I have reflected for some time on the recent debacle in Vouvray and Montlouis involving Jacky Blot and François Chidaine. If you’re not up to speed with the issue, in a nutshell both have been vinifying their Vouvray in their cellars in Husseau (Montlouis), Jacky for many years, François more recently. Neither are in the zone where vinification is permitted carte blanche, but Jacky held documents which permitted him to vinify in Montlouis, while François seems to have operated under the assumption that he could do the same. Both make excellent wines, and François has control over the Clos Baudoin, one of the most highly regarded terroirs of Vouvray, so these aren’t guys hanging around on the periphery of the appellation. They have been making waves in recent years, Jacky seemingly buying up half of Montlouis, François building a new winery and taking on the old Poniatowski domaine (which is how he came by the Clos Baudoin).
Then, seemingly out of the blue, a few weeks ago word came from the INAO; their domaines in Montlouis were outside the zone where vinification of Vouvray was permitted, therefore they would be denied the appellation, from the 2014 vintage onwards. There is always the (necessarily expensive) legal route, of course, but barring that both Jacky’s and François’ Vouvrays would, from 2014, have to be sold as Vin de France. To see how the story first came to light, see this post on Jim’s Loire, and a subsequent report in La Nouvelle Republique.
So why the reflection? Well, as much as I revel in the free spirit and disregard for authority exhibited by many vignerons, I also believe that the appellation system is basically a good thing. This is a thought that will horrify the likes of Richard Leroy and many others, who believe the system favours dull, generic, boring wines made using questionable chemically-dependent methods, while sidelining wines of real interest. In explaining his beliefs, one sufficiently strong for him to personally ditch the appellation system altogether and go down the Vin de France route, Richard makes many good points. But I don’t believe we would be better off if the appellation system were scrapped altogether; it gives a valuable framework for wine, which is a vital slice of Ligérian culture, along with Renaissance châteaux, tarte tatin and the most magnificant moustaches in the world of wine. So I think we need to be careful when it comes to regulations such as this.
There is also a danger when it comes to the INAO and their appellations of picking and choosing which regulations we view as important, and which ones vignerons are ‘right’ to ignore. We’re all guilty of this to some degree. After all, we enjoy the benefits of living in a modern society which functions because of well-established laws, and that’s great until, of course, it is us that comes a cropper with a parking fine, a speeding ticket or some other minor infringement. Then, suddenly, the law is an ass! When it comes to Jacky (pictured above) and François (pictured below) vs. the INAO, the weight of public opinion would perhaps be on their side. But what about the INAO vs. Olivier Cousin, who stuck two fingers up at the authorities with the labelling and naming of his wines? What about the INAO vs. Florent Baumard, and new regulations pushed through despite his protests? I would argue that the first two are minor infringements that would and could be settled through negotiation (if the infringement is really the heart of the matter). The latter I believe was a more serious winemaking issue that failed to respect a hallowed terroir. But that’s just my opinion, and I know others view some of these recent controversies quite differently.
So what is the issue here? Grapes are loaded onto a truck or trailer in Vouvray and driven cross-river to a winery in Husseau in Montlouis, by road a distance of about 11 km. Montlouis, sadly, isn’t one of the communes where vinification of Vouvray is permitted. So this is the crime in a nutshell; the grapes cross an arbitrary line, drawn by the human hand. In terms of what actually happens to the fruit, however, it is no different to Claude Papin moving grapes from Savennières to his winery in Pierre Bise for vinification (about 8 km). Indeed, should a vigneron as far away as Brissac-Quincé buy some vines in Savennières, he too could do the same, despite being over 20 km from his vines. This is just his good luck; the Savennières line is drawn wide, while that for Vouvray is drawn tight. But none of this will prevent Savennières tasting like Savennières, or Vouvray tasting like Vouvray. The journey does not seem to negatively affect these grapes, even though they are transported by road, and even though they cross the Loire. And isn’t that what the INAO should really be worried about?
The vinificiation of these wines in Montlouis is no great crime. The INAO, with support from within Vouvray (I spoke to two vignerons in the town – I was sorry to hear there was no sympathy for Jacky or François expressed) has chosen to maintain the hard line (not for the first time), sidelining two significant vignerons in the process. The Clos Baudoin, one of the appellation’s most significant terroirs, will now be sold as a Vin de France. It feels rather reminiscent of the Super-Tuscan debacle, when a number of domaines turned out superb wines which, because they flouted regulations on grape variety, started out as Vino da Tavola. Eventually, after two decades, when it became clear that not only were these ‘table wines’ some of the best in the region, but that they also weren’t going to disappear, that they were taken into the fold, the regulations ‘stretched’ to encapsulate them. It is a shame the INAO cannot learn from history and work towards a similar solution. It seems that, sometimes at least, the law really can be an ass.