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January Break

January isn’t usually a month when I take a break from regular Winedoctor updates, but this January has turned out to be rather different. I am having a slightly enforced break from regular updates until January 16th.

Last Saturday I flew out to the Loire Valley (via Bordeaux believe it or not – that felt weird) in order to take possession of a house I purchased. I knew I wouldn’t have time to make updates this week, but had intended to make that clear in a blog post such as this. Unfortunately internet access has been more difficult than anticipated, so please accept my apologies for this late ‘announcement’!

I have no phone line or wifi and although I spent a morning in an Orange shop today, and I now have all the necessary equipment, I doubt my line will be switched on until the weekend. So radio silence will continue. In case you’re wondering, I am posting this from my phone via dodgy 3G.

It is only Tuesday, but in the last three days I hired a van, bought and transported a pile of new furniture, collected my keys, half-sorted a phone line, signed the final documents with my notaire, made some basic repairs and met the neighbours (not in that order I have to say).

I will have time for one or two visits – I have one this afternoon in Bourgueil. And please rest assured normal service will be restored ASAP.

Looking Back, Looking Forward: From 2016 to 2017

As 2016 draws to a close I can’t resist some brief reflections on the year that has passed. I haven’t made my usual sequence of ‘Wine in Context’ posts (like these from 2016) this year, simply because I have had too much on my plate over the past few week to ruminate that much. It has been a madcap race to the end of the year! It makes me wonder why this time of year is often referred to as the ‘holiday season’ – it hasn’t seemed like much of a holiday so far.

The year has been rich with interesting bottles, but I have a confession to make. I find lists of “here are my best 25 bottles of the year” a little boring, and also a little detached. Wine is about context; sure, when it comes to critiquing wine to aid buying decisions, there isn’t really any valid method other than lists of tasting notes and scores (anyone who comes up with a new system that works is going to make a big name for him/herself very quickly). But when it comes to looking back over the year for your ‘best bits’, is that really the way we should think about wine?

Reflecting on 2016 I think the ‘wine moment’ that really stands out for me was my visit to meet Alphonse Mellot Senior (pictured below) in July. I spent perhaps three hours in his company, scampering through the Alphonse Mellot cellars in the heart of Sancerre, enthralled by his anecdotes and his confidently voiced opinions. The fact that the wines were fabulous also helped of course. And what is more, these aren’t ultra-rare unicorn wines from the 1940s, as anybody with a few quid can buy and drink his wines. I necked the entry-level 2015 Sancerre Blanc just last week, widely available, very affordable, and it was great. Although it was perhaps the 2012 Cuvée Edmond that most impressed during the visit, as well as a whole host of red wines.

Looking back, looking forward: From 2016 to 2017

Was there an equivalent wine moment in Bordeaux this year? Yes, and I think my visit to Château Cos d’Estournel in December was the highlight. It wasn’t the lunch I shared with Aymeric de Gironde and Dominique Arangoïts that made the visit so enjoyable, nor was it the wines we drank (2008, 2005, 2003 and 1989) even though there were three great wines there. I enjoyed the visit so much firstly because we took a really good tour of the vineyards together, something that is rare during a visit in besuited-Bordeaux. And because it was great to taste the different varities of 2016 from vat; this is a vintage with a lot of promise, a year in which Bordeaux seems to have done rather well when much of France was blighted by the spring frosts.

These were my two highlights of 2016, but there were lots of other great wine moments. In the Loire I enjoyed calling in on Henri Bourgeois, where I expanded my knowledge of Sancerre’s ability to age, I raced down to La Tour Saint Martin to taste the latest from Bertrand Minchin, tasting the 2014s and 2015s with Matthieu Baudry was great fun (and the wines promise a lot….I mean, in 2015, a lot), and I found the same joy at Charles Joguet. I called in on Domaine de la Noblaie during the summer, and just before harvest, both visits informative and fun, and I enjoyed checking out the vines with Benoit Amirault too. In Bordeaux I had a fine vertical tasting and dinner at Château Lagrange that sticks in the memory, but on the whole I try to avoid the boozy party scene in this region. There is a continued potential for conflict of interest here I wish to avoid.

