Domaine de Belliviere (Eric Nicolas)

Some of the most profound wines ever made come from places at the very limits of where grapevines can survive. In the North of the Loire Valley the Coteaux-du-Loir/Jasnieres is such a place. In fact the region was almost blasted into non-existence during the extreme frost of 1956. Today the region is miniscule compared to the other Loire appellations with only 80 hectares of vineyards.

Historically the vines here have struggled but as global temperatures rise the difficulties have somewhat abated. Now we are discovering wines of unique terroir and astounding beauty and following the growing legends of the winemakers who make them. Among these new legends is Eric Nicolas of Domaine Belliviere, a city boy turned winemaker who is rewriting the history of Loire winemaking nobility.

Eric and his wife Christine took the leap in 1995. After leaving his job and studying oenology they left Paris and headed to the Loire to pursue their dream. But dreams do not come cheap in the land of grand Chateaux. Prices were too high for them in most parts of the valley and they soon found themselves in the hinterlands of Coteaux-du-Loir/Jasnieres. It was not easy for them at first. Frost, broken contracts, and the hard work of converting grazing land to vineyards were all hard fought battles but they persevered. Today they make some of the most delicious and exciting wines the region has ever produced.

At Domaine de Belliviere Chenin Blanc is the focus, complemented by a small amount of old-vine Pineau d’Aunis (a rare, indigenous red grape cousin of Chenin), Cot (aka Malbec), Cabernet Franc and Gamay. When they started, Eric and Christine had just 3.5 hectares in the Coteaux-du-Loir and slowly acquired a sprinkling of plots over 5 villages.

Today their operation has grown to a whopping 65 different sites, divided roughly even between the Coteaux and Jasnieres. All in they are working 15 hectares. Though the average vine age is over 50 years old there are some new plantings too. However all new plantings have been carried out with massale selections from those old vines. All farming and winemaking is certified Biodynamic as of the 2011 vintage.

The most compelling quality of Domaine de Belliviere and Eric Nicolas as a winemaker is just how “pre-industrial” these wines are. These are hand made wines in the extreme. Each parcel is vinified separately in quantities most producers would consider unviable. Fermentation takes place in used barriques and is allowed to run its course naturally which can be quite lengthy.

In the end nothing is added to his wines save the occasional touch of sulfur and only if it is crucial. These are wines that are emblematic of a place and a dedication to anyone who struggled to realize a dream without compromising. Above all else they are utterly delicious.