On Tuesday Jim Budd and I headed out of Touraine, taking a route parallel to the Cher for much of the way, as we headed up to the vineyards of the Centre. That brought us first to Reuilly, where we stopped off to meet Claude Lafond, and to taste a little of his 2013 juice.
Claude (pictured above) has a very swish looking operation on the edge of the village, which he runs with the help of his daughter Nathalie. We tasted his 2013 Pinot Gris juice, which was clean, had plenty of flavour, soft texture and some nicely enveloped acidity. I thought it was surprisingly good. At his suggestion we then abandoned our plans for a roadside picnic and took an impromptu lunch with him and his team of workers. Claude, who inherited his domaine from his father André, is a mine of information on the history of Reuilly, its vines and wines, and how the appellation has waned (to near extinction) and waxed over the years. More importantly, his 2010 Reuilly Le Clos des Messieurs, made from full-ripeness Sauvignon, changed with one sip my understanding of this appellation. His are wines I am clearly going to have to get to know better.
Then it was on through Quincy, the Loire’s first-ever appellation, it having been ratified in 1936. It is a remarkably small appellation, and we passed through here before heading up through the vineyards of Menetou-Salon. Here we stopped off to meet Philippe Gilbert (pictured above), whose wines I enjoyed when I tasted them earier this year at the Renaissance tasting in Angers. We found him just clearing up after lunch, and after hearing of his Sauvignon harvest so far we then followed him out to see him and his team picking Pinot Noir (below).
I was struck by the fact that, as we moved from Touraine into Menetou-Salon and then Sancerre, how the alcoholic potentials climbed. Whereas Touraine producers may well resort to adding sugar – those whose personal dogmas don’t forbid them doing so, at any rate – this is much less likely in Menetou-Salon and Sancerre. Philippe reported alcoholic potentials comfortably higher than 12%, up to 12.9% on some pickings. The Sauvignon Blanc juice tasted clean, fresh, with nicely buried acidity.
Then it was on to Sancerre, and we didn’t make too many domaine visits here, instead accosting people in the vineyard as and when the mood took us, as we enjoyed a veritable tour of the appellation, stopping off around Bué, looking at the Clos de la Poussie, then towards Chavignol where we took in things on Les Monts Damnés and the Beaujeu vineyards, then over to Sancerre taking a detour into La Moussière, the vineyard of Alphonse Mellot as we went. One person we accosted in the vineyard was Vincent Pinard (pictured above), who was just moving from one vineyard to the next, and he spoke to us from the cab of his white van (the ubiquitous vehicle of the harvest). Vincent confirmed what others had said, that it had been a difficult vintage and the harvest was a testing one, with rot a problem and very selective picking required.
That this was so had been evident all day. I saw Philippe Gilbert take one picker to task, after he had spotted a small bunch bearing some rot in one of the hods on its way down to be loaded for transport back to the chai. Elsewhere, rot was fairly evident, but certainly not universal. Some bunches look very clean and healthy, while others have clearly suffered. Finding a touch of rot, like that above, is not unusual; the berries feel very fragile in some cases – in trying to pick them they collapse between finger and thumb, and I imagine this is relevant when it comes to the presence of rot in the vineyard. Fortunately it has remained dry, although overcast, but the forecast for the end of the week is worsening. Rain on the rot currently in the vineyard would of course be a great cause for concern. It is a vintage for draconian selection, with the potential to make good wines (but probably no more than that). There are plenty of pitfalls, and vignerons with higher yields, or who have failed to pick soon enough, or who have a more lax attitude to selection are likely to make ‘less than interesting’ wines.