I had a few good dinners during the course of the year, the most memorable at La Tour in Sancerre, and Social Wines & Tapas in London. Yes, there are plenty of stuffy restaurants that offer more ‘fine’ dining experiences than that second choice (and I dined at a few), but it was one of those dinners where everything went so well, and the meal seemed to build in a crescendo of delights, that it left a lasting impression on my taste buds.

Looking back, looking forward: From 2016 to 2017

As for other significant developments during 2016, it was great to see that Richard Leroy seems to be able to continue hitting the bull’s eye with his zero-sulphur wines; I must check in on the 2011 (the first zero-suphur vintage) sometime soon. I was delighted by the revitalisation of Domaine aux Moines by Tessa Laroche (pictured above), and by my discovery of Domaine Jaulin-Plaisantin. I enjoyed greatly trips to London to taste on Decanter panels (the Decanter World Wine Awards and three panel tastings for the magazine – the most recent, looking at Loire Chenin Blanc, yet to be published), and looking back to Bordeaux 2006 at Ten Years (a large tasting) and Loire 2006 at Ten Years (not such a large tasting), as well as many more recent vintages of course.

I capped the year in a fabulous manner by buying a house in the Loire Valley. It is about 30 minutes south of Chinon. It has been a long and tiring process, co-ordinating a bank, an insurance company, an agent and a notaire, but we have at last jumped the final hurdle. We signed yesterday, December 30th (hurrah!!). So there is a lot to look forward to in 2017, with my first trip out to Winedoctor House (I did think about rechristening it as that, but actually settled for something more generic) set for January 7th. Looking forward to 2017, expect more reports from Chinon, Bourgueil and St Nicolas de Bourgueil…..

Best wishes for a Happy New Year to all!

Winedoctor 2016 Disclosures

November and December have been super-busy, bringing another very active year to an end. I feel like I have been pedalling very hard the past six or seven weeks, and yet barely keeping up with the peloton (a cycling analogy purely for Jim Budd’s pleasure). As I write this it is only a couple of days until Christmas kicks off, but I haven’t had one spare moment to stop and reflect on the year, my favourite bottles, or my favourite tastings or dinners. In addition, I think the best ‘moment’ of the year – relating to a ‘project’ I have been working on in France – is yet to come, hopefully next week. Only after that moment will I really be able to catch my breath and reflect on the past twelve months…..

In the meantime, here are the annual Winedoctor disclosures for 2016. As always I have detailed support received, followed by some details of my own expenses incurred by undertaking various tastings and trips. On the whole this year has been more straightforward than 2015 and 2014. There were no surcharges for going over a mileage allowance hidden in the small print of the hire car contract (hurrah!). There were no speeeding tickets incurred between Paris and Saumur (hurrah!). There were no cancelled trips because of illness (hurrah!). The only hitch was having to live in a Gatwick hotel for two days, thanks to a French air traffic control strike. Interested deities looking for a new model for purgatory should feel free to get in touch for more details on my experiences there.

Here are details of trips when support was accepted:

Salon des Vins de Loire: No formal funding was accepted. I did accept two dinner invitations, one with a trio of Anjou vignerons, these being René Papin (Claude’s son), Vincent Ogereau and Yves Guégniard, and one with Loire courtier Charles Sydney. All other expenses I met myself (see below).
Bordeaux primeurs: My intention was to stay in Bordeaux for nine nights; thanks to a French air traffic control strike I spent the first two incarcerated in a Gatwick airport hotel, banging my head against a wall; I missed a visit I had arrranged to meet Peter Sisseck at Château Rocheyron (annoyed!) and a visit and vertical tasting at Château de Reignac (double annoyed!). I thus spent seven nights in Bordeaux, and I accepted offers of accommodation from Bill Blatch (one night, with barbecue and Sauternes tasting), Château Lagrange (one night, with a vertical tasting and dinner), Château Preuillac (two nights, uncatered) and Château La Dauphine (three nights, uncatered). I also took quick lunches at Château Haut-Bailly and Château Pichon-Baron. Other expenses I met myself (see below). Easyjet put me up in Gatwick and to give them credit this came with three meals a day, and was offered without me even having to ask for it. I was impressed by the actions of this ‘budget’ airline.
Loire Valley, October: I accepted accommodation for three nights (mostly self-catered) at Domaine de la Noblaie. I had dinner with proprietor Jérôme Billard on arrival, and also shared a pre-harvest lunch with his vineyard workers. Eggs from Jérôme’s hens came free of charge (and were delicious). Other expenses I covered myself (see below).
Bordeaux, December: I visited to taste the 2014s. I accepted accommodation in Château Preuillac (two nights, uncatered) and Château La Dauphine (three nights, uncatered). I accepted an invitation to lunch from Vignobles Fayat and Château Cos d’Estournel. Other expenses I met myself (see below).
Gifts received: I received a book as a gift from Hubert de Boüard de Laforest (written by Jane Anson – well done Jane!), as well as a few bottles from La Tour Saint-Martin, a bottle from Matthieu Baudry, a bottle from Benoit Amirault, several bottles from Domaine de la Noblaie. I don’t recall receiving any other gifts.
Samples received: A small number of wine samples were received, where the wines have been written up this has been declared. Most wines written up on Winedoctor are encountered at open tastings, or purchased.

