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Reprimandeur Week Approaches

I just wanted to give a quick head’s up to everybody in the wine trade that next week is the Bordeaux reprimandeur week. It’s that time of year (again!) when half the wine writing world disappears to Bordeaux to see what sort of wines the Bordelais have produced during the previous year’s growing season. The other half, meanwhile, stay at home and reprimand their colleagues for even daring to participate in such profane and immoral tasting activity.

I would like to thank all these reprimandeurs for participating in this year’s event – it just wouldn’t be the same without you! And in a spirit of collegiality I wanted to give you a few tips and hints on how you can stir things up this year. We’re counting on you…..

First, price. Remember to criticise anybody attending the primeurs because the wines are too expensive, because the hyperbole of early ‘scoop’ reporting drives up prices, and because Bordeaux no longer functions as wine and is perhaps better considered a luxury product or collector’s item. Don’t let anybody tell you that the alternative, a vacuum of independent opinion, would be worse than useless. Don’t pay any attention to the notion that sensible critics provide guidance to their readers on prices, value and the wisdom (or idiocy) of buying en primeur. And please overlook the hundreds of good-value wines that get reviewed. Just stick your reprimandeur oar in! And don’t let it put you off going to that DRC tasting you have been invited to (again). That’s obviously completely different.

Primeurs Sign

Second, remember to criticise primeur attendees for daring to taste barrel samples. It doesn’t matter that they are finished blends, and that decent critics provide an honest and clear indication that these wines provide a snapshot of what the future wine will be like. It is irrelevant that after attending years and years of primeur tastings, regular attendees worth their salt can see a clear correlation between their own opinions on barrel samples and the same wines when tasted from bottle for any given vintage. And don’t give any time to the thought that regular Bordeaux buyers and primeur-report readers are intelligent people who know about the fallibility of barrel samples. Stick to your reprimandeur guns! Every good reprimandeur knows barrel samples are the devil’s work, sometimes not even made from grapes. And they are largely undrinkable. Like a lot of natural wine, except there you can’t blame it on the barrels.

Finally, remember to criticise those attending the primeurs for using scores. Just because sensible critics use ranged scores to denote the uncertainty of a barrel sample, don’t let that dissuade you from letting people know how wrong this all is. And just because scores for wine weren’t exactly invented yesterday (have you noticed Robert Parker is now retired?) don’t let that kid you that a seasoned Bordeaux buyer might understand that scores are not an intrinsic element of the wine, swimming around among the tannins and acids. All good reprimandeurs know that scores are objective, exact and written in stone for all time, and are harmful to consumers, who must be protected from them at all costs.

Thanks for reading reprimandeurs, and keep up the good work. Bordeaux and all who sail in her ship, the primeur tasters, and the consumers who dare to buy and drink these wines are all counting on you to do your duty! If you are eager to get going, please start reprimanding now. While the official primeurs tastings begin next week, some immoral and frankly vulgar critics are already in the region, daring to taste the wines a week or two early. Your reprimandeur skills are needed!

Arranging a Primeurs Visit

Two different methods of arranging a visit during the primeurs tasting week in Bordeaux.

Method One:

I send an email requesting an appointment at 10 am on Tuesday morning.
I receive a reply confirming my appointment with a cheery “see you soon!”.

Method Two:

I send an email requesting an appointment at 11 am on Tuesday morning.

I receive an email explaining that the programme for the primeurs hasn’t been settled yet. The time will probably be OK, but I must wait until they begin organising the week’s schedule.

A few weeks later I receive an email confirming an appointment at 11 am, but that I should wait for a subsequent email inviting me to participate in the online appointment registration system, otherwise my appointment won’t be included on the schedule.

A further few weeks later I receive a formal email inviting me to click a link to participate in the online appointments system. I follow the link, where I have to fill in an online form, name, address, email, telephone, publications, gender, sexual preferences, etc. (I may have made some of these up). I make it through to a “form submitted” page which informs me that a confirmation email has been sent.

