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Loire 2013: Before and After

Although I have finished my ‘from the vineyard’ Loire 2013 reports there are a few reflections still to make on my week in the Loire, starting with my visit to Domaine Baudry-Dutour. Here I found them busy picking Cabernet Franc for the 2013 Chinon Rosé, using a machine harvester with on-board optical sorting. Although I’ve seen these machines in action a few times now, I don’t recall seeing one so close-up before, and I certainly haven’t seen one with on-board optical sorting (if the image below looks familiar, it’s because I also included it in my Chinon & Bourgueil post).

Loire 2013: machine picking, before

The process is incredibly efficient, and the machine can be fine-tuned to not only to determine how vigorously the grapes are removed, but the optical sorting can also be adjusted to reject more or fewer of the just-picked fruit. As far as I could see a few leaves were removed as well as grapes, but this also happens during hand-picking, when leaves are often pulled off in order to make easier access to the bunches. Here are some bunches before picking:

Loire 2013: machine picking, before

And here is the same vine after picking; almost all the grapes have been neatly removed from their stems, the vine almost untouched:

Loire 2013: machine picking, after

The rejected grapes are dumped into a tray on the side of the machine which the operator – or rather one of a small team of men running the machine – emptied out at the end of each row. In the image below he is picking through the rejected fruit, ensuring that the optical sorting is appropriately tuned. During the process he conferred with the vineyard proprietor, Jean-Martin Dutour, as to whether or not he would like to adjust the settings in order to reject more/less fruit.

Loire 2013: machine picking, discarded fruit

Below is the accepted fruit, after it has been dumped into a trailer ready to be taken into the winery. The berries were certainly in a much better condition than those rejected, although I was somewhat confused by the presence of a few clearly unripe berries, which optical sorting really should have rejected very easily.

Loire 2013: machine picking, selected fruit

Despite this experience I remain somewhat unconvinced by machine-picking, even though I have tasted a number of machine-picked wines that have been very good. My persistent doubt stems from a correlation (a weak one, admittedly) between machine-picking and lower quality in a handful of Bordeaux grand cru classé estates. I say ‘weak’ as it really relates to just a few negative experiences, and I expect there are many other confounding variables involved. I think, perhaps, I should keep more of an open mind about it, especially looking at the quality of the fruit selected here.

I have some videos of the machine in action but will have to edit them first, difficult at the moment as I am currently ‘taking a break’ exploring the beaches, castles and gardens of Northumberland (a very fine part of the country I must say).

Loire 2013: Chinon and Bourgueil

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.

Jean-Martin Dutour

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.

Picking machine with Opti-Grape on-board optical sorting

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).

Sébastien David

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.

Loire 2013: To Pouilly

On Thursday morning I crossed the Loire to explore the region of Pouilly-Fumé, calling in at a number of domaines in Tracy-sur-Loire, Pouilly-sur-Loire, Les Loges and Saint-Andelain. There was continued activity on the roads as we departed Chavignol, yesterday’s rain stepping up the pace a little, before it could turn the rot to grey. Fortunately the temperatures have dropped somewhat, which the vignerons are happy about. There is an acceptance that there will be no further ripening now as the weather simply isn’t good enough, and indeed warm weather would simply advance the rot. Cold weather, however, will retard the development of the rot and keep things clean while the vignerons get the picking done.

Didier Pabiot, Nina Schomakers

Once over in Pouilly we enjoyed a whistle-stop one-morning tour of the appellation, hearing about the 2013 harvest along the way, picking well underway here, and we also tasted a little freshly pressed juice. Most domaines seem to have begun last week (generally towards the end, although some were earlier) or Monday this week. At Château de Tracy for example, picking began by hand on September 26th, and was about to finish. At Jonathon Pabiot, where we spoke to Didier Pabiot (Jonathon’s father) and Jonathon’s, partner Nina Schomakers (pictured above), with only a relatively small vineyard to pick they were happy that they had begun at the right time, and they were halfway to completion. The alcoholic potential here is about 12.2%, a figure with which they are very content. And, as elsewhere, although the Sauvignon Blanc here carried some rot, it remains noble and clean tasting, and without any sweetening concentration. At Michel Redde the potentials ranged from 10.5% to 11.7%, so a little lower here, with yields between 50 and 55 hl/ha.

