Grower Profile: Laurent Saillard

Posted by Joel Wright on

Laurent went to America to work in the restaurant industry after studying in France. One of his first significant roles was helping to open Balthazar in New York - from which he has some amazing stories of serving people like David Bowie and even Donald Trump (well done steak)....

He then started one of the first spots in New York to sell Natural Wine - Ici in New York. 
Laurent then moved to the Loire to try his hand at making the wines he had fallen in love with. He worked with Noella Morantin first, starting his own project on the side, before taking the opportunity to take on half of the hallowed, beautiful 13 hectare vineyard of Clos Roche Blanche when Didier & Catherine decided to retire. He has fast found his own style - bright, textured wines of finesse and energy. The 2019's are tasting great already. 
What were the first bottles of wine you tasted that you remember turning you on to natural wine?

It was a Racines from Claude Courtois, 95 or 96.

You ran Ici, one of the first places to sell these wines in New York - what was the initial response to the wines you were serving, it was very new to the city. 

I didn't really advertise it. It didn't say organic or natural on the wine list. But customers didn't know any of the names or appellation, so they had to ask me or the staff for explanations or recommendations.

That's how we started a dialogue and gave them information and stories that way. It was a lot of work, but their response was great, because we took the time to explain. And tasting these new wines was just enough discomfort for them to get interested and come back. Just like the food and the overall experience were different and a bit challenging for many people.

And now it seems to have completely changed in New York?

Yes ! Hipsters, orange wines, soms ! :) ! It's a good evolution anyway !


What caused the decision to try and make wine yourself and is there any big lessons you took - you definitely seem to have your own style.
My love for the product. After working so many years in the restaurant business, I wanted to farm the land and deliver good products to restaurants. Farming a vineyard and making wine seemed like a great way to express myself. Winemakers are like story tellers, they tell the story of the land they live on, they tell the story of their life, it's their way of communicating with the world.
As you know I have no academic education in wine making. But I worked in restaurants all my life, I have been eating and discovering flavors and texture all the time. I try to make what I would drink everyday, what I like, by following my feelings, my taste buds.


How has climate change affected your process and the wines themselves?
The weather has become extreme and brutal. No low temperature in the winter, resulting in earlier spring and more chance of frost. Really hot summer and sun that can burn the grapes.
Fruits that are unbalanced, meaning a high sugar content before the fruit is ripe, and a lack of acidity.
For me acidity is the back bone of a great wine, so it's definitely a problem...Bitterness is, I think, a great backbone too. So I am playing with that. Trying to extract just a little bit of it from the grapes. Bitterness, sapidity, umami taste in some ways, are what I am looking for.
How do you achieve this? 
Usually for the whites after directly pressing, I allowed the juice to settle for one night and the following morning I removed the "sludge". I stopped doing that last year. The fermentation starts directly without any settling. And this year for the whites I will infuse grapes in the pressed juice for a day or two. 
How has Covid affected you?
We were really fine in Pouillé during the pandemic, it was easy to stay away from others, the weather was beautiful and I had the vineyard for garden! I have known worse situations...
Sales and cash flow...a different problem..