Guide to the Loire regions


Grower Profiles

Jérôme Lenoir in the ancient Chenin Blanc vineyard

Alain et Jérôme Lenoir

Les 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.

Chenin Blanc propagated by marcottage

The 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 attention. 

A lovely family too.  

Alain et Jérôme Lenoir
Caves Les Roches
19 Rue d'Isoré

T: + 33 2 47 58 40 09
T: + 33 2 47 58 93 97
F: + 33 2 47 58 97 57

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