Shortly afterwards I receive a confirmation email, again agreeing the date and time of my appointment, the same date and time as was agreed in the email from the château over a month beforehand. The email informs me I will now receive an official invitation, which I should look out for. Which of course I do.

Several weeks later I receive an official invitation again by email. This document needs to be printed out to be presented at the château. Without presenting the scannable code on the invitation, again I am warned I will not be received.

The various châteaux of Bordeaux are of course entitled to organise themselves and their primeurs week as they see fit. My only points are as follows. Firstly, I much prefer the first system, for its simplicity. Secondly, the primeurs week now features thirty or forty châteaux appointments alongside the larger tastings, and if I had to jump through all these hoops for all of these appointments it seems inevitable that things would go wrong. I employ an assistant to do administrative work on Winedoctor, but they only do a few hours each week, and together we are grateful that most châteaux follow the first system and not the second!

The Results Are In

The Vinovision results are in, released with a surprising lack of fanfare considering this salon has enjoyed a significant increase in visitor numbers in 2018.

From a starting point of 3,300 visitors for the first ever edition in 2017, the 2018 edition saw visitor numbers hit 5,000 (some reports I have seen claim 5,500). Even taking the lower of these two figures, that is a 52% increase on the 3,300 who attended in 2017, a remarkable success and surprising as having visited both the 2017 and 2018 editions I wouldn’t have said the 2018 edition was 50% busier (although the Sunday in 2017 was, I suppose, extraordinarily quiet). But the figures don’t lie, and I can only assume the organisers are delighted with this dramatic increase in support. The visitors included 20% from foreign markets (up from 17% in 2017), essential for those looking to improve international sales, with the United Kingdom, Belgium and the USA in the lead.

Loire Salons 2018

By contrast, attendance at the Salon de Vins de Loire declined in 2018, as I have already described in my earlier post. There the figures declined from about 8,500 to 7,500; both figures are obviously approximate, so acknowledging that, the figures here add up to an 11% decline in attendance, although absolute numbers are still well ahead of Vinovision. Indeed, I spoke to a few exhibitors at Vinovision who felt they had done more useful business at the Salon de Vins de Loire, which I suspect reflects the fact the Salon de Vins de Loire was a more active fair, with higher attendance figures over just two days.

I hope the Salon de Vins de Loire continues as it remains a fabulous showcase for what the region has to offer, but I wish the organisers of Vinovision well for the 2019 edition, in association with Vinisud.

Vinovision 2018 Review

I have just returned home after three days of tasting in Vinovision, the second edition of this cool climate wine salon held in the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre, in Paris. It has been an interesting event, and I suspect how successful it was depends on your point of view.

From the point of view of a visiting journalist with a strong interest in the Loire Valley and its wines, I have found the last three days remarkably useful. The Salon de Vins de Loire is never long enough to get around and taste with all the vignerons you would like to see, even when it was three days long. This year (and next year too) it has been pruned to just two days, so having three more days to taste at Vinovision is a real bonus. Secondly, there are some vignerons who exhibit at Vinovision who have never been to the Salon des Vins de Loire, so it is a great opportunity to meet and taste with these people.

The organisation of Vinovision is pretty standard for a salon, in other words the associated website is clunky, I found it impossible to register online and had to email for help, I continued to receive emails reminding me to register when I (eventually) already had, and the website listed some domaines as exhibitors who were in fact never coming (and the names were only removed from the website after the start of the salon). I was also confounded by a couple of vignerons I expected to be there (because they were last year) but who didn’t sign up this year, so I missed tasting with them. That last mistake is clearly my own fault though, and I will just have to chalk it up to experience.

