to the Loire regions
Jérôme Lenoir in the ancient Chenin
Alain et Jérôme Lenoir
Roches was acquired by Alain Lenoir's father in 1955. He purchased the
house (a former convent) and its land as a mixed farming operation. At the
time, there was just one are of vines planted, with the grapes
primarily vinified for home consumption. Typical of mid-20th Century
France, the Lenoir's lived off the land, raising a few animals and growing
vegetables and cereals. To supplement the family's income, Alain's father,
a trained hairdresser, created a commercial hotel and restaurant (the sort
that appeals to travelling salesmen) in nearby Avoine.
Today, Les Roches is run on a day-to-day basis by Alain's son, the quiet
but confident Jérôme, a fit-looking 30-something with intense blue eyes,
who started working with his father in 2001. Although he spent a year
studying at Montreuil-Bellay he claims to have no winemaking diploma.
During the course of our meeting, Alain (also a part-time hairdresser who
continues to run the family hotel 'Les Roches' with his wife) makes an
appearance, as does Jérôme's partner and their two small children.
Alaine and Jérôme joke that the only diplomas held between the three
generations are for hairdressing rather than viniculture.
With just four hectares of vines this is a tiny operation, yet one that is
unique in Chinon - if not the Loire as a whole. Although not certified
organic, Jérôme claims that they work by these principles and everything
here is hand harvested - the vineyards are in fact so close to the cellar,
boxes of grapes could be delivered directly to the press on foot if
necessary. The cave is literally a cavern extracted out of the tuf
during the 15th and 16th Centuries and located immediately below the
vineyard - itself part of the lieu-dit of Les Picasses. The
Cabernet Franc vines are between 60 and 70 years old, whilst the 25 ares
of Chenin are certainly centenarians, planted on their own roots and
propagated by marcottage or layering; they are believed to be the
oldest examples of the variety in the appellation.
Blanc propagated by marcottage
winemaking process is ultra-traditional; unchanged in six decades.
Vinification relies solely on indigenous yeasts, no sulphur dioxide used
during the fermentation process, with the red wines receiving an extended
ageing (at least 3 years and potentially six) in ancient foudres, many of
which are well over 50 years old. In addition to the long élevage
in cask, the bottled wines receive a further six months at least in bottle
before release. Unlike their peers. the Lenoir's produce just a single red
wine cuvée each year (there is just 3.5 hectares after all), one Chinon
Blanc (which receives between 12 and 15 months ageing in the same old
wood) and 4 and 5hl of rosé each vintage.
A visit to Les Roches should be high on the itinerary of any visitor to
Chinon regardless of what tasters may ultimately think about the wines.
Critics state the obvious; that the wines are too earthy and dried out by
the wood by the time they are committed to bottle. Having tasted through
the range of wines twice with Jérôme during the first quarter of 2011,
the family were still offering vintages from between 2001 and 2007 for
sale (the current vintage release of the Chinon Blanc being 2007 at the
time), I can confirm that these are controversial wines and not to
everyone's taste. I do think the wines have lost some of their charm (and
obvious fruit) from the extended ageing, but they are what they are and I
can't see the Lenoir's changing their formula anytime soon. Our tasting at
the cellar finished with Jérôme opening a bottle of the great 1989
vintage, made by his father. It was excellent, elegant, full of charm with
plenty of life left in it. There may be no diplomas awarded for their
winemaking prowess, but these are individual and unique wines, worthy of
A lovely family too.
et Jérôme Lenoir
Caves Les Roches
19 Rue d'Isoré
+ 33 2 47 58 40 09
+ 33 2 47 58 93 97
F: + 33 2 47 58 97 57