The Fiefs Vendéens wine appellation lies at the extremities of France's Loire Valley below where the Loire spills into the Atlantic Ocean in the area known as the Vendée. This appellation is little known, even within France, however there are some stunning wines produced here due to the presence of famed biodynamic winemaker Thierry Michon of Domaine Saint Nicolas.
You find the Fiefs Vendéens appellation if you drive south west from the pleasant town of Angers towards the coast.
The appellation is divided into four distinct sub-appellations (called denominations) called Pissotte, Mareuil, Brem and Vix. Pissotte and Vix are tiny areas to the north and south of Fontenay-Le-Comte in the west of the Vendée and cover the area of the communes of the same name. The other two are larger areas closer to the coast near Les Sables d'Olonne in the case of Brem and to the south of La Roche sur Yon in the case of Mareuil.
As you drive south from the city of Nantes the terrain flattens and the plains look like they battle against winds sweeping in from the Atlantic. Salt smells fill the air.
The vines that line the roads here are deliberately stunted. They crouch low to the ground so the winds cannot wreak havoc. Soils range from sodden clay to beautiful, striated ancient schist that imparts an incredible mineral flavour to the grapes that thrive on these difficult soils.
The appellation allows red, white and rose wines. The whites are made from Chenin Blanc with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc also allowed and the reds and rose from Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay Noir and Negrette.
There are some wonderful wines produced here with Pinot Noir working very well in the schist soils and the temperate climate which is regulated by cooling breezes from the Atlantic Ocean.
The area is of interest because the red wines rely on grape varieties that are usually associated with other parts of France. Thus we see some great reds from winemakers such as J. Mourat Pere & Fils using Negrette which is more commonly associated with the Fronton appellation in south west France and the lovely food-friendly biodynamic wines of Domaine St. Nicolas which use Pinot Noir, a grape more commonly associated with the Burgundy and Champagne districts.
Domaine Saint Nicolas
Domaine Saint Nicolas extends of some 37 hectares and every centimetre is farmed biodynamically! Thierry Michon mutters the word 'crazy' a lot as you bump across his extensive vineyards in his white van. Driving around the vineyards makes him realise just how much work it takes to keep the soil, and hence the vines, healthy.
His job is also made more difficult due to the range of different grapes he tends here. He has the standards such as Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir and Gamay, but he also has Cabernet Franc, the obscure Negrette and the equally obscure Grolleau Gris.
The Negrette ends up in his entry level red called Reflets which sees 40& of Pinot Noir blended with 20% each of Gamay, Negrette and Cabernet Franc. Negrette is the only grape used in the elegant, long-lived, velvety and extremely addictive cuvee called Le Poiré.
The Grollleau Gris add a touch of spiciness and excitement to the salty, white wine called Les Clous which is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and 10% Grolleau Gris.