Vinovision 2018

Putting that to one side, I still managed very easily to fill three days of tasting. Well, two and three-quarters, anyway; as usual my tasting progress started to slow midway through the afternoon of day three, as many exhibitors started packing up, and one or two stands were left permanently unmanned, which meant some exhibitors I had hoped to taste with missed out (or maybe they were avoiding me). During my final tasting of day three the vigneron put on his coat halfway though, which I did take as a message. But I tasted a lot, catching up with some significant Loire Valley names such as Henri Bourgeois and Couly-Dutheil, some old favourites such as Domaine du Haut Bourg and Château Gaudrelle, some domaines that have long been on the very periphery of my Loire radar, such as Tinel-Blondelet and Domaines Vinet, and also a handful of domaines I have never tasted with before, such as Jean Tatin in Quincy (although I know his wines quite well), and Domaine de Noiré in Chinon.

So from my point of view, I had three successful days at Vinovision. But let’s not forget this is a trade fair, and the reason the vignerons are there is to meet clients and sell wine. So how much of a success was it from the point of view of a (possibly frosted-out and cash-strapped) Loire Valley vigneron?

Rather like the Salon des Vins de Loire, where most exhibitors reported being busy on day one, but quiet on day two, activity at Vinovision also faded away during the course of the salon. Every vigneron I spoke to had been happy with the number of visitors on the first day, but days two and three were reported as being too quiet. The Salon des Vins de Loire cost €1200 for two days this year, a reduction from the fee in 2017 which was, for the same vigneron, “about €3000” (although it all depends on the size of the stand taken, of course). Vinovision, meanwhile, in 2018 was the same price as last year, also €3000 (again depending on the size of the stand, this is the price for a micro-booth), although as it is an international trade fair exhibitors quality for financial support. All the same, this is an expensive activity. “It’s a lot of money for not many sales”, said one vigneron.

Next year Vinovision will again be three days, and it will have a friend, as Vinisud is moving to Paris on the same dates, the two salons presumably in adjacent halls of the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre (I have no idea how big Vinisud is, by the way). Read the press release on the Vinisud website for more details (in French). Some hope this will enhance visitor numbers, while others are keen to support Vinovision regardless. “We wanted this salon, you can’t expect great success at the start, it is getting better, going up, up, up”, one vigneron told me. “Now that we have it, we just need to build on it”. Some may, however, vote with their feet, marching in the opposite direction. “I don’t know if I will come back next year”, said one of his neighbours.

Presumably we will get some idea of visitor numbers to Vinovision in the next day or two. Last year the organisers claimed 3,300 visitors over three days. Visitors to the Salon des Vins de Loire trended downwards from 2017 to 2018, so it will be interesting to see in which direction visitor numbers to Vinovision is heading.

Vinovision Time

It’s time for my second big Loire tasting trip of the month. After four days in Angers last week for the Salon des Vins de Loire and associated tastings, I landed in Paris yesterday and later today I will be heading to Vinovision, France’s cool climate wine fair.

Last year’s Vinovision (the first ever year for this fair) was, to my mind, a real success. I spent three days working my way around the Loire Valley, and tasted a huge amount of wine. There were some big-name domaines in attendance, many of which I knew pretty well already so it was great to catch up with the latest vintages, but I also met a large number of vignerons I hadn’t met or tasted with before (some of last year’s exhibitors are pictured below). Having looked at the list of exhibitors for this year, although some of the names have changed, it otherwise looks like the same set up. Today I expect to be tasting the latest from Henri Bourgeois, Couly-Dutheil, Château de Villeneuve and others. But of course I also have a selection of less familiar names on my list for the day.

Vinovision 2018

One aspect of this tasting I really like is that it is open to any of the region’s vignerons, so it gives Loire-interested people (like me!) a chance to taste across the spectrum, from huge operations such as Bouvet-Ladubay down to lone winemakers working just a hectare or two of vines, such as Adèle Rouzé, for example. How someone works in the vines isn’t a bar to entry, so the domaines here are conventional, raisonnée, organic and biodynamic. Anything goes! And so the wines can be judged on the basis of what is in the glass, rather than some notion of how the vines were farmed.

