The Domaine de Nerleux: rooted in History, focused on the future
As a testimony of the times when the wolf was an animal roaming our countryside, Nerleux means “Black Wolves” in old French. On the estate of the Domaine de Nerleux, wolves made way a long time ago for the vines and the noise of the clippers replaced the howling. The nobility of the wolves and men alike left a lasting impression on the estate, its terroir and then its wines.
In 1870, Eugène Neau, himself coming from a lineage of winemakers from Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg, bought this former seigniorial estates to extend his vineyard. The 4th generation of the Neau family then settled at the Domaine de Nerleux.
In total, nine generations of winemakers succeeded each other until Amélie, the first woman of this lineage, took over. Hers is a legacy marked by strong values such as exchange, togetherness, a commitment to the community as well as the everlasting passion to be the best to exalt the appellations of the Vins de Saumur
A young woman in charge
The latest generation is represented by Amélie Neau who, after working for a decade in the banking sector, answered in 2010 to the call of the land – her land. After having followed a training in vine-growing and wine-making, she came back to work with her parents Elisabeth and Régis on the estate. The passing of the torch did not take long and soon Amélie took over her parents who now enjoy a well-deserved retirement.
Amélie is now alone at the head of a team made of eight full-time employees working on the estate. She also supervises seasonal workers who come to help during the key moments of the vineyard management calendar (pruning, removing the shoots, disbudding, grape harvesting…).
Just like the Louve α – the alpha female wolf of the vintage of the same name – Amélie put her imprint on the Domaine de Nerleux. She was the one who set in motion the process of moving to biological vines, and the entire team of the winery followed suit. This change was made little by little, starting with the work on the soil. Hectare by hectare, chemical weeding was replaced by mechanical weeding and even manual weeding in some plots. The difficult part of this is to let as little grass as possible, at all times, to develop around the vine stocks in order to let the grapevine grow. Putting back into service old ploughs which the former generations stopped using thus complementing the specific machinery which Amélie wished to invest in so as to be perfectly in accordance with the requirements of biological agriculture.
Hedges, sources of biodiversity, have also been planted again in some plots as part of a project of the Syndicat du Saumur-Champigny. This Syndicat has always had at heart to help winemakers evolve towards more respectful approach to the environment. Winemaking naturally took this pat.
A winery rooted in its terroir
The Domaine de Nerleux spans 30 hectares of vines, mostly Cabernet franc and Chenin, the flagship grape varieties of the Saumur region. Other grape varieties have been recently planted in order to diversify the production of the estate; so we bid welcome to Chardonnay, Cabernet sauvignon, Pinot noir and Grolleau. These 30 hectares are cultivated following the rules and principles of organic agriculture, the grapes being then vinified by the book at the winery to turn them into Saumur-Champigny, Saumur Blanc, Saumur Rosé, Crémant de Loire and Côteaux de Saumur appellations.
A part of the production is intended for “Robert & Marcel”, the wine-growers’ cooperative of Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg, a renowned wine shop in the Loire Valley founded by Robert Neau, Amélie’s grandfather. It was an obvious decision for Amélie to continue to give a part of the production to this wine shop, thus perpetuating her family commitment and dedication to it.
The tuffeau stone, treasure of the Saumur Region
The land the estate is located on is made of “tuffeau”, a limestone typical of the Saumur-Champigny appellation. This lovely stone, which was used as a construction material for the local buildings and the Châteaux of the Loire Valley, gives the wines of the Domaine de Nerleux their typicality. Its porosity allows it to retain water to give it back later to the vines at the moment they need it the most. On the vine stocks, the leaves remain green even during the times of drought, a major asset during this era of global warming. These remarkable characteristics combined with Chenin for the Saumur blanc and with Cabernet franc for the Saumur-Champigny give a lot of freshness to the wines of the family estate.
Several houses, a wine cellar, a pavilion and even a chapel can be found on the Domaine. These buildings are made of tuffeau stone and date back to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. A magnificent heritage which needs to be constantly looked after, the only flaw of the tuffeau stone being that it deteriorates very quickly…
One of the distinctive features of the village of Saint-Cyr-en-Bourg is its 200 kilometers of underground caves; a real treasure beneath our feet. Blocks of tuffeau stone were extracted from the underground caves of the Domaine de Nerleux for the construction of the buildings on the estate. Since the Middle Ages, these caves have always had a function linked to winemaking, contrary to many other larger caves of the same kind which were at some point converted in champignonnières (underground mushrooms farms).
At the Domaine de Nerleux, caves are used for the storage of old vintages and the maturation in barrels of the Loups Noirs and the Louve α vintages. Since Amélie took over, several parts of the estate have been renovated: the yard, the reception hall and the house of her grandparents, the latter having been turned into a beautiful holiday cottage in the very heart of the vineyard.
In a spirit of sharing, Amélie the winemaker has also developed wine tourism on the Domaine with the renting of the gite, visits of the winery, wine tasting sessions, activities for the family, open days…