This concludes the ‘support received’ section of my 2016 disclosures report. I try to keep support received to a minimum, but more important is to be transparent about exactly what support has been received, and the details presented above meet that requirement. In addition, where new articles have been published after support was received, this has been disclosed.

Winedoctor 2015 Disclosures

As is customary, I also like to balance this information with a report on which tastings and trips have been funded by me, or to be more precise by my subscribers.

Salon des Vins de Loire: All travel and accommodation expenses for the Salon des Vins de Loire were met by me; this included travel in the UK, flights, return rail fare in France, five nights accommodation in Angers and subsistence on all days but two.
Bordeaux primeurs: I met my travel costs myself; this includes travel in the UK, flights to Bordeaux via Gatwick, and hire car for nine days even if I only managed to use it for seven. I covered all my own subsistence expenses except for the lunches and dinners described above.
Loire Valley, July: I spent three weeks touring and tasting in the Loire Valley. I covered all costs, including driving to the Loire Valley, ferry tickets, accommodation in Chinon and Sancerre, and all subsistence expenses, myself. I rented dirt-cheap accommodation near Chinon, and super-expensive accommodation near Sancerre. The house near Chinon was better. How does that happen?
Loire Valley, October: Back to Chinon in late-September for a pre-harvest visit. I flew there via Poitiers, the smallest airport I have passed through in a long time (i.e. you queue up for the flight in the main hall, and then pass through security in a single lane, to a waiting room; airport shopping consists of a drinks vending machine – I liked it and will be going back!). After the disclosures above, I met my own costs, including travel in the UK, flights, hire car and most subsistence.
Bordeaux, December Visit: For this five-day trip to Bordeux I met my travel costs myself; this included transport in the UK, flights to Bordeaux, and hire car for five days. I accepted assistance with accommodation (as noted above). Other than one lunch, I paid for all my subsistence myself.
London, Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé tasting: As was the case last year, I was already in London judging at the Decanter World Wine Awards when this tasting was scheduled, and I took a day out of my judging schedule to attend this. I thus covered all my own travel costs.
Other London tastings: As always these were numerous, and included the Bordeaux Index 2006 tasting, the Loire Benchmark tasting, the Real Wine Fair, the Union des Grands Crus tasting of the 2014 vintage, the St Emilion Grand Cru Classé tasting at the Leadenhall Building (a great venue), the annual Cru Bourgeois tasting, the IMW Bordeaux tasting of the 2012 vintage and the RAW Wine Fair. In each case I paid for my entry fee where applicable (this only applies to the IMW tasting), travel inluding flights and airport transfers, and subsistence. Some tastings came with a free lunch (insert your own joke here).

This concludes my disclosures statement for 2016. Next week I may sit down for long enough to have some reflections on the year, and will (hopefully) be able to write about my biggest ‘moment’ of 2016.

The Return of The New

There are few activities more exciting than making new discoveries, whether it be in wine or in countless other fields. It is something I get a particular kick out of, and in previous years I have highlighted some of these new additions to the site with my New in the Loire posts.

This year is to be no different, and I have a bunch of new Loire valley profiles coming up, of new domaines, of young up-and-coming vignerons, or sometimes even domaines which, despite being long-established, I simply haven’t visited before. Here’s what has just been published, and what I have in the pipeline…..

Just published:

Domaine des Haut Baigneux: an old domaine expanded and revitalised by two friends who are turning out great-value wines from under-the-radar appellations.