In Saint-Andelain we call in to see Benjamin Dagueneau (below), where we tasted the 2013 juice, of which there is very restricted quantities. The picking from Buisson Renard, for example, would usually come close to filling a 9100-litre steel vat, but this year there is only 1950 litres (possibly ‘so far’ – I forgot to ask if there was more yet to come), about 20% the normal volume. Benjamin has clearly been working hard to maximise quality in this difficult vintage, with “tri, beaucoup, beaucoup, beaucoup” being his summing up of the vintage. After the juice we also tasted through all the 2012s from vat, and I will add a report on these wines to the subscribers area before long.

Benjamin Dagueneau

We called in at Masson-Blondelet who had begun on Monday this week, finding acceptable ripenes and a little rot, but small yields due to hail earlier in the year. And then with a long drive ahead of us Jim Budd and I headed back to Touraine, but not before stopping off with Denis Jamain in Reuilly. Denis was close to finishing picking all his whites and reds, and finds quality in the latter higher than in the former. The alcoholic potential here is between 12% and 12.5%, and the yields are not at all bad, with 35 hl/ha for Pinot Noir and 55 hl/ha for Sauvignon Blanc. Denis believes that it is soil type that will have made the biggest difference in this vintage, with more sandy soils encouraging rot, but limestone terroirs more resistant. After that, he says, it is all down to when you started picking.

Today (Friday) we are heading downstream to Bourgueil and Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, then sadly I will be heading home via the airport at Tours. I will post a report on Friday’s visits tomorrow.

Loire 2013: Les Tables de Tri

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.

Sorting at Henri Bourgeois

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.

Sorting at Vincent Pinard

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.

Alphonse Mellot, pickers' transport

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%.

Sorting at Domaine Vacheron

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).

Discarded fruit at Domaine Vacheron

Today (Thursday) Jim Budd and I are off to Pouilly-Fumé, with possible visits to Domaine Didier Dagueneau, Alexandre Bain, Jonathon Pabiot and others.

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…..

Loire 2013: Reuilly to Sancerre

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 Lafond

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.

Philippe Gilbert

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).

Philippe Gilbert, Pinot Noir

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.

Vincent Pinard

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.

Pinot Noir

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.

Today (Wednesday) we have a whole raft of visits lined up, including Alphonse Mellot, Vacheron, Henri Bourgeois, François Crochet, Sébastien Riffault and maybe half a dozen more.

Loire 2013: In Touraine

Monday was a busy day spent flitting across the vineyards of Touraine with Jim Budd, visiting some notable growers whose wines I already know, as well as some domaines I haven’t visited before. It was great to have this mix of the familiar and the new. I lost count of how many domaines we visited altogether.

Catherine Roussel

One of our first visits was to Clos Roche Blanche, where Catherine Roussel (pictured above, with her 2013 ‘dossier’) was honest about the quality of the vintage. “C’est genial, un très bon millésime, le millésime du siècle!“, she exclaimed. All said tongue-in-cheek I’m afraid, because it was quite clear this has been a difficult vintage, with less than adequate ripeness in the fruit, and the threat of rot forcing picking. It was, she said, a vintage for the “table de tri“, indicating that a lot of sorting was required to make anything decent this year. During our time with Catherine we also tasted from 2012 and 2011, just a trio of wines as we weren’t able to linger, and we learned of Catherine’s plans for the future at Clos Roche Blanche, something all fans of this domaine will want to read. I will add an update for the domaine to the subscriber’s section in the next month.

Noëlla Morantin

From Clos Roche Blanche it was a short drive up the road to see Noëlla Morantin (pictured above), not surprising as Noëlla rents her property from Catherine. Here we learnt more about the difficulties of the vintage, and tasted some wines from 2012.

