Guide to the Loire regions

Côtes du Forez

Grower Profiles


Daniel Mondon

Christiane et Daniel Mondon et Laurent Demeure
This ancient Forézien farm situated at the southern end of the Forez plain probably qualifies as the southern-most wine producer in the whole of the Loire (river rather than just département). Brothers Fernand and Daniel Mondon established Gaec du Pic in 1974 and were as much dairy farmers as vignerons until they elected to put all their efforts into viticulture in 2002, withdrawing from the co-operative at the same time. They were joined by Daniel’s wife, Christiane, a year later and when Fernand chose to retire in 2006, they bought in the young (and obviously hard working and talented) Laurent Demeure as a winemaking partner.

They started out with just two hectares but have a made it their business to go searching out parcels of lost varieties, including hybrids, and have managed to create an entire business out of making micro-cuvées of some fairly bizarre yet interesting wines. As it stands, they now work 6.5 hectares of vines situated in seven communes around their makeshift winery in Fontvial.

Whilst they do produce one wine under the Côtes du Forez appellation (which accounts for about 20% of their production), the primary objective of the Mondon-Demeure partnership is to focus on the obscure. During my tasting of their wines in their converted cow shed I counted six Vin de Pays d’Urfé wines (which accounts for a further 60% of production), plus a dozen different Vin de Table (20%). 

Their highly complex structure of wines breaks down to plantings of the following varieties: 1.0ha Chardonnay, 2.5ha Viognier( grown on the slopes of the Pic de Saint-Romain), 1.2ha Gamay (for appellation and Vin de Pays Rosé, plus straw wine), 0.3ha Syrah, 0.2ha Merlot and 1.2ha of assorted hybrids, including Noah, Rava 6, Seibel 7053 (aka Chancellor and in the 1940s was the most widely planted hybrid in France), Seibel 54/55 (aka Plantet) and Baco Noir. Their first harvested of Baco was during the 2009 vintage, from grapes sourced from vineyard 800 metres up on the slopes of the Monts du Forez. Seibel 54/55 is a red variety, which Mondon believes is good for rosé but only capable of making mediocre red wines. Apart from rosé, they use it to make straw wine and ice wine. The Rava 6 is a floral and aromatic variety apparently much loved by the local bird and deer population, and is sourced from a parcel of vines in Marcilly-le-Châtel. There are also some experimental micro-plantings of Marsanne, Cabernet, Sauvignon and even Mondeuse.

The cellar was constructed in 2003 and is more a make-over of stone barns where a vast array of small stainless steel and fibre-glass tanks have been assembled. Away from the main cellar is a separate vaulted chai which is used for raising the oak-aged wines. Bottling is done using a mobile truck that arrives from a firm in the Beaujolais .

Their production now rests at around 40,000 bottles a year, with all the labels designed by Philippe Louisgrand, Director of the L’École Beaux Arts de Saint-Étienne. They sell an impressive 60% of their production from the cellar door, but are also well distributed around France and can be found on the carte of several Michelin lauded restaurants, including Troisgros, Alain Ducasse and Emmanuel Hodencq in Clermont-Ferrand. My own visit coincided with that of the young sommelier of Restaurant Pic in Valence, who had made a pilgrimage to the Forez to see this particular supplier. 

WINES :
Hold tight for a brief run down of the complex range of wines produced, starting with their sole release under the appellation.

Côtes du Forez Rouge Charactère
From 30-80 year old Gamay vines. The grapes are whole bunch pressed to allow for a semi-carbonique fermentation and a 20 day cuvaison at 25 degrees centigrade. The final wine is a blend of free run and press juice.

There then follows half-a-dozen wines sold as Vin de Pays d’Urfé:

Rosé Demi-Sec ‘D’Autrefois’
Is a low alcohol (10%) wine and made exclusively from Gamay. It endures a long, slow fermentation which is stopped when the wine reaches around 30 g/l residual sugar. The resulting wine is facile, short and something of a disappointment. 

Cuvée La Diana
Is from the Viognier vines at the top of the Pic de Saint-Romain. The grapes are picked slightly under ripe and allowed a long vinification in tank at a low temperature (15 degrees centigrade). The 2008 shows good varietal character, but any sense of minerality is lost behind the ripeness and phenolic element of the wine.

Cuvée de Nuyts
Is named after the wine produced by the inhabitants of Saint-Romain-Le-Puy in the 13th Century, although its colour and variety used at the time remains a mystery. The 2008 is made from Chardonnay and retains some residual sugar, the wine being cold fermented at 15 degrees Centigrade for 30 days and raised on its lees in tank.

Cuvée Aldebertus
Is a second cuvée of Viognier from the vines in Saint-Romain-le-Puy and it takes its name from the first monk to taste the fruits of the vines he planted on the volcanic slope in the early 11th Century. It too is picked slightly under-ripe and fermented at low temperature, although the resulting wine is fatter and with higher alcohol (13%). The 2008 retained some residual sugar and although appears bone dry is rich and concentrated but also a little fatiguing.

Cuvée Thomas
Is produced from Gamay from outside of the Côtes du Forez appellation.

(100%) Syrah
From a 0.3ha parcel planted on a south facing slope on very deep granite rich soils in Saint-Marcellin-en-Forez in 2004. The first vintage was in 2007. It receives a three week cuvaison at 25 degrees centigrade and then raised in two year old barriques from November to the following September.