La Source du Ruault: another old domaine, here reanimated by the next generation, Jean-Noël Millon (pictured below), who is turning out interesting Saumur-Champigny.

Jean-Noël Millon

And some others in the pipeline:

Laurent Herlin: A young guy who left behind the world of SIM card manufacturing to take up winemaking in Bourgueil.

Domaine Jaulin Plaisantin: A domaine in Chinon to watch, born from an association between Yves Plaisantin, recently returned from the USA, and Sébastien Jaulin, old-school viticulteur.

Domaine Grosbois: Another name to watch in Chinon, where Nicolas Grosbois is turning around the family domaine.

Clos des Quarterons: Yet another name to watch in Bourgueil – I check out the wines of Thierry Amirault.

Verdier-Logel: A superb source of Gamay from the upper reaches of the Loire.

And there’s more to come. Stay tuned

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.

Loire 2016

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.

Domaine de la Noblaie 2016, Before the Harvest

Earier this week I spent a few days in the Loire Valley, making a few visits in Chinon and Bourgueil, and checking out the state of the vineyards prior to harvest. Most will start picking the Cabernet Franc soon, probably the second week of October.

It is going to be a very short vintage after the disastrous frost in April. But it is far from non-existent.

Domaine de la Noblaie 2016, Before the Harvest

I took a walk around the vines of Jerôme Billard at Domaine de la Noblaie. Jérôme is predicting a 20% loss, and some of his vines (like the one pictured above) are carrying a good crop. The fruit looks healthy and although I found one or two berries with really convincing flavour (usually in exposed bunches on the ends of rows) Jérôme says they need more time to ripen fully. The main problem I see in the bunches are numerous small, unripe berries which will need to be selected out. Jérôme picks by hand, so this will be time consuming but achievable.

Domaine de la Noblaie 2016, Before the Harvest

Pictured above, more healthy Cabernet Franc in the lower sections of the vineyard (still well above the alluvial plain though, where the frost hit hardest).

Domaine de la Noblaie 2016, Before the Harvest

Pictured above, some more healthy Cabernet Franc, this time on an even higher section of the vineyard, looking at vines that provide fruit for the Chiens Chiens cuvée.

Domaine de la Noblaie 2016, Before the Harvest

The main task ongoing in the vineyard during my visit was removing the grapillons, like the one pictured above. These small secondary bunches sit high in the canopy, maybe a metre above the ripening bunches pictured above, and are derived from the vine’s second flowering. In terms of ripening they are clearly lagging behind, the berries still bright green, but in a couple of weeks when harvest comes they may well have changed colour. The best course of action – before all the saisonniers arrive to pick the fruit – is to pluck them off now.

Domaine de la Noblaie 2016, Before the Harvest

The weather throughout July and August has been very dry, and yet despite that the vines still looked verdant and green. Jérôme, who manages the entire vineyard using organic methods and is fully certified, sprayed the canopy several times with an infusion of comfrey during the drought, which he thinks helped protect the vines.

Domaine de la Noblaie 2016, Before the Harvest

This final image shows an unhappy vine, but it was nothing to do with the frost, or the drought; damage to the trunk when cutting the grass did this.

There is no denying this is a difficult vintage, but despite the very short vintage there is still the potential for some verygood quality here.

Loire Valley 2016: The Frost

Earlier this year the vignerons of the Loire Valley experienced one of the worst frosts for decades, probably the most destructive since the catastrophic frost of 1991 in fact. In this terrible experience they are not alone of course, as many other regions have had a trying time this year; Chablis and other parts of Burgundy were also particularly hard-hit.

Over the coming month or two, as vignerons complete their harvest work, we will finally see the true and exact extent of the damage. Up until now the damage assessments have been nothing more than estimates, but once the vats are full (half-full is more likely I am afraid) the vignerons will know their final yields for the vintage, and we can see how these stand compared with the norm.

I will be out in the Loire Valley next week, only for a couple of days sadly, but I may be able to see a little harvesting, and perhaps pick up a few vibes. In the meantime though, here are a few data points from Bourgueil, Chinon, Vouvray and Montlouis, gleaned from some visits I made a couple of months ago.