Our focus turned more towards 2013 at Domaine Ricard, with a taste of the freshly picked Sauvignon Blanc juice, yet to get underway with fermentation. Of all the juice I tasted on Monday this was the most convincing, full of expressive citrus fruit and almost tropical aromas, with texture and fresh but nicely enveloped acidity. There’s no reason to believe this won’t make good a Touraine wine. Vincent Ricard (pictured below) was looking more pleased than most, probably because he has 21 hectares of white and only 3 hectares of red, he has largely finished picking the whites, and quality here – at the top end at least – doesn’t seem at all bad.

Vincent Ricard

Speaking in general terms, the Touraine growers are in the middle or drawing close to the end of picking the Sauvignon Blanc, with many expecting to finish in the next few days if not already. The weather isn’t too bad, with blue skies and sunshine for the past two mornings, although clouding over on each day as the hours ticked by. I expect this dry but somewhat cloudy weather will continue for the rest of the week, so not an Indian summer but not leading to a rapid degeneration in quality of fruit on the vine either, which rain would certainly do. Dark clouds continual threaten this peace though, so there is still plenty of anxiety.

The Sauvignon Blancs have come in typically at 11.5% potential, which means chaptalisation is likely at many domaines, as they pump up the wines to 12.5% or thereabouts. A few domaines claimed a little more than 11.5%, with one or two hitting 12% but no more. Yields vary greatly according to the viticultural philosophy of the domaine, but they were very good in places. In terms of tasting the juices, at some domaines they certainly tasted flavoursome and clean, although I note that when this was the case we were often tasting the upper class, old vines juice, and not the juice of younger vines or lesser terroirs. At one domaine where we tasted through a selection of juices, the first Sauvignon showed a touch of grey rot, and the others all showed some rather vegetal Sauvignon character, slight in the older vines juice but worsening as we went down through the portfolio to th every young vines. Another top-flight vigneron confirmed that there was a taste of rot in some of his Sauvignon Blanc juice, and he was treating it with casein to remove it. This is a sure sign of the trials of the vintage, and indicating that even the best, organic, true-to-the-terroir domaines have had major problems this year.

On Tuesday I am heading out to Sancerre, to spend a couple of days here, exploring the vineyards of this appellation as well as Pouilly-Fumé, Menetou-Salon, Reuilly and Quincy.

Loire 2013: A Quick Start

Yesterday I travelled down to the Loire Valley, from Edinburgh to Tours via London; other than having to hang around Stansted airport for a long time, it was an uneventful journey. Tours is a great airport, very small, and superbly located. Within minutes of landing I was out among the vines, along with Jim Budd. I may well take this route again in future.

We took a whirlwind tour of some of the Vouvray and Montlouis vineyards before we lost the evening light. I know that you cannot extrapolate quality across an appellation, or even across a domaine, but it is still instructive to see the fruit on the vine waiting to be picked.

Chenin Blanc in the Clos du Bourg

Above is Chenin Blanc in the Clos du Bourg, belonging to Domaine Huet; what the picture doesn’t really convey is the small size of the berries as well as the small size of the bunch. This is a second generation bunch, one which developed after the hailstorm swept through in June, and it was typical of what I found in the vineyard. They aren’t going to be of any use in winemaking. It illustrates what a difficult time the appellation has had this year.

Chenin Blanc in Montlouis

Above is Chenin Blanc in Montlouis, probably in the vineyards of François Chidaine, although it is difficult to be sure. These grapes look much more promising. There is a little rot here and there, but it is largely dry, and tastes clean, so no need to lose hope yet. Good weather, as is forecast for the next week, will help.

Château de Chenonceau

There was just time to catch a glimpse of some evening light on the Château de Chenonceau, probably my favourite of all the Loire châteaux – not a very original choice, I know, but the combination of beauty and history wins me over. And what’s not to like about a château built over a river?

Sunset over the Cher

And finally, before heading home to a few bottles (J. Mourat 11:22, Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Côt 2001, Domaine de Noblaie Chinon Pierre de Tuf 2005, Domaine de la Taille aux Loups Montlouis Rémus 2007, Château du Breuil Coteau du Layon Beaulieu 2007) and a very long and filling repas, a quick view of the sun setting over the Cher.

