It all started off with a phone call from my mum: “I just read an article about a vineyard in Normandy! Have you ever heard of Les Arpents du Soleil?” she asked excitedly.
Well, given that I work for Normandy Tourism, I certainly had, but that being said, I realised that this unique wine had never been featured on our foodie blog. Injustice repaired, so now grab a cuppa and enjoy the story behind one of Normandy’s most exciting beverages.
You see, Les Arpents du Soleil might well be Normandy’s best-kept secret. Our beautiful part of France is renowned for its beaches, lush countryside, medieval treasures and delicious cheese – but one of the last things you’d associate with the area is local wine. Many wine enthusiasts visit our beautiful part of France year after year but have yet to discover this incredible vineyard perched on a hill at the heart of the region. It’s here, just outside the quaint village of Grisy and ten miles away from Falaise, that former lawyer Gérard Samson has been producing a range of superb red and white wines for over 25 years.
Now, I hear you saying, can the word “superb” really be used to describe a Normandy wine? Believe it or not, Samson’s wines are good – really good in fact. He actually makes five different wines on site: three white (Auxerrois, Pinot Gris and Connivence), one red (Pinot Noir) and one vin de paille (straw wine), which is made with grapes that have been allowed to dry on straw mats in order to decrease their juices while increasing sugar levels. Therefore, there’s bound to be a wine to suit your tastes! While the best-seller is the Pinot Noir, I personally prefer the Pinot Gris. The Auxerrois is served at Jean-Luc Tartarin’s two-Michelin-star restaurant in Le Havre, and the vin de paille is a real treat for those with a sweet tooth.
Samson talks about his wines with passion and conviction. “The terroir is truly exceptional here,” he tells me. “This beautiful area is blessed with a microclimate that provides ideal conditions for producing unique wines. It is probably one of the driest parts of Normandy, and the hill on which the grapes grow faces south.”
Grisy gets over twenty days less rain than Caen, which is only twenty miles away. What is truly fascinating is the fact that there actually used to be a vineyard on this site until the French Revolution, which went under the name of Le Soleil (the sun). Convinced by the potential of this strategic location and aware of its history, Gérard Samson decided to plant vines here again back in 1995.
“Of course, everyone thought I was mad at the time,” he smiles. The first years were challenging to say the least, he admits, but what really makes him happy today is that the quality of his wines is increasing year after year.
“The Pinot Noir is a true gem and was a big surprise,” Samson continues. “Nobody believed that we would be able to produce a wine with such an aromatic richness and strong personality here in Normandy.”
It is therefore a big success and demand is growing. He tells me the white Connivence is the most promising of his wines, and that the Auxerroisis highly appreciated by connoisseurs. They all feature in the famous Hachette Wine Guide by the way. One of Samson’s trademarks is his bottles, which only come in 50cl sizes. He sells over 40,000 of them annually, but only exports around 5%. They are hard to find in the UK, let alone in the US. The former lawyer has clear ambitions for his vineyard though, and is relying on word of mouth to do most of the work.
Many of you will probably be wondering if you can visit the vineyard. The good news is you can. Better news is that it is often Gérard Samson himself who takes the tours, sharing his passion and knowledge. He is also working on self-guided tours which will be rolled out next year. In the meantime, you can purchase the wines on his website. They are bound to impress and delight wine lovers!
Oh, and I did buy a bottle for Mum, of course. She liked it – and that says it all!
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourism website.
Cover photo © Les Arpents du Soleil | Text: B. Collier