Loire Valley 2016: Frost Solutions
The 2016 vintage has been a very difficult one in many regions of France, and although I suppose it is inevitable that stories about the decimation of Chablis, or six famous growers combining their few bunches of grapes to make one cuvée of Montrachet (link in French), my first thought on encountering such stories is to think of all the Loire vignerons, huge numbers of whom are also facing devastated yields this year.
As I have already described in Loire Valley 2016: The Frost, many domaines are predicting a loss between 50% and 70%. During my most recent trip to the Loire I was able to add a few more data points (no good numbers I am afraid). I also learnt a little about how a couple of vignerons are planning to balance the books after more than half their crop disappeared.
Most of my visits were in Chinon, but I did call in on Philippe Boucard, of Lamé Delisle Boucard in Bourgueil. He didn’t give any predicted figures, but it was clear on the lower vineyards below the domaine they have lost almost everything. The higher vines, up the limestone slope behind the domaine were better protected. In Chinon, Olga Raffault told me she has lost 50%, although this is just an estimate and most of her peers provide higher figures.
Yves Plaisantin (pictured above), of Domaine Jaulin-Plaisantin, lost between 60% and 70%, sadly this is a more typical figure. As usual it was the lower-lying vineyards they have around Briançon which were hardest hit, those up on the slopes around the domaine were protected by their position. Yves and his business partner Sébastien Jaulin have come up with one interesting solution; they have managed to source Cabernet Franc from Bordeaux (if I recall correctly, I think he said 3 hectares) which he was readying the cellars for when I visited last week. The vats, hoses and other equipment were all being subjected to a deep clean. The fruit was picked this week, driven up to the cellars in Chinon in a refrigerated truck and the fruit will now be safely fermenting in vat. Yves is a talented vigneron with a lot of experience under his belt, and I am sure the results will be worth the effort.
I also called in at Domaine Grosbois, purportedly to see Nicolas Grosbois, although I knew – having spoken to Nicolas just a couple of days beforehand – that he wouldn’t be there to meet me. I checked things out here, both vineyard and cellars, with his talented and charming oenologist and assistant Delphine. Nicolas experienced true devastation in the vines this year, as he is predicting a 90% loss. Indeed, I struggled to find many bunches on his vines (this is true of many parcels though, especially when I hunted around on the sandier sections of the Chinon vineyard later in the day between appointments). In order to keep things ticking over Nicolas has been busy in the south of France, where he has negotiated the purchase of some grapes. He was there overseeing the vinifications, hence his absence when I called.
I am looking forward to tasting both these cuvées next year. More than that, I am already hoping that 2017 brings better luck for all. The 2016 really has been a frosty, mildewy, rainy, rotty endurance test for so many of the Loire’s good people.