Today (Monday) I will be visiting Clos Roche Blanche and other Touraine domaines.

Loire 2013

I have been fairly hectic over the past couple of weeks with a number of different projects (both wine and non-wine), and so haven’t been able to return to my series of posts exploring minerality in wine. I am also aware that I had a mini-series on Sauternes running on the blog (I think I was on wine number seven) and then there was my short series of ‘Loire Misunderstood’ posts. I need to get back to all of these themes. Having said that, all these plans will have to go on hold for a week as I am leaving early tomorrow morning for the Loire in order to see how the 2013 harvest is progressing.

I fly out early Sunday morning, but will then spend a few hours kicking my heels in Stansted airport near London before my next flight onto Tours. If all goes well I should be inspecting the vineyards of Vouvray and Montlouis by early evening on Sunday. It will be fascinating (and perhaps also rather sad) to see for myself how they look after the devastating hailstorm the region experienced earlier this year. Hopefully, those vines that escaped the hail will be doing rather well; reports from the region that have so far come my way certainly suggest that might be so, and with good weather forecast for the rest of the week there is still reason to hope in this particular part of the Loire.

François Chidaine

My itinerary is pretty loose, so who knows who I will encounter over the next few days? Maybe François Chidaine (pictured above), maybe other less famous vignerons. I will report day by day, on the state of the vines and the fruit, on harvest activity, and on any other little nuggets of information regarding the 2013 vintage that come my way. Expect a focus on the upper parts of Loire, especially Vouvray, Montlouis, the Viticole Sologne and Cher Valley, Reuilly, Quincy, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.

These harvest reports will be free for all to read, on this blog. I won’t be able to make updates for the more in-depth articles behind the paywall over the next few days, but will naturally resume this after my return at the end of the week. Right, that’s it; let’s get my bag packed.

Inherit the Wind: The Trial of Olivier Cousin

In 1925 a teacher named John Thomas Scopes, a substitute teacher working in Dayton, Tennessee, found himself to be the centre of attention when he stood in the dock accused of violating the Butler Act, which outlawed the teaching of human evolution in any state-funded Tennessee school. The act had been introduced that very year, and written by a farmer named John Washington Butler, who had decided upon reading works by Darwin and others that the teaching of evolution was “dangerous”. Scopes – a man to whom I would gladly tip my hat – was not a renowned teacher of evolution, but subsequently purposefully incriminated himself so that a test case could be brought to challenge the law. Scopes was convicted, although the judgement was subsequently overturned, and the story inspired a play and then a film, both entitled Inherit the Wind. Looking back, nearly 90 years on, I still shake my head with incredulity that such a case should ever have to be brought before a judge.

Olivier Cousin

This week, in the Tribunal d’Angers, the trial of Olivier Cousin (pictured above) will begin. The labeling law he is alleged to have broken is perhaps not so fundamentally obscene as a law against teaching the evolution of man, but that the case has been brought is probably no less ridiculous, the potential penalty no less real. The ‘crime’, if you don’t already know it, is the appearance of “AOC” on the cartons in which he packs his bottles; purportedly this stands for Anjou Olivier Cousin but the INAO obviously see instead the initials of their beloved appellation d’origine contrôlée. I suspect this, for the INAO, was the straw that broke the camel’s back, the members of the organisation having already spent too much time wringing their hands over Cousin’s other cheekily labelled Anjou Pur Breton, which not only illegally gives an origin for the wine (Anjou) but a grape variety too (as Breton is a synonym for Cabernet Franc, although only vine scientists and Loire geeks are likely to know this).

Such ‘crimes’ seem like rather mischievous acts designed to poke fun at the INAO, and for that perhaps Olivier is about indeed to inherit the wind. But this should surely not be so. The INAO’s response is immediately heavy-handed, an over-reaction to the actions of a lone vigneron. The potential penalty for Olivier is a two-year jail term, or a €40,000 fine; both are grossly excessive in view of the rather minor and technical nature of the misdemeanour. By all means make a reprimand, but bear in mind what happened to Scopes, the teacher in the famous trial cited above; a $100 dollar fine was the result of his contravening the laws of Tennessee.

