As regular readers know, I write often about the wines, wineries, and winemakers of my home state.  Many wine friends refer to me as the ‘Virginia wine guy’ and sometimes kid me for having a ‘Virginia wine palate.’

Though I am a huge supporter of the wine industry of my home state of Virginia, I drink as much, if not more, Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley as any other wine.  The distinctive, complex, textured, and elegant Chenins from the historic yet underrated Savennières region of the Loire occupy the most space in our wine fridge.

I’m currently in the Loire Valley exploring the region with a group of writers and industry professionals. This trip began on a high note with winemaker dinner at Hotel Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud in Saumur.

I had the good fortune to be seated with winemaker Tessa Laroche, second generation owner and winemaker of Domaine aux Moine.  Located in the enclave of Savennières-Roche aux Moines, Laroche operates Domaine aux Moine with her mother Monique (a pharmacist by training), who purchased the historic property in 1981.

The Domaine aux Moine property has a deep history dating back centuries when monks planted vines.  The property was also owned by the Benz family (as in Mercedes) in the early part of the 20th century and then by a local architect before the Laroches purchased the domaine in 1981.

Tessa studied oenology at the University of Reims and came back to Domaine aux Moines in 2001.

Today, the Laroches farm about 12 hectares (about 29 acres) at Roche aux Moines: eight hectares of Chenin were planted about forty years ago, three hectares were planted about five years ago, and about an acre of Cabernet. They plan on planting two additional hectares of Chenin early next year.

“I take a natural approach,” explained Laroche of her approach to winegrowing.  “We press the grapes and then do little. We use natural yeast and do not add sulphur. And, our vineyard was certified organic in 2006.”   

Tessa generously shared a 1992 Roche aux Moines at dinner.  “1992 was a wet and challenging year that required seven passed through the vineyard,” said Tessa.

Yellow-gold color in the glass, the wine opens with beeswax, honeysuckle and saline flavors. True to form for Savennières, this wine evolved beautifully in the glass throughout the evening.  Time revealed its elegant side; white flowers, spice, and mineral; peachy-waxy texture. Lovely peach finish with hints of nuttiness. A Chenin for Chenin lovers!

Thank you, Tessa, for sharing your wine, your time, and your family story with me.

Stay tuned for further dispatches from the Loire and then the Languedoc in the coming days.

Pictured here is Uni the Unicorn, one of my daughter’s favorite stuffed animals, hanging at Hotel Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud.  She graciously sends one of her ‘snuggle buddies’ (as she calls them) to keep me company on my journeys: