There isn’t a road between Sancerre and the associated villages of Chavignol and Bué that I didn’t travel down yesterday. Well, perhaps that is something of an exaggeration, but it was certainly a busy day as we flitted about from vineyard to vineyard, domaine to domaine.
We spent a large chunk of the morning with the globe-trotting Jean-Marie Bourgeois, ‘emeritus’ chairman of Henri Bourgeois. Now into his eighth decade Jean-Marie no longer personally directs operations at the expansive Henri Bourgeois facilities in Chavignol, leaving this to other family members. Nevertheless he is clearly not slowing down, and the list of destinations just visited or planned for the near future – all for the marketing of Bourgeois Sancerre of course – showed the now global appeal (exotic destinations, such as Singapore and China, featured heavily) of the wines from this little corner of Berry.
After seeing the sorting (above) on vibrating table de tri, we drove out to take a look at some Pinot Noir vines in Saint-Satur, the fruit here looking fairly healthy, as it has down across the region. Whereas the Sauvignon Blanc has generally been afflicted with rot, this is generally less so for the Pinot Noir. I imagined at first this reflected the slightly more advanced ripeness of the white variety, perhaps with more fragile skins (the berries certainly are fragile in some cases) but the Pinot Noir is now sufficiently ripe for some domaines to be picking, so that can’t be the whole story. Then it was on to Domaine Laporte, of which the Bourgeois family have been proprietors since 1986. Here we saw machine picking of Sauvignon Blanc, and an inspection of the fruit shows that, as elsewhere, it was showing some rot here and there. The rot is generally dry though (it still hasn’t rained) and thus it tends more towards the noble type of rot rather than grey rot, and repeated tasting of the fur-covered berries did not reveal any off flavours (this has been the case over the last three days). There were four machines picking the one vineyard here, the whole job taking two days in total.
After our visit to Henri Bourgeois Jim Budd and I made a long sequence of other visits. We met Vincent Pinard at his domaine, with his sons Florent and Clément. There was an emphasis here on sorting, sorting, sorting (table de tri shown above), and it has probably paid off, as the juices here were certainly the most exciting to taste, showing great concentration wrapped around vibrant acidity. Chez François Crochet we met the ever-delightful Carine Crochet who again reiterated the difficulties of the vintage. They began picking here last Thursday (October 3rd), and have been making heavy use of the table de tri. They have a team of 30 working in the vines, 26 pickers and four managers to direct the teams. The alcoholic potentials here range from 11.5% to 12% in most cases, but go up to 13% on some plots.
At Alphonse Mellot we found a huge team of pickers on La Moussière; with six mini-buses, two Landrovers and several white vans (above) parked up on the lower slopes of the vineyard, there must have been at least 50 people picking here. We followed up by visiting the winery in Sancerre; the sorting here looked much lighter, a quick pick over before the fruit went up the conveyer belt to the pneumatic press. I guess with so many people in the vineyard, they would argue that is where the sorting is happening. Alphonse Mellot Junior couldn’t meet us as I believe he was recovering from the previous days picking, which may have gone on late into the night, but we tasted some juice instead. Yields here are about the norm, at 40-45 hl/ha. We were on the Chavignol cuvée before I found something exciting, this juice showing good concentration and lovely acids to balance it; the alcoholic potential here was, after the tri, said to be 12%.
We visited Domaine Fouassier, a good-sized biodynamic operation, where yields were reported as normal (average 40 to 45 hl/ha, but ranging from 35 to 50 hl/ha depending on the plot) and alcoholic potentials ranged from 11.5% to 13.5%. We finished up at Domaine Vacheron, where we spent some time both with Jean-Dominique and Jean-Laurent Vacheron. Here they have been picking since September 27th, and the yields are reported as 53 hl/ha for the whites, not at all short. Curiously they have found here that despite a very even and rapid flowering during the spring, the Sauvignon Blanc does not seem to have progressed evenly, with one-third of the fruit quite green, one-third ripe, and one-third showing rot; there was no forthcoming explanation as for why this should be. The table de tri was very active here, with a large team working on it (above), sorting Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir discard due to rot was fairly high at 25%, more than I would have expected from what we have seen in the vineyards, although the evidence was there to see in the disposal bin (below).
Postscript: As I write this it is about 7am and there has just been a sudden downpour of rain. It was quite heavy, and I can now hear the rainwater gushing down the gutters of the street outside the window of my hotel room in Chavignol. This isn’t welcome news for those yet to bring their furry fruit in. More report tomorrow…..