A family love affair with fine wines
TEXT: KATIE TURNER | PHOTOS © DOMAINE FL
“Wine was like forbidden fruit for me growing up,” reminisces Julien Fournier, manager of the estate at the Domaine FL vineyard. “My grandfather wouldn’t let me go down into his cellar. When the bottles were brought up I was allowed to smell, but never to taste. I think my passion was born from that.” The name of the estate itself – ‘Domaine FL’, is a nod to Julien’s paternal grandparents; Fournier and Longchamps.
“It’s a father to son thing. My grandfather loved wine, my father loves wine and that’s why I’m here running the vineyard,” he continues. The current generation of the Fournier family have all made their mark on the estate. Julien’s mother is an artist, and she and his brother – an architect – both took a hand in the conception and finish of the winery and tasting room, complete with roof terrace overlooking their 89 acres of vines.
An easy hour and a half on the train from Paris, Domaine FL is just south of Angers against the stunning backdrop of France’s Loire Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage site filled with fairy-tale castles and steeped in history. The River Loire itself cuts through part of the estate’s land.
Winemaking here dates back to the 12th century. The first vines were planted in 1130 and monks from the Abbey of Saint-Nicolas d’Angers cultivated the vines to make communion wine used in local churches. Recalling those humble beginnings, one of the estate’s highly-rated vintages is still called Roche aux Moines – Rock of the Monks.
The unique soil and topography in the Anjou region play heavily into the Domaine FL winemaking, “It’s all about the land,” continues Julien. “That’s what you can taste through the grape and, of course, in the end product.”
There are several bright and minerally white wines from the Chenin Blanc grape, among them, the Savennières Roche aux Moines and the Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru. There’s also a fruity red, Le Cochet, produced from the Cabernet Franc variety.
While times have obviously moved on, Julien wants to stay true to traditional methods of production. “We do everything by hand,” he says. “If all the grapes ripen over a short period, up to 90 people descend to harvest the grapes. That’s a big increase on our usual team of 12!”
The estate produces both organic and biodynamic wines, although it’s not an obsession; it’s the cornerstone of Julien’s winemaking philosophy. “It’s not the first thing I think about, but I want to respect the lifecycle of the vines and produce good vintages. That’s the way we’ve decided to do it and I believe it’s the right way,” he explains.
Julien fleshes out his vision: “The environment is really important to me. I’ve got a strategy and I want it to stay coherent in the long term. Our cellar is a good example. It’s quite common to use air conditioning to keep barrels at the right temperature, but I went for a geothermal system. I think that’s really in keeping with the traditional methods of wine production and it’s a win-win situation because it has less environmental impact both now and in the future.”
Behind every successful boss there is, of course, a team making it all run smoothly day-to-day. There’s lots to do – not just in the production of the wine. There’s the storage of the vintages and all the logistics that go with running a business. “I’m running the business in start-up mode, we’re developing fast. I want to try and stay dynamic and bring new things to the table,” Julien says.
Winery Visits and Classes
The winery isn’t just for the Fournier family to enjoy – members of the public are very welcome. To that end, they have dedicated staff members for all that relates to wine tourism, including guided tours, tastings and even blending sessions, in French and English. You can take cookery lessons with a local chef or be guided in the pairing of wine with food.
Groups can book meals at the ‘table d’hôte’, which takes you through a menu using the best seasonal and local ingredients. It’s also a wonderful location for company meetings or away-days; the spaces are large but homely and the views across the vineyards second to none – the perfect antidote to the office.
“Conviviality, sharing and pleasure are really the hallmarks of any good winery,” says Julien. “Exactly the same as any good wine.”