink now-2026.


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