Thierry Germain of the Domaine des Roches Neuves has long been an innovative producer. Hailing from Bordeaux he was the first of his family to invest in the Loire Valley to be followed by his father, Bernard, and his brother, Philippe. In 1991 he bought Roches Neuves in Varrains from Denis Duveau, who went to Chile as a consultant.
It now appears that Thierry may have been one of the first in the Loire to produce a PetNat, although this may not have been entirely intentional….
Many years ago – probably in 1998 or late 1997 – I bought a case of Thierry’s 1996 Insolite, AC Saumur Blanc. A little while after buying the case, which was stored in cool conditions, we opened a bottle. To our surprise the wine was distinctly cloudy with a lively fizz. It was clearly refermenting. It wasn’t very pleasant to taste, so most of the bottle went down the sink.
At that time Thierry tended to pick his Chenin Blanc when it was ripe enough to include some botrytis. I can only assume that there was some residual sugar and some yeast, perhaps, that caused a secondary fermentation in bottle. The secondary fermentation must have been quite gentle otherwise the bottle, which is an ordinary wine bottle and not a stronger one designed to cope with a secondary fermentation, would have broken or exploded.
To be fair to Thierry he did immediately offer to replace the case. However, I decided, in part, to see what would happen, and also I couldn’t be arsed to take it back to Saumur even though we are often over there.
Subsequently Thierry has dramatically changed his approach to white wine making looking to pick early to achieve a very taut, precise, linear style.
Over the years we tried another two or three bottles of the 1996 Insolite but it was still cloudy, decidedly fizzy, rather cidery and not a very pleasant beverage.
However, very recently looking at a couple of bottles from those that remain they now appeared to be almost clear and limpid, so time, I thought, to try again.
Last evening we duly opened a bottle. Thierry’s 1996 Saumur Blanc remains slightly cloudy but very noticeably less than it was. The wine is now lightly pétillant rather than being markedly fizzy. 23 years on it is now drinkable with a marked yeasty/autolysis aromas, a touch of honey and a remarkable freshness for a ‘PetNat’ of this age.
Next time I open one of the remaining bottles I think I will decant this Insolite.
Whether Thierry can persuade the INAO to accept a Saumur Blanc PetNat appellation remains to be seen….