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This is one of our favorite times, when we get to introduce a new estate to our readers and share a story that has inspired us both through an agricultural model (and way of life), and through the glass. Today we take a moment to present Domaine de Lorient, a farm winery that is located on the highest spot of the Saint-Péray appellation, resting on a granitic hilltop overlooking the Rhone. It is truly a remote location, and a place where a humble vision is being lived out by young winemakers and paysans, Laure and Dimitri.
I would never use the word utopian because there is an obvious reality of very hard work, real toil, and challenge. It's a way of life that could be mocked by people (with little knowledge of the physical and emotional toll) as "hippie," but is very much a conscious choice and a true feat that involves a lot of sweat. So what exactly is a farm winery? In the simplest sense its a winery that does more than just make wine, but also cultivates other crops, and operates as a fully functional ecosystem, in this case with bees, cows, sheep, and chickens as invited guests and co-habitants, and with great encouragement for all of the local flora, fauna, and fungi. It's polyculture in a nutshell, without the use of chemical products or machines. Everything is by hand, and arm and leg. It's a good thing Laure and Dimitri aren't old!
We first met Laure at a wine fair in France in 2022. I was a bit giddy about a good Saint-Péray, as I am a Roussanne fan who didn't know it, and the wines were fantastic. Plus it turned out Laure is a Colombo so she had some connections in the area and a little hookup with a hectare of Syrah in Cornas, along with a half-hectare of Syrah in Saint-Joseph that she and her partner Dimitri planted. Being a fan of northern Rhone whites, and having a decent chunk of a day free before visiting the affable (and under-the-radar most hilariously sarcastic French person I know) Jean Gonon, I inquired about a visit and two days later was driving up an endlessly curvy and progressively less paved road with my friend Ellis (from the Chambers NYC wine team). I don't know if he was 100% confident in my navigation for the last 10 minutes of the drive, but we eventually made it to the domaine, the last address on the long and winding lieu-dit called "Lorient," and a magical little microcosm run by two very warm-hearted and passionate individuals.
At this point, I feel compelled to share their explanation of the domaine and their life project. I'm not being lazy, they just wrote a nice explication en anglais!
"We are a young couple: Dimitri, former photographer [by way of Greece], and Laure, daughter of local winemakers.
We created our little winemaking farm in Ardèche in 2014 on the top hill of Saint-Péray AOC, between wild forests and fields, in a place called Lorient, because it faces the sunrise. We have now 20 hectares [around 50 acres] of diversified land.
We started from scratch by planting everything. Today we cultivate 4 hectares of vines in Saint-Péray, with a majority of Roussanne and a bit of Marsanne. We have 1 hectare in Cornas with exclusively Syrah and a half hectare in Saint-Joseph also with Syrah. In 2020 we planted 1.5 hectares of Mondeuse blanche and Mondeuse Noire in Vin de France.
We work our vines by hand, on steep slopes, trying always to respect our terroir and the nature in and around it. We are certified organic but we want to go much further. We want to bring back our vineyards to real nature, to make our paysan activity cohabitate with the wildlife, and to be part of the diversity.
We also try to live and feed people with what we grow on our farm. We cultivate wheat in the vines and sow plants so our bees can produce honey. We use our 2 cows, 10 sheep and 20 chickens for the manure. All our plots are planted with vines and a mix of fruit and forest trees. Each plot is surrounded by local trees to preserve biodiversity and all of our vines are massale selection.
In the cellar we keep the same philosophy, with minimal intervention in the winemaking process. Our wines contain very low amounts of added sulfites and are not filtered.
We also have a bed and breakfast on our farm where we propose all our home-made products (jams, apple juice, olive oil, almonds, milk, cheese, vegetables, meat, and even ice cream!)
-Laure & Dimitri"
At this point, I think you get the idea, so I should probably talk about the wines. Though we do have a small quantity of the reds that Laure and Dimitri produce from Syrah vines in Cornas and Saint-Joseph, the focus (and the majority of their output) is on the white wines from their young hilltop vineyards, planted to Roussanne and Marsanne. The wines remind me of extremely classic northern-Rhone expressions that meet the 'natural wine' spectrum but specifically in their purity, energy, and vibrancy. These are not funky wines, they're Rhone wines at their core. The reds are lively and the flavor profile is spot-on, but they are not tired, extracted or oaked, instead they are acid-driven, linear and elegant. The whites are great, and show two sides of the Roussanne/Marsanne compendium, delightful in their own right, but also quite compelling as a comparison. I think Laure and Dimitri's whites will eventually be extremely age worthy, but for those of us (like myself) who can't store a wine longer than 3 years tops (due to space and complete lack of patience), the wines we're offering today are ideal! I may stand corrected in 2030 if I do find a way to age a few Lorient bottles, but the immediate freshness and bright tones give these wines a lack of pretension and relieve us of any preciousness (for once when it comes to a Rhone wine!).
