Another stellar example of outstanding Chenin and Cabernet Franc from Saumur to be excited about. If the Foucault brothers of Clos Rougeard are the pioneers and forefathers of biodynamic viticulture in Anjou-Saumur, then Thierry Germain is surely the talented son who has inherited their vision and taken it to new heights. His wines have gained a similar cult status owing to the meticulous work in the vineyards that can almost be called obsessive. It is said that even the 3 Michelin Star chefs around France have strict allocations, a testament to the tiny production versus the extraordinary demand for his wines.
Germain relocated from Bordeaux to the Loire Valley in the early 1990s, and took over this humble estate in 1991 with a vision to produce the ultimate expression of Chenin and Cabernet Franc. Inspired by the late Charlie Foucault of Clos Rougeard, he converted his estate to biodynamics in 2005 and the effects have only begun to show in recent years as Germain says. Along with the switch to biodynamics, his style of wines has also undergone a steady evolution overtime, moving on from his punchy and oaky Bordeaux styled Cabernet Francs towards a style that is a more elegant and balanced. More importantly, he is also driving down the alcohol in his wines, picking earlier, saying that his grandfather would tell him in the past that “a great Cabernet Franc is ripe at 11.5%”.
Ultra low yields, average of 30 and some 15 hl/ha, coupled with “hands-off” elevage is what he does best. And by hands off, he really means it. He says he is “against vignerons who cultivate their own yeasts. Each year brings a different selection and that marks the vintage”. Therefore only natural yeasts are used, and very minimal sulphur, hardly ever more than 2 grams per litre. “I don’t go to zero but the more sulphur you put in, the more you lose the life of a wine. If you get it right in the vineyard you don’t need sulphur. A living wine doesn’t oxidise”, a nod to his biodynamic viticulture. But that doesn’t mean he is complacent about oxidation as all his wines are bottled sous vide (under a vacuum). And the results show clearly in his wines which for the Cabernets show great purity and finesse whilst avoiding any rustic vegetal notes.
Among his vineyards, his most treasured must be a purchase made in 2011. A small 0.8 hectare plot of Cabernet Franc vines, 110 years old. Most remarkably of all, many of these vines were ungrafted, free of phylloxera, the lousy pest responsible for the destruction of many of Europe’s vines in the 19th Century. It was a vineyard he had his eyes on for some time, and he snapped it up as soon as it became available. The ungrafted vines were important to him, “if you graft you are putting a filter between the roots and the vine” as he says. This parcel tiny parcel is called “Les Memoires”. As Stephen Reinhard puts it, “you don’t need a 2003 vintage to produce world-class Cabernet Franc in the Loire valley––at least if you have vines of a biblical age and a meticulous winemaker like Thierry Germain”.
But his whites should not be overlooked either. The Chenins are equally remarkable, with a tendency to harvest early and retain freshness. These are bone dry, high acid, mineral wines reminiscent of a young elegant Chablis. They come from a single parcel of 80 year old vines and are fermented in 400 litre oval Austrian wooden tanks which follow ageing in 1, 2 and 3 year old barrels. This is dry Chenin that has been compared to a Grand Cru Cote de Beaune. But at these prices, whether you are looking 110 year old ungrafted Cabernet or one of the most complex dry Chenins you can find, they will surely be a pleasant surprise!
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