I trust and hope that common sense will prevail in the case, and we see a similar token penalty for Cousin, although I confess I am not 100% confident that this will be the outcome. The judgement begins at 2pm this Wednesday, October 2nd. Those in the area wishing to show support for Oliver can, if they wish, turn up to a picnic hosted by him in the Place du Maréchal-Leclerc, in front of the Palais de Justice d’Angers. Olivier will be there from midday, with his horses and a barrel of red wine, and the judgement will commence at 2pm. For more information, see the post on Jim Budd’s blog.

A Few from the 1980s

After my recent review of the wines of the ever-popular Barsac estate Château Climens, featuring vintages back to 1981 and 1979, I was reminded that one of the aims of buying and cellaring wine was that, eventually, you’re supposed to retrieve the bottles from those dark and dingy corners of the cellar where they slumber, and drink them. With that in mind I pulled a few more bottles from the 1980s (I’m a bit short on representation from the 1970s, to be honest) in the past few weeks.

Two red wines first, beginning with an old favourite from my early days of wine exploration when I think I probably knew a lot more about the Rhône Valley than I do now. I’ve enjoyed a few bottles of this vintage of Vieux Télégraphe over the years, and happily I have one or two bottles still remaining. This one showed very well, on a par with the very appealing 1989 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial from Marqués de Murrieta. Having said that, I think I would choose the latter over the former on most occasions; there’s just something very special about older Rioja. As for the 1989 Chasse-Spleen, I approached this with caution, as my last bottle had been rather off. This one, however, was just singing.

Three sweet wines follow, again from the 1988 and 1989 vintages. The 1989 Coutet has to be my favourite of the three, although I was very impressed by the 1989 Coteaux du Layon Les Coteaux from Domaine de la Roulerie. The wine over-performed for the appellation I think, even if the style was quite tertiary and unusual. I asked modern-day proprietor Philippe Germain about Les Coteaux and he didn’t have a clue which part of the vineyard it came from. The property was in the hands of the previous owner in 1989, and it doesn’t seem that very good records were kept. The 1988 Quarts de Chaume from Château Bellerive was also showing well, although perhaps not at the level I have experienced with other bottles. Perhaps this vintage is just tiring a little now. Perhaps, being honest, I have changed my expectation of what Quarts de Chaume can and should be. I have a few left; they should perhaps be drunk up, but I think I will keep them for some time yet, as an academic investigation into the plateau and decline of aged Quarts de Chaume if nothing else.

The final wine, from Warre, is still going strong even at over 30 years. It is a long way from the most highly regarded of vintages, but these bottles prove a consistent source of pleasure.

Tasting Notes

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf du Pape 1988: For the appellation this has a surprisingly pale hue, showing moderate depth at its core, but fading out to an orange-tawny rim. The nose is evolved and expressive, and more interesting than I recall from previous tastings, with rich black truffle aromas, and sweet leather notes on top. There are faint tinges of game as well, but it is somewhat brighter than this description suggests, as there is also bay leaf and juniper berry to be found here. This is fleshy on the palate, so there is no suggestion that this might be drying out, and there is still quite some grip and spice to it; there is quite some energy here in fact. Long and savoury. Showing a slightly more convincing character than my poor memory tells me it has done before, although looking back at previous notes I said very similar things. A good wine indeed, and clearly very long lived. 17.5/20 (September 2013)

Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial 1989: My last bottle of this, unless I am mistaken. Still plenty of colour in the decanter and glass, and as we would expect after prolonged wood-aging very little sediment too. The nose is really quite bright and feels a little lean at first, and it takes a couple of hours to really open up. Nice charcoal-tinged and cranberry-cherry fruit character on the nose, with the sweetness of fresh leather, scented with notes of sage, rosemary and black olive. Dark and slightly introverted, and yet defined and bright, like a slightly sour black cherry, to be more precise. Certainly an interesting nose here, captivating now, but with potential still. Some of these elements come through on the palate, with piles of fresh acids, gentle and rather reserved substance and a firm, bright, acid-bound character. A middle-weight wine, still with a savoury extract and substance, and plenty of fresh structure though. Still very good indeed. And very long too. 18/20 (September 2013)