Domaine de Lorient is an inspiring project that is in its infancy, but also seems fully thought out and bred with love, and a passion for an older way of life. We feel honored to be able to present the wines and hope to share many vintages with you as the years go by. If you're ever planning a trip to the Rhone, and have a car with reliable suspension, do look up Laure and Dimitri, or visit their website here to book their B&B. It may be a hike, but it's worth it!
Though Laure and Dimitri do work a total of 1.5 hectares of Syrah in Cornas and Saint-Joseph, their home in Saint-Peray is where they focus their energy, with 4 hectares of vines of Roussanne and Marsanne that they planted at 500m altitude, overlooking the Rhone Valley. Their plantings are roughly 70/30 to Roussanne and Marsanne, and this, the first white they produced, is reflective of that ratio. A beautifully dense white, with notes of lemon verbena and stone fruits on the nose, medium-weight with great balance and a mineral core that keeps the Roussanne's softer acidity in check. This is a white to serve at cellar temp, not too cold, as the delicate mouthfeel and subtle aromatics are best expressed this way. A fantastic example of the charm of Northern Rhone whites. I recently was discussing with a customer and friend the question of why Roussanne hasn't received the same esteem as Viognier, which with it's spice and price can sometimes be polarizing. Perhaps a good St. Joseph white won't age as well as a Condrieu, but we love Roussanne over here and are happy to have such an exemplary one (albeit with a touch of Marsanne) in the Lorient Saint-Peray.// Grapes are harvested by hand carefully and transferred to the chai within 30 minutes of pick, and pressed directly to preserve freshness. Juice is put in stainless steel tanks and cold-settled to avoid excessively heavy lees, then fermentation is in 228 and 400L barrels, accompanied by a peid de cuve that they started 10 days before harvest directly from the same parcel. After aging in barrel, the wine is assembled in tank, usually in the Spring, for additional aging before bottling. -EL
The Saute-Mouton is the second white that was produced at Domaine de Lorient, highlighting a larger percentage of Marsanne. There is an immediately enticing nose on opening, with notes of orange marmalade and fresh ginger. The wine has medium weight, perhaps a similar level of roundness on the palate to their other Saint-Peray white (which is majority Roussanne), but this has a noticeably more pronounced sharpness and herbaceous character, which is to be expected with Marsanne playing the starring role. I kept thinking about what it reminded me of, and realized it had a striking resemblance to some Silvaners I've had from Holger Koch or Stefan Vetter! A beautiful and quite addictive wine, that plays inside and outside of the Northern-Rhone white category. -EL
From a half-hectare of Syrah vines near Mauves in the Saint-Joseph appellation, on granite and alluvial gravel from the massif central. Vines were planted by Laure and Dimitri in 2014 with massale selections from Lilian Berillon. Leaves are removed, and due to increasing heat in the area, they are using more whole clusters than in previous vintages. The wine is fermented in a small stainless tank and moved to 228 and 400l barrels for 8 months of aging before being bottled just before the Summer. This is a vibrant red with notes of crushed wild berries, and plenty of freshness and acidity, with a touch of grit and earthiness. A soulful Syrah, less about concentration or dark purple tones, more about herbs, mint and earth. It's a high energy wine, ideal for drinking now, partly from the approach of Laure and Dimitri and complimented by the fresh conditions of the 2021 vintage.
Laure and Dimitri's Cornas comes from a one hectare parcel of Syrah that is located just above the Chaillots vineyard. These are the sole vines that they did not plant themselves, so they are currently 30 years old and grown on decomposed granitic soils. Fermentation is in an unlined concrete tank, with a mix of de-stemmed grapes and whole clusters. Extraction is intentionally very gentle, with no pump overs. This wine sees the most aging, compared to their Saint-Joseph and their Saint-Peray whites. Here, the wine ages 15-18 months in 228 and 400L neutral barrels, and is then re-assembled in concrete before bottling. The 2020 Cornas is elegant and burgundian in style, with sublte blackberry and red fruit profile, complimented by lavender and eucalyptus notes. This is definitely more acid and freshness than sappiness or richness, though it should still age beautifully for 5-10 years. The finish is mineral with herbs, stones and violets. Though I love a rich and concentrated Syrah, this style of elevated fresh wine with obvious depth is really nice. Serve at cellar temp or at least below room temperature.