Guide to the Loire regions


Grower Profiles

Jérôme and François Billard

Domaine de la Noblaie

Domaine de la Noblaie was established in 1800s, although its vaulted cellar and a vat hewn directly out of the limestone are believed to date from between the 12th and 15th Centuries. During the 1500s, it was a refuge for the Knights Templars who also left their legacy in the name of the lieux-dit of Les Blancs Manteaux. The modern day history dates back to 1952 when the abandoned five hectare vineyard and property was purchased by Pierre Manzagol who, like René Couly (of Couly-Dutheil fame) had migrated to Touraine from the Corrèze dèpartement in the Auvergne. Manzagol produced his first three barrels of wine in the 1953 vintage. In 1968, Pierre's daughter, Madeleine, married François Billard, who went on to become the first professor of oenology at the lycée viticole in Montreuil-Bellay whilst simultaneously running the Domaine de la Noblaie (where he produced a single red, white and rosé).

The couple were joined by their son, Jérôme in 2003 who, following his studies, spent a year gaining experience at Château Petrus in Pomerol and Dominus in Napa (no doubt working the Moueix-Auvergne connection) as well as working a stage in Hawkes Bay in 2003. Immediately upon his arrival, this dynamic young man began to revolutionise the domaine, recognising the properties of specific parcels of vineyards, vinifying the wines by the age of the vines, as well as beginning the process of converting farming methods to organic ideals. 

Spring in Le Vau Breton

There are now a total of 21 hectares of vines of which five hectares are rented from local, retired vignerons. Centred on the pretty hamlet of Le Vau Breton, the vines are no more than one kilometre away from the cellar yet fall across four communal boundaries. Land owned by the family that is not suitable for viniculture is rented out to a local farmer for growing organic vegetables. Currently, there are 17 hectares of Cabernet Franc and a further 4ha of Chenin; the oldest of which were planted in 1953 by Pierre Manzagol, although young Jérôme states that there is no shortage of older vines becoming available with the retirement of older growers and a distinct lack of interest from the next generation. 

The range of wines starts with two bottle fermented sparkling wines, a white and a rosé, both made from Cabernet Franc and spend a minimum of 18 months on their lees. The Goutte de Rosé is produced from young vines situated in less well exposed sites and harvested around 15 days in advance of the red wines. Produced by pressurage direct and bottled under Stelvin (screwcap), it account for a very significant 30% of the total production. 

Domaine de la Noblaie has enjoyed a reputation for the quality of its white wines since the 1950s. There are two examples produced: La Noblaie is raised in tank and bottled early (without any malo-lactic fermentation) to preserve its freshness, although the wine is capable of extended ageing (a 1989 tasted in April 2011 was still in excellent condition). The second, La Part des Anges, contains an element of botrytis affected fruit, harvested over three passages, which is fermented and aged in barrel for a period of 12 to 18 months, where it also undergoes malo-lactic fermentation. This is much more modern in style and needs some refining. 

There are a total of four different red wines, starting with the generic La Noblaie which comes from two parcels of 25 to 30 year old vines. The wine is raised in tank and targeted for those who like their Chinon young and fresh. Les Chiens Chiens takes its name from the lieu-dit although no one locally knows the origin of unusual title. The vineyards here are around 45 years old and the resulting wine is raised in five year old 400 to 600 litre casks. Similarly, Les Blancs Manteaux also takes its name from a specific parcel. The vines here are 65 years old, with the wine being raised for 18 months in barrel. 

The 'Pierre du Tuf' vat, hewn direct out of the limestone sometime around the 14th Century

Finally, the Pierre du Tuf could claim to be the most original wine produced in the Chinon appellation. The cuvée takes its name from an elliptical 70 hectolitre vat that was hewn directly out of the limestone around 600 years ago. The vat accomodates the same 2.5 hectare parcel of 70 year old vines each vintage, with Jérôme producing his first Pierre du Tuf in the year he returned to the domaine. Despite the fact that limestone is porous, Billard claims that the tartrates form a natural seal between the stone and the wine. The handing is pretty much the same as one could have imagined it during the lifetime of Rabelais in the 16th Century. The resulting wine is drained off from the tank by gravity and raised in older barrels. 

Along with Nicolas Grosbois, I think Jérôme Billard is one of the most exciting new talents to emerge from the Chinon appellation in the past decade, although it would be fair to say that neither have yet realised their full potential. Billard needs to review and refine his winemaking in order to take himself to the next level. His techniques and style are currently a little heavy-handed and he needs to tone down the extraction, loose some of the influence of wood and concentrate more on achieving more elegant and finesse in his wines. He also needs to eliminate some of the usual faults, the subject of which I have already raised in my general overview of the appellation. I am sure it will come; the 2009s I tasted in early 2011 (which at the time had not been released) were very promising, but one also has to take into account the quality of the vintage. His 2008s in bottle, showed precisely where improvements could be made. 

I very much look forward to seeing how Billard and his wines progress.

Jérôme Billard
Domaine de la Noblaie
21, Rue des Haules Cours
Le Vau Breton

T: + 33 2 47 93 10 96
F: + 33 2 47 93 26 13

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