Château Chasse-Spleen (Moulis) 1989: The last bottle I had of this, probably about three years ago now (where does the time go?) was obviously not showing well; this wine is absolutely singing on this occasion. The colour in the decanter and glass is confidently dark, with a nicely pigmented although certainly maturing rim. But it is in the nose that the wine truly reassures, with perfumed black fruits laced with hints of violets, and as it evolves in the glass also black tea leaves, bloody iron filings and even a hint of game. The palate shows a lovely harmony, and gentle sweetness, some really appealing grip and substance, and in the finish tangible extract and fresh structure. There’s a little length to it. Hugely convincing despite the wine’s age, with complex tertiary nuances of citrus alongside the more classically evolved character. On the whole, this is quite lovely. 17.5/20 (September 2013)

Château de la Roulerie Coteaux du Layon Les Coteaux 1989: This wine has a gentle, burnished gold. The nose is intriguing, opening out slowly over the course of an hour or so, showing scents of coffee and orange cake, with crunchy fruit. Overall it is fairly intense, with tertiary nuances of baked ham and cigar smoke. Despite this overly evolved character on the nose there is no suggestion that this wine is at the end of its life on the palate. There is still a glorious substance to it, a gently fleshy character with subtle hints of Demerara sugar, coffee, roasted plantain, baked corn and even a touch of sage. This is certainly complex and multi-faceted, although to be fair as the wine is given more time it does seem to tighten down into a lightly chewy, tangerine and peach sweetness, with a gently mellifluous texture. Overall, a lovely wine. 17/20 (September 2013)

Château Bellerive Quarts de Chaume 1988: A moderately rich orange-gold hue. The fruit on the nose is rich although certainly tempered by an organic and savoury edge to it. There is a seam of straw, desiccated fruit, dried apricot and lightly baked oranges. Does this latter element suggest a little oxidation on this particular bottle? The palate has a beautifully polished character, still showing a rich and deep sweetness despite the wine’s age, Very harmonious, with gentle acidity. Certainly no oxidation here, the fruit rich and concentrated, with a firm phenolic substance to the wine giving it a really appealing pithy grip towards the end, finishing up with some spice and a really fine length. Still showing the straw and sweetness of previous bottles, but not the caramel tinges I have noted. Overall, still delicious, but perhaps not at the level I have scored some bottles previously. 17/20 (September 2013)

Château Coutet (Sauternes) 1989: In the glass this has a rich, really quite fabulous orange-golden hue. The aromatics are no less remarkable than its rather radiant appearance, the fruit character redolent of bitter oranges, but this is more than matched by the scents of almonds, hazelnuts and praline also in evidence. It feels very lightly high-toned as well though, a sensation swirled with touches of quince and more of that bitter orange. The palate shows all of these flavours, with roasted botrytis character, carried along by a fabulously sweet, polished texture. There is also a layer of caramel underpinning it all, a great texture and obvious residual sugar. This is still going strong; no rush here. 18/20 (September 2013)

Warre’s Vintage Port 1980: A very fine, pure hue here, still with plenty of pigment and life to it. A very fine, savoury but pure and rather fragrant fruit on the nose, with some slightly sooty notes under the violets, but it is the fragrancy that dominates. This sense of purity comes through on the palate, which is very harmonious at the start and it maintains this character through the middle, and although it has grip and spirit to show here it remains appealing, composed and fresh. A wine of substance and light structure, more perhaps the texture and approachable sweetness is more prominent. There are figs, a fine macerated fruit character, and a firm, spicy backbone. The vintage is not regarded as a great one, but this is still a very fine and approachable wine. 17.5/20 (September 2013)