Loire Frost 2016

In all parts it seemed as though there was considerable variation, with some losing a vast proportion of their crop, others losing a ‘mere’ 20%. Jérôme Billard (pictured above) of Domaine de la Noblaie was one of the lucky ones (if you can call any of this ‘lucky’).

“I knew 2016 was going to be difficult, as we had such a mild winter. It was so mild that our almond tree, which sits in the courtyard of the house, flowered on December 26th. The frost came at a tricky time as we have had a string of short vintages, the four preceding vintages being variable in quality but all were 30-40% smaller in terms of volume than what we were hoping for”.

The frost only affected the lower sections of Jérôme’s vineyards; above the tree line which separates the upper slopes from the vines on the plain there was no damage. Total loss across the entire domaine was estimated at between 10% and 20%. The problem in Jérôme’s eyes was not solely the frost though, as subsequently he had mildew on leaves and berries, and also a touch of black rot. He deleafed (and planned to green harvest too – this will have been done long ago now), and when I visited in July the vines were looking in rude health.

Loire Frost 2016

Elsewhere in the region his peers were not always so fortunate. On the other side of the Vienne, Matthieu Baudry lost 50% in total. Mirroring Jérôme’s experience the worst-hit vineyards were those on the terraces, and any lower flatter land (so Les Granges and Les Grézeaux then), where the loss was estimated at 70%. The damage was less significant on the slopes. Anne-Charlotte Genet of Charles Joguet gave a similar report, estimating loss of 60% of the crop. Up the road just past Bourgueil Benoit Amirault (pictured above), the son of Yannick Amirault, was singing from the same hymn sheet.

“We had no frost on Le Grand Clos, which is positioned well up the slope. But we had lots of damage secondary to the frost elsewhere. The vines worst hit by the frost were those on the terrace, below the road. Overall we lost about two-thirds of the crop to the frost”.

Moving upstream to Vouvray and Montlouis, François Chidaine (the focus of my tasting report today) lost 70% of the crop in Montlouis, 50% in Vouvray and 80% on his Touraine vineyards. Whichever way you look at it, that’s another massive blow for François. Similarly, Jacky Blot reported losing about 70%. Vincent Carême, meanwhile, considers himself fortunate to have lost perhaps 20%, no more than that. His estimate may perhaps be a little more accurate than others because he has frost insurance (I am not sure about the others – I confess I didn’t think to ask) which means he has undergone a vineyard inspection by an assessor. Vincent also told me that François Pinon’s vineyards were very badly hit, which would be disastrous. If I see François anytime soon, I will check this out for myself.

Now, as spectators, all we can do is wait to see how the harvest goes. If I learn anything new during my visit I will post it here.

Summer Break: Chinon Time

The sun is shining (intermittently, to be honest) over the vineyards of Chinon today*. I know this not because I have looked up the latest méteo report, but because I can feel its warm rays on my skin. I’m at the start of my summer break, and rather than flying out to India or the Algarve for my holiday, I’m staying within sight of Chinon’s famous château pictured below (taken with my mobile phone – which accounts for the grainy quality), literally from my front gate. So you could call it a busman’s holiday, I suppose.

As you would expect, I have a few appointments lined up, to see Jérome Billard at Domaine de Noblaie, Anne-Charlotte Genet at Charles Joguet and Matthieu Baudry at Bernard Baudry. And I will be looking further afield too; it wouldn’t be a trip to the Loire Valley without calling in on Vincent Carême of course. There will be other visits as well, but I will be making these other appointments over the next week, provided the vignerons I hope to visit aren’t on their summer holidays of course.

Chinon

I have only been here since Saturday evening, but I have already eaten out in Chinon, a selection of escargots, rognons and ris de veau (not all on the same plate I hasten to add) washed down with the 2012 Cuvée de la Cure from Charles Joguet. Of course, Joguet is a domaine I already know quite well, and the same could be said of Chinon and its vineyards, so during this ‘break’ I hope to get in my car and explore some parts of the Loire Valley I am less familiar with; I have plans to head up to Jasnières and the Coteaux du Loire, and perhaps Cheverny too. While in the evenings I will wash away the dust of the day with as many examples of Chinon from the 2014 and 2015 vintages as is humanly possible (I have already made a start on this).

