By Barnaby Eales
In a changing climate, Normandy’s new vignerons are reshaping the region’s pastures. How about a refreshing glass of Crémant de Normandie? Or a bottle of Blanc de Normandie?
There’s a quiet revolution going on in Normandy’s rural villages and green pastures. If the reunification of Normandy has strengthened the region’s hand, there’ll soon be more to play for; vineyards are fast emerging across the landscape, from the Cotentin peninsula in the west, near Jersey and Guernsey, all the way to the Seine Valley, south of Rouen. Could wine be Normandy’s new sensuous, ambassadorial product?
You can already taste and buy Normandy white wine, and even age-worthy, elegant red Pinot Noir wines, at producer Les Arpents Du Soleil where vines grow on a dry, historic and singular rocky limestone vineyard site at Vendeuvre, near Falaise, in the land of Calvados. Gérard Samson, Les Arpents du Soleil’s determined owner, winemaker, and pioneer of contemporary Normandy wine, first planted vines in 1995.
Against all odds, following years of talks with the French administration in Paris, Samson, a former solicitor, miraculously obtained authorisation to transform an experimental vineyard into a viable commercial operation, with vines now covering an area of 6.6 ha.
I say miraculously, as that was well before the EU’s 2016 liberalisation of vine planting rights, which has permitted a new generation of vignerons in France to produce and sell wine in Normandy. A changing climate, in which vines can obtain adequate sugar and acidity levels on numerous sites, is, of course, fuelling a new diversification in agriculture away from traditional crops.
Domaine St Expedit’s First Commercial Wines
This year, winemaker Edouard Capron will release his first commercial wine in June (to be sold locally only). It’s an unusual Gris de gris, a still wine made from Fromental, an aromatic white grape variety otherwise known as Roussane. Capron, who has been experimenting with production in recent years, is the owner of Domaine Saint Expedit, a certified organic vineyard on the limestone slopes of the picturesque Seine Valley, in Freneuse, south of Rouen, where nuns made wine during the Middle Ages. Very warm, dry weather last year means the 2022 vintage is expected to be one of the best in recent years.
Capron is President of Vignerons de Normandie, a professional association of winemakers formed in 2022. Its 47 members (not all members have planted vines yet) believe that fresher, lighter styles of wine can be made in Normandy. Around 50 hectares of vineyards have been planted in the region, and more projects are understood to be in the pipeline.
If there are currently relatively small volumes of Normandy wines, there’s a growing thirst for them.
Crémant de Normandie?
Could we soon be asking for a glass of Crémant de Normandie or a Blanc de Normandie?
Funnily enough, the engaging Gérard Samson at Les Arpents du Soleil tells me that he first become inspired to plant a vineyard in Normandy following a visit to Sussex.
“Cycling in the Sussex countryside, I spotted a sign for a vineyard. If they can make wine here, then I can make wine in Normandy, I told myself”, he says.
Sussex has its own wine appellation and Normandy could too. Samson has already managed to create his very own PGI appellation Calvados-Grisy for his vineyard.
Eric Labarre, who produces Terre de Rollon, a traditional method sparkling wine, did not comment.
A new regional Normandy appellation would allow Normandy, its name, and its villages to be put on labels. Capron says an appellation for Crémant de Normandie and Vins de Normandie is in the pipeline. Until then, perhaps putting the lions of Normandy on labels will do.
Delphine Angwin (née Prevost), one of the new Vignerons de Normandie, is one of the producers poised to make sparkling wine.
Angwin worked at the highly regarded English sparkling wine producer Camel Valley in Cornwall as an intern, during her wine studies back in 1995. Little did she know then that she would later marry Camel Valley’s vineyard manager, Matt Angwin.
The couple’s shared love of fine sparkling wine led them to settle in Normandy, where, during Spring 2021, they planted a vineyard on stony loam soils in Ferrieries Haut Clocher, a rural commune found west of Giverny, where Delphine’s family are cereal farmers.
Production will predominately be traditional method sparkling wine made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, the trio of grape varieties used to make Champagne and English sparkling wine.
The couple are planting two further hectares of vines this year, ahead of making their first wines during the forthcoming harvest. The Angwins are currently arranging funding for the construction of a winery.
Together with Chenin Blanc, the Angwins have also planted Floréal, an early ripening, disease resistant white grape variety, which adapts better to relatively cool climates.
Indeed, Normandy is also one of the regions in Northern France where vignerons are experimenting with these new varieties, which are understood to produce higher yields, and which make it easier for growers to adopt organic viticulture.
François Lecourt, who expects to make his first Normandy sparkling wines this year, has planted disease resistant grape varieties at the Muûs vineyard, which overlooks the sea high up in the coastal commune of Barneville-Carteret on the Cotentin peninsula.
At the new Domaine Leprince vineyard in Bourg-Archard, west of Rouen, Axelle Piednoël planted the grape varieties Sauvignac, Muscaris, Fleurtai and Soreli, in April 2022. Piednoël, a young vigneron, expects to plant further vines this year on her organically farmed vineyard.
Prophetically, ahead of the forthcoming release of Normandy wines, Eva Crystaltips, a DJ of French origin, based in Berlin, released the dance record Crémant de Normandie in 2020. Reflecting the celebratory style of her music, I raise a toast to the efforts of the new Vignerons de Normandie. I hope to taste their wines soon.
Photos Credits: Barnaby Eales, Delphine Angwin