Guide to the Loire regions

Côte Roannaise

Grower Profiles

Domaine Robert Sérol
It is difficult not to draw comparisons between Robert Sérol and Georges Duboeuf in the Beaujolais. Apart from the obvious fact that Gamay is the common theme here, both are come the same generation and whilst each descends from a line of vignerons, both are essentially self-made (Duboeuf established his dynasty in 1964 and is now responsible for around 30 million bottles a year) and the style of their wines, built on a foundation of carbonic maceration, is essentially the same. The comparison stops, thankfully, in that the Sérol’s have not been racked by the scandal that has seen the crown of the so called ‘King of Beaujolais’ slip over the past few years following the court case in 2006 which found Duboeuf guilty of illegally cross-blending of vintages. 

Robert Sérol (that trilby, incidentally is a permanent fixture; I suspect he probably sleeps in it) joined his father in 1971, the vineyards here were once part of the local Plasse dynasty which dates back to the 18th Century; the Sérols being distant relatives of Jacques Plasse and the family Vial, although the Plasse name itself was lost as it passed down the maternal line.

Prior to Robert’s arrival, all of the wines were sold en-vrac (although evidence of some older labels, which are to be found framed in their office, suggests that wasn’t necessarily always the case) and the domaine was a mixed culture farm with its own herd of Charolais cattle. In his first vintage the young Robert sold his first 1,200 bottles of Roannaise red and rosé, and this being the starting point of today’s business. Success was not quick to come, however, and surprisingly it was only in 1994 that Robert was able to give up his polycultural activities and devote himself totally to the vine. Stéphane joined his father in 1996 after a stage with Georges Dubouef and gaining experience (and learning to speak English) at the Miranda Estate in the Barossa Valley. A new, purpose built cellar with a bank of concrete tanks was erected in 1999.

The family have built up their vineyard holdings over the past thirty-odd years and now own 12 hectares and rent another nine. With a total of 20 hectares, this means that they effectively are responsible for one in ten bottles that is produced within the appellation, yet despite their size, they laudably harvest everything by hand. Their own vineyards are Burgundian style, high density plantings of 9,000 to 10,000 vines per hectare situated in the lieu-dits of Les Estinaudes, La Croix Saint-Paul, La Judée and Les Murons, with the oldest gobelet trained vines being over 85 years of age. Since 2004 they have started to convert all of their vineyards to organic farming methods that should see them fully certified in time for the 2011 harvest. Whilst Gamay is the centre of their world, Stéphane planted 0.6 hectares of Viognier for Vin de Pays in 2007.

As already mentioned, the Sérol wines are some of the most modern in the appellation, with the winemaking centred on various adaptations of carbonic maceration. This invariably involves cultured yeast ferments, with the L2056 ‘Côtes du Rhône’ strain being their primary choice, although they are on the verge of branching out with one new cuvée (see below) that enjoys a spontaneous ferment. During vinification, the wines are generally pumped over twice a day, and then raised for between three and six months before release.

The Sérol’s rosé is made in two styles: one sold as Vin de Pays d’Urfé (called ‘Enjôleur’) due to the fact that it retains some residual sugar, whilst the other, labelled ‘Cabochard’, is made is fermented dry. From 2008 there will be seven different red wines produced. Not bad, for a winery that promotes a single winemaking style: ‘Les Originalles’ is produced from young vines and designed for early drinking. ‘Les Vieilles Vignes’ is from vineyards which are, on average, 40 to 50 years old. ‘Les Blondins’ is the wine produced from the two hectare vineyard owned by Pierre Troisgros and Robert Sérol (see separate entry). ‘Cuvée Troisgros’ is a selection made by Jean-Jacques Banchet, the sommelier at Maison Troisgros. Sérol first started selling wine to the restaurant in 1978 and have bottled a separate cuvée every year since 1986; the wine basically conforms to the same style as the ‘Vieilles Vignes’. ‘Les Millerands’ takes its name after the small berry selection that is used. The wine is raised in a single stainless steel tank and receives a more traditional fermentation in that around 70% of bunches are destemmed, with the must undergoing a five day cold pre-fermentation maceration. ‘Les Douelles’, as the name (the staves) suggests, is their barrel aged cuvée. Thankfully, only five barrels are produced a year for sales from the cellar door. One gets the impression that the Sérols bottle this out of obligation rather than choice. In 2008 there is a new red cuvee called ‘Incorruptible’ which is their first step towards an organic release. The wine is fermented and raised in stainless steel using indigenous yeasts and without recourse to sulphur dioxide or chaptalisation. 

The 2008 vintage sees the first release of cleverly named ‘Turbullent’, a sparkling rosé produced from Gamay. Their version, of which there are now several within the region, carries 45g/l of residual sugar and 6.5% alcohol. It has a very clean, fresh, apple-like palate and is deliciously dangerous. They produced 5,500 bottles this year and I think this has the potential to be a run-away success.  

Few can argue that Robert Sérol has done more than any other grower in the past thirty years to raise the awareness of the Côte Roannaise appellation. His name commands respect, even if it simultaneously evokes some petty jealousy among his peers. His strong association with the family Troisgros has only increased his international recognition and it certainly will not have done his reputation any harm. How representative his wines might be of the appellation as a whole is a different question, but whatever one thinks about the style, there can be no doubt that these are excellent examples of their type. Every wine region needs its ambassador and Robert Sérol is every bit worthy of this title.  

Robert and Stéphane Sérol
Les Estinaudes
T: + 33 4 77 64 44 04
F: + 33 4 77 62 10 87

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