At its very best there is no doubt that Savennières is one of France’s great white wines. While there are entry-level styles often from the vines planted on the higher and more sandy soils, those from the vineyards where the bedrock lies close to the surface, often closer to the river, can yield superb wines of minerality, energy and purity. Finding these wines of course requires some knowledge, of appellation, vigneron and vineyard, but there is at least one clue that can help you on the way.
One of two crus which were recognised when the Savennières appellation was first signed off in 1952, the vineyards of the Roche-aux-Moines have long given fans of Chenin Blanc something to smile about. This was eventually recognised in 2011 when the Savennières appellation was overhauled, carving out any mention of the two crus which were subsequently each awarded their own appellation, Savennières Roche-aux-Moines that same year, with Coulée de Serrant following suit a few years later. In this instalment of my guide I begin with an examination of the Savennières Roche-aux-Moines appellation which, with just 35 hectares eligible for the appellation (a significant percentage of which remains unplanted even today), is one of the smallest mainstream appellations in the entire Loire Valley.
I have already presented a detailed history of the Savennières Roche-aux-Moines and Coulée-de-Serrant vineyards, right up to the dawn of the 19th century when both of these crus were in the possession of the noble Serrant family. At about this time it seems likely that the histories of these two vineyards diverge, bringing them through the hands of a variety of proprietors to modern times. It is perhaps unsurprising, with 35 hectares of land to its name (several times the size of the Coulée de Serrant vineyards), to find the ownership of the Roche-aux-Moines vineyards becoming particularly fragmented during more recent times.
Today there are close to a dozen different proprietors working the soils of the Savennières Roche-aux-Moines appellation. By far the largest part – perhaps a quarter – is in the hands of Tessa Laroche of the appropriately named Domaine aux Moines. By 1928 these vineyards had come into the possession of the Benz (as in Mercedes Benz) family, before coming to Roger Faure and then the Laroche family. Another very significant landlord was the wealthy Brincard family of Château de la Bizolière, which sits of land on the plateau above the vineyards. Today the Brincards have a ghost-like presence in both the Savennières Roche-aux-Moines and broader Savennières appellations; the family withdrew from viticulture and winemaking many years ago, although they still own many vines, which they rent out to numerous growers.