The Story

Coulée de Serrant was planted in the 12th Century by Cistercian monks and has remained in vine ever since; as has the old monastery which still stands today. A wealth of history can be felt this special place lying next to the fortress Roche-au-Moines, a site of a key battle in the Anglo-French War of 1214. At this point, the domain was already celebrating its 84th vintage. Coulée de Serrant has always been considered a rare, unique wine consumed at the royal court by Louis XI and Louis XIV.

Louis XI is said to have nicknamed it 'a drop of gold' and Empress Josephine 'loved' the wine according to Dr Maisonneuve & Monseigneur le Vin. Famous French writers such as Alexandre Dumas, Maurice Constantin Weyer are also known to have been fans of these great wines. Today the estate continues to be known for its outstanding wines but is also known for its current custodian - Nicolas Joly - the godfather of biodynamics and his daughter Virginie.

The Joly family-run the 7-hectare estate which is cultivated by hand and by horse overlooking the Loire river. Every aspect of production is intensely considered and wholly natural. Manure comes from a herd of Nantais cows, a race threatened with extinction in 1985. They have been raised on the estate and are fed local natural produce only. In turn, they provide the land with vital fertiliser needed for the biodynamic preparations. Sheep gently graze the vines, snails are removed using chickens, and the minimal amount of ploughing that takes place is done using horses. Herbicides have not been used here for decades, and medicinal plants such as yarrow, chamomile, stinging nettle, oak, dandelion and valerian are used as homoeopathic remedies instead of harmful chemicals.

Watch Nicolas Joly's interview with Little Wine here, where he takes you around his estate and explains his extensive understanding of life and everything that connects us.

Listen to Virginie Joly on Interpreting Wine, by Lawrence Francis.

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"The music is already in the grape…the soil must be allowed to sing it’s song."

- Nicolas Joly

The People

Nicolas & Virginie

Nicolas Joly and Virginie, are perhaps the world's most vocal advocates of biodynamic viticulture. Nicolas has written over numerous books on the subject and regularly holds lectures teaching people worldwide. His website is a further resource of information explaining biodynamic techniques for anyone who wants to go deeper on the subject. But Nicolas didn't always have a life connected to nature. He started his career as an investment banker for J.P. Morgan in New York and London but left banking in 1977 to take over his family's wine estate - Château de la Roche aux Moines (known today as a Clos de la Coulée de Serrant).

Run conventionally like most wine estates of that time, Nicolas explains that his change of tack came down to a book that he picked up by biodynamics founder Rudolf Steiner that profoundly explains why modern agricultural practices must be re-evaluated if our planet is to be truly cared for. And the rest is history!

From 1981 the estate's top wine Clos de la Coulée was made biodynamically, and from 1984 the estates' entire range was produced biodynamically. With such great level of care and attention, it is perhaps little wonder that Coulée de Serrant is world-famous for its incredible Chenin Blanc wines.

Watch Nicolas Joly’s interview with 67 Pall Mall here, where he discusses the truth of taste.  

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The Place

Loire, France

Coulée de Serrant is among the very few single vineyards to be granted its own AOC; others include Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, and Château-Grillet.

On average the vines are 35 to 40 years old, grown on steep south/southeast facing slopes overlooking the Loire River. Only a small yield is harvested, allowing for a high level of concentration that expresses the terroir's rich minerality, with its soils of schist, quartz and flint. The grapes are harvested in three to five parcels over three to four weeks to ensure that they are of the correct mixtures of maturity.

Bunches of green, botrytised and "poil de lievre" (hare hair) grapes are harvested together to create three taste profiles, that when mixed create an extraordinary complexity of flavour.

Clones are never used as Nicolas believes that using a Massales selection from his own vines is the other method that makes sense, as they are bred to thrive in this specific terroir, and that nature needs the diversity of this propagation method (as opposed to cloning) to remain healthy.

Yeasts are never added, as the natural yeasts produced are seen as the most beneficial to express the taste of the terroir. Nicolas explains that this need for introducing foreign yeasts (sometimes this can be over 300 types!) only results from the damaging use of herbicides and fungicides which kill the inherent flavours of the juice and "de-nature the plant entirely".

These truly exceptional wines improve after being opened, with their flavours intensifying as they age over time into something quite extraordinary.