After two weeks in Chinon I plan to head upriver to Sancerre, a region I also know well although I have never passed more than a couple of days there; on this visit, however, I will be staying there for a week. Again, I have some visits lined up, and some yet to be made. This means I will be back in the UK updating Winedoctor in three weeks time, hopefully refreshed and ready to go. In the meantime I hope all readers, subscribers or not, enjoy some good wine and hopefully some good sunshine too over the next few weeks.

*Anyone in Chinon on Monday, on reading this and looking up at the grey and drizzly skies, will see this as a lie. But the sun was shining when I wrote it on Sunday afternoon, honest.

Loire Valley Frost 2016: Technical & Economic Report

I received this morning this report from InterLoire, the inter-professional organisation representing much of the Loire Valley, namely the Nantais, Anjou, Saumur and Touraine regions, with a few notable exceptions including Bourgueil, Montlouis and Nicolas Joly, clearly an appellation unto himself.

The frost that hit the Loire Valley on April 26th/27th was very severe, with widespread damage done. The damage was not, however, universal. The report provides some detail on which regions were worst affected and what the likely outcome will be, as well as describing what economic measures have been taken. I don’t usually reproduce press releases, but there was some information here from a central and reliable (if admittedly spin-prone) source that I thought would be of interest to many.

What follows comes from InterLoire. Some phrases I have highlighted in bold.
 

Frost in the Loire Valley
Technical Report and Economic Measures

The Loire Valley vineyards were severely hit by late April frosts, in some areas, temperatures dipped as low as –6°C. On Friday May 20th, Interloire called a meeting of Loire Valley wine professionals to take stock of the situation and decide on the measures they need to implement.

LOSSES ESTIMATED AT 20 – 30% OF HARVEST – WITH CONSIDERABLE DISPARITIES

Having looked at the studies carried out by winegrowers’ federations, the ODG and the Chambers of Agriculture, Interloire’s Technical Committee reports that at this stage, overall losses can be estimated at 20-30% of an average year’s harvest (1.9 million hl).

The picture is variable, however, with huge disparities between different vineyards and areas. Worst affected are the vineyards of Touraine, Nantais and Sarthe, with losses of up to 80% in some communes. The Presidents of the Loire Valley’s Winegrowers’ Federations report that “some areas have been very badly affected. The ODG stepped in quickly, setting up crisis centres in the worst-hit areas.”

We will have to wait until flowering starts at the end of June before we can give a more accurate estimate of harvest levels and assess the impact frost damage will have on the year’s vintage.

REGULATING SALES

Due to market interest in Loire Valley wines and low harvests in recent years, wine stocks are currently at their lowest ever level (7 months in 2015). “The situation is serious,” warns InterLoire President Gérard Vinet. The Loire Valley works on a ‘just-in-time’ basis, and it is imperative that we introduce a collective strategy to regulate sales.” The Committee for Marketing, Economics and Forecasting chaired by Laurent Menestreau is planning to hold a meeting for all relevant parties in the near future.

In terms of sales, 2016 will be relying on the excellent 2015 vintage to supply volumes. In 2017 the picture is likely to be more varied, depending on the company and product concerned. Appellations with volumes of over 100,000 hl and which suffered less impact – Cabernet d’Anjou, Rosé-d’Anjou, Crémant-de-Loire and Vouvray – should be able to meet demand. Those which were badly hit – Muscadet, Chinon, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil or Touraine for example, we will look at on a case-by-case basis, as each situation is so different. Following the discussions, however, Bernard Jacob, vice-president of InterLoire and president of UMVL (an association of Loire Maisons de Négoce) was reassuring: “The Loire Valley is ready and willing to supply the markets without introducing price rises which may lead to destabilisation.”

INSTITUTIONS OFFERING SUPPORT

A number of support measures have been announced; among them, FranceAgriMer and the Regions have pledged financial support for the study and provision of frost protection equipment. Meanwhile, the Federations have approached public authorities and institutions regarding insurance, partial unemployment benefits for employees and financial concessions for 2017.

As the meeting finished, Gérard Vinet summed up: “At a time when we are revitalising our image, making wines our consumers love and enjoying excellent market positioning, the Loire Valley’s wine professionals have rallied to find ways of supporting those Loire businesses which have been worst affected. Meanwhile we continue to respond favourably to demand.” All solutions will be carefully scrutinised, and industry professionals will be kept informed so that they can continue to sustain their growth and development.

