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1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

2001: Le Prix Champagne Lanson Ivory Award for

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2011: Robert M. Parker, Jnr: ‘This blogger...’:

2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Upper Loire wanderings: day 5: Robert Sérol and Domaine du Fontenay

12 August 2009

Another full day in the Côte Roannaise with a walk in the morning and a visit in the afternoon to Domaine Robert Sérol (Renaison) and then a look at the Domaine du Fontenay's vines with Simon Hawkins followed by a tasting.

Up in the hills between Cherier and La Croix Trevingt

Randonnée: Circuit from La Croix Trevingt to Gué de la Chaux and back. This time we started far higher up, although it was still a good stiff climb in parts up to the Gué de la Chaux and at around 11km rather longer than the previous day's walk. All in a landscape that is a world away from the vineyards of the Côte Roannaise only a few kilometres away.

Closed hotel@La Croix Trevingt: a small, rather drab mountain hamlet that has seen better days

Lots of these red berries during the walk plus some delicious wild raspberries

Direction sign in the woods

Domaine Robert Sérol, Renaison

Sign at the entrance to the domaine

With 21 hectares of Gamay, Robert Sérol is one of the largest producers in the small Côte Roannaise appellation with its total of around 220 hectares of vines. Planted on granite soils, this is a considerable increase on 1990 when there were only some 60 hectares in production. Like most of the wine regions of France the current area under vine is only a small vestige of the production just prior to the arrival of phylloxera in the late 19th century. In 1788 there were 4800 ha in the Haute-Loire départment with 7349 ha in 1880-1889 decade marking the high point but never anything like as significant as the neighbouring Puy-de-Dôme départment – 34,293 ha planted in the same decade.*

The Côte Roannaise vineyards are mainly planted on the lower foothills of the Monts de la Madeleine that rise up steeply from the Loire Valley. Prior to promotion from VDQS status to AC in 1994, this was called the Côtes Roannaises as there were vines to the east of Roanne. The appellation is now confined to 14 communes to the west of Roanne from La Pacaudière in the north to Bully in the south. However, the main vineyards lie either side of the North-South D8 road centred on the small market town of Renaison. Gamay is the only permitted variety for the appellation. Renaison is only just over 70 kilometres by road from Quincie-en-Beaujolais in the heart of the Beaujolais and probably around 60 km in a direct line.

Unusually for the Upper Loire the Côte Roannaise has no cooperative unlike the Côtes de Forez and Saint-Pourçain where the coops are the dominant force. In the Côtes d'Auvergne the Cave Saint-Verny is a significant player.

The Sérol vines by the house and the winery

The Sérol domaine, which has vines in the communes of Renaison, Saint-Haon and Saint-André, is now run by Stéphane and Carine but it was Robert Sérol, Stéphane's father, who really established the domaine. Although the Sérol family have been involved in viticulture and wine since 1700, it was Robert who in 1970 first bottled their wine. At that time they had two hectares of vines. Doubtless Robert's association with Pierre Troisgros, the famous chef of Roanne's three star Michelin Troisgros restaurant, helped and has made this domaine probably the best known of the appellation. There is a special cuvée – Cuvée Troisgros – that is selected for the restaurant from the oldest vines as well as a small parcel of old vines (1.89 ha) that is now in conversion to organic viticulture. The oldest vines here are 90 years old. Next to these vines Stéphane has recently planted some Viognier that will give their first crop this year. Like Simon Hawkins (Domaine du Fontenay) the Sérols feel the need for some diversification: they have also recently launched three rosés including a sparkling méthode ancestrale.

Carine and Stéphane Sérol with a bottle of their Incorruptible

With the exception of the Troisgros parcel, the vineyard culture follows la lutte raisonnée (Terra Vitis). They use a mix of grassing over and contact weedkiller but no insecticides and Bordeaux mixture (copper sulphate) to control fungal diseases like mildew. Everything is is hand harvested and in their well-equipped winery there is a mix of cement and stainless steel vats. About 90% of their reds are made using semi-carbonic fermentation. Generally cultured yeasts are used but the Sérols have a new wine called Incorruptible, which is fermented using indigenous yeasts.

Ripening Gamay (above and below)

We started the tasting with the supple, soft and peary 2008 Cabochard Rosé, which is 50% direct pressing and 50% saignée (bleeding a red wine vat). We had already drunk a half bottle of this at a restaurant on Monday night and been impressed. This is an attractive rosé and for 4.10€ retail at the domaine is certainly good value. Next the easy drinking 2008 Les Originelles, bottled in batches between December and April following the harvest, this is the classic Côte Roannaise style, similar to straight Beaujolais. A vin de soif with cherry, blackcurrant flavours to be drunk and enjoyed young. Then onto the more weighty 2008 Les Vieilles Vignes 4.80€ (vines more than 30 years old). Next the blackberry, soft, ripe and long Troisgros Cuvée from vines of 60 years or more.

We moved onto 2008 Les Blondins, which is the vineyard they have in association with Peirre Troisgros and is in organic conversion – due to get its label in 2010. We tried two bottles. The first, although it had concentration, was rather dumb. The second was better but still this 2008 needs another six to 12 months in bottle to really show its paces. 2007 Les Millerands, 70% destemmed with 11 months in vat, has structure, black fruits and good length. Probably needs a little more time in bottle – otherwise I'd stick it into a carafe.

My preferred wine – the concentrated 2008 Incorruptible – followed. Although it has good, rich, powerful blackberry fruit, it is well-balanced and long. We finished with 2008 Les Douelles, which spends nine months in barrels from Burgundy that have seen four lots of Rully Blanc through them. Only six barrels of this wine is made and it can only be bought at the domaine. Only bottled yesterday there is sweet fruit here along with wood spice but it needs a little time to settle down in bottle.

Today's vigneron is always on call...........

From the tasting you can see why Robert Sérol is one of the leading producers in the Côte Roannaise. However, although the seven different cuvées of red may well make commercial sense, I'm not convinced that in terms of tasting this number of different cuvées are really warranted.

Some vintage car enthusiasts arriving to buy wine

Advance warning: 20th December 2009: Portes Ouvertes

Domaine Robert Sérol,
Les Estainaudes, 42370 Renaison
Tel: Email:

Domaine du Fontenay

Simon Hawkins in his vineyard at Saint-Sulpice

* Figures taken from Marcel Lachiver Vins, vignes et vignerons.

Report on Domaine de Fontenay will now appear here

(Report on day 4 is now complete.)


Anonymous said...

Jim.....completely off topic but do you see a lot of butterflies in this area?

Nature geek Bob here!

Jim's Loire said...

I'm afraid I didn't notice a lot of butterflies as I was concentrating on walking. There were certainly plenty of flies when you stopped.

Chris Piper said...

Hi Jim,

Stéphane Sérol worked three harvests for me as stagière in the winery at Château des Tours (Brouilly)when I was making its wines in the mid-1990's.He was a bright individual and very proud of what his father had achieved. What are the Sérol wines like today - I'd love to know...?


Jim's Loire said...

Chris. Thanks for this. Will write the visit shortly.

Chris Piper said...

Jim, thanks for your tasting notes on the Sérol wines. Very interesting all round! As a result of your blog, Stéphane has been in touch with me here in Beaujolais and we are exchanging notes. By the way, 2009 is the best vintage (in Beuaujolais) I've seen since 1976!


Jim's Loire said...

Hi Chris. Pleased to hear that Beaujolais is looking good this year and interested to hear that Stéphane has been in touch.