The phrase “Normandy Wine” is seldom heard. Or has been seldom heard of so far. If you think of Normandy’s food and drink specialities, Camembert, Cider and Calvados are much more likely to spring to mind. I visit Normandy quite frequently as this is where my parents live. I was there a few weeks ago and I wrote about how hard it was to find international wines for my wine-tasting WSET assignments. I had also written about British Wine a while ago and I was thinking one morning that if people can grow wine in the UK then there was a good chance that someone would have tried in green Normandy too. So I just typed “vignoble normand” in the browser and Google took me straight away to Arpents-du-soleil.com
I’m so glad it did! I had a quick glance at the website and then decided to contact its owner, Gerard Samson, to see whether I would be able to pop in at any point during the last 2 days of my stay. A visit was arranged for that afternoon. Unfortunately, it happened to be raining, which cynics will tell you is very frequent in Normandy, but that was just pure bad luck; it had been a very good summer until then. The rain did not seem to bother Monsieur Samson at all. He had the radiant smile of someone who loves his job and who wants to share his passion for his product.
He was very generous with his time. He explained to me how he became Normandy’s first wine estate owner (well, since the 18th century anyway as there’s evidence that there was wine production there between the middle-ages and the French Revolution ) and what he believes in.
I was very excited to find out that he is very committed to biodiversity. There are wild flowers growing between the rows of his vines and he knows what each species contributes to the vineyard environment. He does not use any herbicide or insecticide or any chemical fertilizer. He believes in making only minimum intervention on the soil and in letting nature work in its own way. His wines are not certified organic or biodynamic but as far as I am concerned they are definitely as good as; organic and biodynamic certifications are not only very expensive, they have extremely strict rules and guidelines. This is great for the consumer as, with a bit of research behind them, they know exactly what goes in their wine and it is helpful for producers to have guidelines but Monsieur Samson is extremely knowledgeable in viticulture and vinification practices and has done extensive research in what works for his terroir and still is respectful of the environment even if it does not absolutely follow the very rigid sets of rules of certification. His wines are also suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
His research has paid off in terms of quality of the wine. 16 entries in Le Guide Hachette des Vins so far! What an accolade!
His research started with the terroir. Amazingly enough, he found a parcel of land in Calvados where the geology is similar to that of some of the Grand Crus of Bourgogne such as that of la Romanée-Conti !
And that terroir benefits from a microclimate which brings a drying wind and a lot less rain than in Caen, 25 kilometres away. In fact on a 30 year average, there’s only 600mm of rainfall/year ( on average over the last 30 years).
“What about the sun?” I hear you say. Well, it’s the average temperature rather than the sun that brings maturity to the grapes. And it can be borderline at times but so far so good.
The quality of the soil compensates for the fact that, as far as wine production is concerned, this is a cool region and the grapes still manages to achieve good maturity and consistence of quality.
After the visit to the vineyard where I saw new vines and more established ones, Monsieur Samson introduced me to 4 of his wines. The first one was called Connivence. It is a refreshing blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. After that there was a Pinot Gris and then came my favourite wine: The Auxerrois. Delightfully spicy. Definitely the kind of Normandy Wine I would like to have in my shop!
And yes, there was a red and, you probably have guessed it with the parallels that have been drawn with Burgundy; it was a Pinot Noir. Very red-fruity with soft and velvety tannins and still 12% abv. It will benefit from a few years of bottle ageing but it was already very drinkable.
All four wines had the long finish that must have convinced the editors of the Guide Hachette des Vins to put Normandy Wine on their maps.
The bottles are 50 cl and make lovely presents so I bought a bottle of Pinot Gris for my mum but I also bought 2 boxes with a selection to bring at some informal blind wine-tasting event. I am really looking forward to hear people’s opinions and guesses about where it could be from.
If you go to Normandy then I highly would recommend you visit the vineyard (you can do so on Thursday afternoons) and stock up some of Monsieur Samson’s wines to enjoy either now or, if you can be patient, in a couple of years as they will age well. The fruity notes will give way to more mineral and spicy flavours .
If you are in Yorkshire and want to try them, then do contact me.