Guide to the Loire regions

Côte Roannaise

Grower Profiles

Domaine du Fontenay
Born in Kenya, raised in Botswana, educated in England, and a graduate of a Reims business school (which is where he met his future wife, Isabelle). Simon Hawkins looks every bit the ex-pat that he is. After his studies, he entered the world of textiles, living in the US for two years before relocating to Roanne, a centre for cloth manufacturing. It was whilst here that he became interested in wine, making many weekend sorties out onto the côte, which culminated in the couple buying the run down Domaine du Fontenay, with its own private chapel, in 1990. Simon, then 30 years old, spent the next year learning winemaking at the lycée viticole in Macon. For the first few years, Hawkins rented vineyards in various communes along the côte (the vines at Fontenay had been grubbed up in 1965) and made the first few vintages in the cellar of Pascal and Olivier Néron. His first harvest was in 1990 (which still remains his favourite vintage to date). 

Today he works 12 hectares of vines planted both on the Domaine and close to the village of Saint-Alban-les-Eaux. There are 10 hectares of Gamay Beaujolais (rather than Gamay-Saint-Romain which Simon has made wine from before, but thinks is not worthy) which range from three to twenty years old. In addition, he has also established a one hectare plot of Viognier from cuttings bought from Yves Cuilleron in Condrieu, which was harvested for the first time in 2008. A further one hectare of Chardonnay will come into production with the 2009 vintage. Simon is also considering planting some Pinot Gris in the future. The white grapes are harvested by hand whilst the reds are all bought in by machine. Average yields at Fontenay are around 40hl/ha, but extremes over the past decade have seen a low of 11hl/ha (in 2003) and a generous 53hl/ha (in 2000).

The cellar below the house has seen a new lease of life from the 2008 vintage as the first crop of Viognier was fermented in old barrels here. Otherwise, the main red wine production takes place in a building annexed to the house. The grapes are all destemmed (a function of harvesting by machine) before being pressed. Simon has done away with the automatic horizontal press he began with and has reverted to the antiquarian system of a traditional basket press. There is no oak maturation for any of the red wines, so fermentation and ageing take place in enamelled steel tanks. Only indigenous yeasts are used, and there has been no chaptalisation since the 2001 vintage. The wines are either lightly filtered prior to bottling, or in some instances remain unfiltered.

The range of wines here is relatively large for a modest sized domaine, with three separate still rosés produced from the 2008 vintage - a ‘standard’ example, a ‘Tête de Cuvée’ and ‘Quoi de 9˚’ which is picked at a potential alcohol of 9%, with the only colour being obtained direct from the pressing. With the 2007 vintage came another new wine, the low alcohol (8%) ‘7 par Simon Hawkins’, a Méthode Ancestral sparkling rosé made from Gamay with 60g/l of residual sugar. It takes its name from the N7, the main holiday route that traverses Roanne on its way south to the Midi. The wine is classified as a Vin de Table.  

There are four separate red wines, all of which are sold under the appellation. ‘Dans la Tradition’ (also labelled as ‘Gamay Noir’) reflects the traditional style of winemaking in the region and designed for drinking within a couple of years of the vintage. ‘Vigne de Saint-Sulpice’ is from the vines directly in front of the house, grown on decomposed granite at 400 metres altitude. ‘La Reserve du Chanoine’ is dedicated to the priest Etienne Dubost (1794 – 1879) who once owned the domaine, and finally, ‘L’Authentique’, named in celebration of the 11th May 1855 when the Bishop of Lyon came to Fontenay to bless the chapel. This is picked later and at greater levels of ripeness. It is fermented warm with a longer cuvaison to extract more tannin for longevity. The wine is bottled unfiltered.

Hawkins goes to great levels to stress that his wines are not manipulated by the use of synthetic yeasts or by the addition of sugar, and that he harvests with a view to producing wines with much lower alcohols than his peers; his reds in 2007 are below 12%. This invariably does mean that his reds are prone to exhibiting some herbaceous characters. The sparkling Gamay, however, might, along with those from other producers, might help set a new trend in the region.    

Simon Hawkins
Domaine du Fontenay
T: + 33 4 77 63 12 22
F: + 33 4 77 63 15 95

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