Friday was my final day looking at the vineyards of the Loire during harvest time. Having returned to Touraine on Thursday, this time we struck out west. heading first to Château de l’Aulée near Azay-le-Rideau, followed by several visits in Chinon, Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. There was a quick stop in Vouvray before I unfortunately found myself back at the airport in Tours.
At L’Aulée, Marielle Henrion told us she had been picking since September 28th, with alcoholic potentials of about 11%. This doesn’t sound ideal, but bear in mind that Marielle is Bollinger-trained, and specialises in making Crémant de Loire, so lower potentials (and higher acid levels) are just fine here. Then it was on to Domaine Baudry-Dutour, where we met Jean-Martin Dutour (pictured above). Jean-Martin summed up the two main features that he feels will define the vintage. First, there was a warm summer, bringing excellent potential (although we shouldn’t forget some hectares were lost to hail, which hit Chinon, albeit to a lesser extent than in Vouvray). Second, and less positive, a very late harvest, meaning that converting early hopes into quality in the bottle may be rather difficult. He finds phenolic maturity this year better than it was last year in Chinon, when it lagged behind the technical (sugar) maturity somewhat.
In addition he describes having a little rot in the fruit this year, but in small quantities and only present under the skin of the grapes, not visible on the fruit. This doesn’t affect the taste, he says (as an aside – I must admit even with superficial rot on much of the fruit I have seen, Sauvignon Blanc especially, I haven’t once picked up the ‘taste’ of rot in any of them, and believe me I have popped a few furry berries in my mouth the past few days). This sub-surface rot does, says Jean-Martin, fade the colour of the wines, and it can degrade the tannins, making them finer, which caused him to liken the vintage in Chinon to 1997 or 1999, both years with very fine tannins in Jean-Martin’s opinion.
Out in the vineyard, picking was well underway, although really only for the rosé at present, the fruit coming in with 11% potential. The fruit was being picked by machine with on-board optical sorting (shown above), a relatively new innovation. As for reds, they are obviously looking for a higher potential, and it may be that some chaptalisation is required. Harvesting for the red wines is yet to start.
By the time we left Baudry-Dutour the rain was settling in and it continued on and off for the afternoon. By the time Jim Budd and I found ourselves in the vineyards of Bourgeuil and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil it was dry again, but as I waited to board my plane at Tours an hour or so later it was raining once again. We took a look up on the mi pente slopes at Jacky Blot’s Domaine de la Butte, which were probably the best tasting red grapes I sampled this week, with sweetly perfumed skins giving real flavour (it is surprising what little flavour most grapes on the vine have) but they also had ripe, clean and brown pips, a contrast to many of the grapes we tasted down on the more sandy soils below where there was obvious methoxypyrazine character in the fruit, and the pips were still green with adherent pulp. Then we called in on Sébastien David (pictured below, clearly in good spirits despite the difficult vintage), who told us his potentials currently ranged from 11.5% to 12.5%, not too bad, but that the acidities were still high at about 6 g/l. As with others, he is hoping for cold weather now to stave off the rot, having given up on obtaining further ripening. His plan was to start picking today (Saturday 12th October). Somewhere along the way we also squeezed in a visit to Frédéric Mabileau, where he clearly runs a very tight ship during harvest time (in fact there are numerous visits made this week I haven’t mentioned, as I have aimed to give a flavour of what we did, not provide a comprehensive summary – but information, report and pictures from all my visits will make it onto Winedoctor somewhere, somehow).
Before reaching the airport we stopped off at the new Château Gaudrelle facilities, on the road running into Vouvray at Rochecorbon. They lost 50% of the crop in the June hail here. They began picking last Wednesday, starting with the fruit for the bulles. The acidities are still very high indeed here though, up to 8 g/l, and so the vines are certainly not ready to be picked for still wines.
My journey back was uneventful, although I did nearly board a plane to Glasgow instead of Edinburgh by mistake, the two flights leaving from adjacent gates only five minutes apart. Sadly, since I left, Jim Budd reports that the rain has continued and been heavy, further dampening spirits no doubt.
Thanks to all the vignerons I visited in the past week, to the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins du Centre who put me up for two nights in Chavignol, and most of all to Jim Budd and CRM for their guidance, chauffeur’s service, introductions and hospitality. You can read those of Jim’s reports that correspond with mine starting here.