A Visit to Domaine de la Noblaie, 2018

My first ever visit to meet Jérôme Billard at Domaine de la Noblaie was only a couple of years ago, and it is testament to this young vigneron’s dynamism that so much has changed here since. At the time Jérôme was living in Cinais, a little village on the left bank of the Vienne, just downstream of Chinon. From there he would commute to the domaine each morning, and back home again at the end of the day. At the domaine there stood his grandparents old house, unlived in, and covered in a rather drab and fading render, as well as the usual offices, cellar, tasting room and so on. But Jérôme, it turned out, had plans…..

Of course, like any good vigneron, Jérôme’s first concern was not for the house or office, but for the vines. Jérôme came back to work at the family domaine in 2003 after some stints elsewhere in the world, most notably with the Moueix family (both the Moueix and the Billard-Manzagol clan share Corrèzian origins) in Pomerol and the Napa Valley. The first thing he did was begin the conversion of the vineyards to organic viticulture; he started with just 1 hectare, but by 2008 the entire domaine, all 24 hectares of it, was organic.

“It is only now that this work in the vineyard is beginning to show through in the quality of the wines”, says Jérôme, a full ten years after beginning the conversion. This is not the first time I have heard something like this; it might take only three years to obtain organic certification, but I recall Jo Paillé, Romain Guiberteau and others telling me it more like eight-to-ten years before you see a difference in the health of the vines and the wines themselves. Jérôme was even more cautious. “You need ten-to-fifteen years for the effects to show”, he told me. “Although I feel I found my style in the 2010 vintage, I would say I was truly proud of my wines only from the 2014 vintage onwards”. Jérôme, I feel, sets himself some very high standards.

Domaine de la Noblaie

With his own viticultural revolution underway, Jérôme and his father turned his attention to their cellars, building new facilities at the foot of the vineyard. This has, no doubt, also helped him raise the quality of his wines. Then came some more recent projects, which I have hinted at in my opening paragraph. He had all the tired old render removed from the house, and repointed the buttermilk-yellow limestone that lay beneath; it now exhibits a glistening facade that would not look out of place next to Château Pavie in St Emilion (albeit rather more modest in size, with less gilt), but here it is on the back roads of Chinon. Inside the house was refurbished and modernised, Jérôme and his family subsequently moving in, selling their little house in Cinais. Jérôme now wakes up each morning to a view across an undulating landscape of lush, green, organically managed vines. I have to admit I am more than a little bit jealous.

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