Winedoctor Philosophies, Year 4

In the past week Winedoctor passed an important landmark. It is not a true birthday – this site first appeared in May 2000, so it will hit its 16th birthday in about seven weeks time – nevertheless it is now three completed years since I moved away from the business model of advertiser dependence, to a subscription-based model. So at about this time of year, as well as pondering the forthcoming Bordeaux primeurs, I always take a look back at the past twelve months, and ponder the year ahead. The fact that I am holed up in an airport hotel en route to Bordeaux with little else to do might also have something to do with it.

My philosophy when it comes to wine writing online has developed as Winedoctor has grown. I came to realise that if I was to write something with real depth that would inform readers, I should probably focus on one or two regions, and then dig as deep as I could, year after year. Naturally I settled for the two regions I knew and loved most, the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. This meant I could ditch the dependence on press trips; having done press trips both to the Loire Valley and Bordeaux in the past, but having also explored both regions much more extensively alone, it is clear to me what a blinkered, tunnel-vision view of a region press trips give, even those arranged by regional bodies rather than single producers. I have read too many vacuous press trip reports filled with pretty pictures of beaming faces, lush lunches and boozy dinners, as well as fleeting impressions of wines, but seemingly devoid of substance.

Happily, having a subscription-based income isolates me from this endless marathon of stuffed-cheek blogging, because thankfully I now write for graciously paying subscribers, and thus I don’t see an endless stream of freebies as my imbursement. I have a week in Bordeaux just kicking off now, and shall be busy maintaining my distance from the besuited Bordelais, not because I don’t like them (I do!) but because that’s a professional, non-freebie-dependent approach. I see serious reporting on wine, reporting that readers are actually prepared to make buying decisions on, as a business rather than a lifestyle, and I feel happiest doing it while standing some distance from the trough. During the forthcoming week in Bordeaux I have only one dinner scheduled; I generally allow myself one per primeurs trip, and this year Château Lagrange tempted me in with the promise of a vertical tasting first. As always I will declare this support on relevant articles, and in my annual support disclosure. It would be a very professional approach for freebie-chasers to do the same, but it won’t happen, for obvious reasons.

Detailed reports and a willingness to describe wines both good and bad in an honest, open and transparent fashion has long seemed, to me, to be the right way to go with Winedoctor. This applies both in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. After my Bordeaux 2013 reports were published I had several emails from Bordeaux complaining I had scored the wines too low. It struck me that this was great feedback, implying I was doing something right. No wine writer should ever find only positive things to say, it isn’t realistic. The word ‘critic’ does carry some meaning, after all, unless you are happy being part of the marketing machine that says only positive things (I can feel myself returning to press trips here). The same applies in the Loire Valley, where I get the feeling some writers, merchants, bloggers and sommeliers coo too much over wines based on the naturalista-style viticultural and winemaking dogma involved, rather than the finished result. I have had too many oxidised, refermenting, Brett-laden, rotten and botrytis-laden wines to follow this mantra. The latest report from the Loire Valley, published this week for subscribers, hopefully makes that clear.

Hopefully Winedoctor subscribers agree with these philosophies, and they seem to be spreading the word. Subscriber numbers grew again in year three, by just under 14%, and I would like to thank all those who renewed their subscriptions, and welcome all those who signed up for the first time. Looking at the year ahead, building on this success I will for year four hold the subscription price down to just £45 per annum, the same price I launched at three years ago. As far as I am aware the number of months in the year hasn’t changed, so this is still the equivalent of £3.75 per month for almost continuous daily updates (I do have a summer holiday, and I still take Christmas Day off!). There is a trial period open to those who haven’t subscribed before, and that remains £15 for a month’s access (you can top up the remaining eleven months for £30). I intend to leave this trial offer available during the entire year, including during the publication of my primeur reports. If you’re wondering what my themes for the year ahead are, as well as my usual vintage reports (2015, 2012 and 2006 Bordeaux to come, also 2014 but I might carry that over into 2017 after another visit to the region, in the Loire just 2006 to come) I will be continuing the expansion of my coverage of both St Emilion and St Julien, and in the Loire I will home in on some of the red wine appellations, with tastings and reports of the successful 2014 and 2015 vintages from visits lined up for July. Complete with first tastings from barrel of the latter, I hope.