VIN DE TABLE

Rosé Sec - Authentique
Produced from Seibel 54/55 and fermented at a low temperature for 30 days.

Cuvée Rav Par Six
Is produced from hybrid Rava 6 and is a micro-cuvée of 600 litres and raised for four months in barrel.

Pensée Libre
Literally ‘free thinking’, this is produced from Seibel 7053 (Chancellor) from vines planted in 1922 in the commune of Lavieu at 700 metres altitude. It receives a whole bunch ferment for 12 days at 30 degrees centigrade before being raised in three year old barrels for nine months.

Boutonnière
An equal blend of Gamay with hybrid’s, including Noah, Baco, Rayon d’Or, Seibel 55/54 and Seibel 7053 from vines planted at 700 metres altitude. The resulting wine is passed through three year old oak and appears to have attained cult status within the three star Michelin sommelier fraternity. I tasted the 2008 vintage (although as a Vin de Table it is not officially declared on the label). The appearance is polished and deep, primary ruby red. The nose and palate distinctly wild and ‘animal’ with a fine thread of acidity running through the palate. Well balanced, elegant and quite fine.

Bacchus
Is from a 0.2ha parcel of Merlot planted in Saint-Marcellin-en-Forez in 2004, in the same site as the Syrah. The grapes are picked late with good ripeness, although the yields are weak at less than 30hl/ha. The wine receives a 15 day cuvaison at 28 degrees centigrade and then aged for nine months in three year old fûts.

Cuvée Bacco Noir
400 litre tank from vines that range between 50 and 100 years old. The grapes are whole bunch fermented for three weeks at 22 degrees centigrade and then raised for 4 months in oak.

100% Botrytis
Viognier planted on the piton of basalt at Saint-Romain-le-Puy. The grapes are left until totally botytised and then pressed immediately after picking. Fermentation takes until July to complete. The finished result is around 13% alcohol with approximately 40g/l of residual sugar.

Tchalande
From the same parcel of Viognier. The leaves are lifted to allow the grapes to sundry on the vine and then harvested in mid November once the berries have dried to a potential alcohol of 20% plus. The ferment is slow, often taking until the following August to complete. Only 300 litres are produced.


 
Berries drying on beds of straw

Cuvée Clunya Rouge, Vin de Paille
From 50 year old Gamay planted on granite which are picked before full maturity arrives and then left to dry on straw for 90 days. The berries are then pressed immediately and the fermentation takes around eight months to complete. Only 300 litres produced.

Cuvée Clunya, Vin de Paille
Produced from Seibel 54/55 harvested 15 days after full maturity has been achieved. It then rests on straw for 60 days in an open sided hut. After pressing, the fermentation can take many months to complete, often resting for two years in barrel. The wine I tasted had around 60g/l residual sugar (there was no vintage stated, although the bottle stated ‘ Lot 7’ indicating 2007). The resulting wine has a pale appearance and a strange but complex rancio nose that is reminiscent of an old Rivesaltes. The palate shows obvious sweetness, although it is balanced by striking and almost crunchy acidity.

La Vigne du Meunier, Vin de Glace
Is a red ice wine produced from Seibel 54/55 that were planted in 1960. The grapes are harvested after the first frosts (usually around the last week of November) when the temperature descends below minus seven degrees and after the grapes have attained a potential alcohol of 16.5%. The berries are lightly pressed over a period of 15 days and then allowed to ferment until Spring in fût. The resulting wine carries around 15% alcohol, 18g/l of total acidity and 15 g/l residual sugar. The result is an intense and complex, if high toned wine, with a clean and crisp finish and a cranberry-like acidity that makes the wine appear bone dry. 

Jus de Lie Viognier
The free run juice of Viognier is separated out and chilled to clear and the aged for a year in barrel. It is referred to as either ‘Nectar’ or ‘Essence of Viognier’. The result is a high alcohol wine of great concentration, although also a little phenolic.

Wine Overview :
Tasting with Daniel Mondon is like the vinous equivalent of a roller coaster ride, as wines are poured quickly whilst simultaneously masses of interesting facts and information are being thrown about. It’s hard to keep up and concentrate on everything that’s going on whilst trying to take notes and taste the wines sufficiently to do them justice.

There is experimentation galore here, most of which appears for the sake of experimentation alone as results are hit and miss. As intriguing to the wine-bore as this might all seem, this is in the end completely esoteric stuff, coming at the tail-end of one of the most marginal wine regions of the Loire . On leaving the cellar one ponders the wealth of wines on offer, but start to also question is this really what I set out to seek out and expose in my long quest to demystify the wines of the Loire ? Two hours with Daniel Mondon is a pleasurable if challenging sensory experience, but one that is not going to make the Loire an easier region to understand. For local enthusiasts who make up the majority of Daniel’s customers, I am sure it makes for a pleasurable way to waste an afternoon, but despite the interest (and in some cases, quality), these are not life-changing wines. I do, however, tip my hat to their innovation and pursuit of the obscure.  

Christiane et Daniel Mondon et Laurent Demeure
Gaec du Pic
Fontival
Boisset-Saint-Priest
T/F: + 33 4 77 76 33 30
Fernand.mondon@wanadoo.fr

www.cavemondon.fr

 


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