As a commentator on the region, this open-minded approach is really valuable to me. The problem with many of the UK tasting opportunities which feature Loire Valley wines (among others), such as RAW and the Real Wine Fair, is that they focus on winemaking dogma. As a consequence you get a view of just a narrow subsection of the region, and despite what the organisers of those tastings might tell us this narrow view of the region isn’t a guarantee to finding the best wines; the spread of quality is no different to at a tasting of conventionally made wines. And for me, these tastings also provided little more than duplication; many vignerons I would meet there I had already tasted with during the Salon des Vins de Loire and Renaissance tastings.

If I could just pop along to tastings such as RAW and the Real Wine Fair I would continue to attend, but as attendance usually involves flying down from Edinburgh and is certainly not a zero-cost exercise I decided to look around for other tasting opportunities. Vinovision came along at just the right time. I am looking forward to my first day of the 2018 edition immensely. First job of the day, though, is café and a pain au raisin.

Harvest 2017 in Vouvray

After publishing some harvest pictures from Château de Minière a couple of weeks ago I thought I should continue with some pictures from Vouvray, taken when I called in on Vincent Carême on 22nd September 2017.

I found Vincent and team in the larger section of Le Clos, just as they were finishing their picking in this section. Vincent was leading from the front.

Vincent Carême

I had only been there five minutes and the picking in this section was completed, so we moved round to the much smaller front section of Le Clos, in front of the house. The slope here has a southwesterly aspect, and looks down onto the outskirts of Vernou-sur-Brenne. I have bought a lot of groceries in that Super-U over the years.

Vincent Carême

The team moved swiftly through the vines; having chatted with Vincent for a few minutes, I saw the pickers were already halfway through this small section of vines.

Vincent Carême

There’s a lot of ribbing about the weight of hods; the idea is to ensure the more slender-framed members of the team carry the hod, and then poke fun at how much weight they can carry. It’s very good-natured, with smiles all round. This hod wasn’t the most heavily laden on the day, and it certainly produced a few chuckles, which were bore with good grace. I have to confess I was full of admiration for the whole team; I got the notion everybody was enjoying being part of the harvest, even though it was obviously hard work.

Vincent Carême

Just to prove the first hod wasn’t just for the camera, here’s Vincent at work again, in the front section of Le Clos. That’s a well-filled hod, Vincent leading by example.

Vincent Carême

A few steps up the ladder and Vincent’s hod of grapes was tipped into the waiting trailer, which was filling up nicely.

Vincent Carême

And after adding this latest hodful to the trailer, he was off like a bullet, ready to refill. The whole team worked at remarkable speed, and five minutes later they were finished.

Vincent Carême

The 2017 vintage will largely be dominated by dry and sparkling wines chez Carême, Vincent having continued to pick everything as the weather conditions threatened rot. I tasted the 2017 Vouvray Sec at the Salon des Vins de Loire (largely from vines up on the plateau, not from Le Clos) and it is clearly a vintage with nice potential. I will publish a tasting report on releases from 2017, 2016 and 2015 for subscribers later in the year.

Salon des Vins de Loire 2018: Early Figures

The theme of this year’s Salon des Vins de Loire was frugality. Last year’s three-day Sunday-Monday-Tuesday salon was cut to just two days this year, Sunday having been pruned (on reflection, not that surprising, it was a very quiet day), presumably slashing costs for all. The press dining room, which usually lays on a lavish lunch with hot food, was reduced to a corner table of sandwiches and a thermos flask. Shocking! Seriously, however, I am not complaining, as I always thought the lunch service was a little over the top, and tended to dive in and out as quickly as possible, to maximise tasting time. And frankly, after the devastating frosts of 2016 and 2017, which hurt many in the region, I am all for reducing overheads.

Salon des Vins de Loire in 2018

So how did attendance at the new, streamlined 2018 Salon compare with last year? It’s a bit of a mixed picture, and difficult to interpret, as three days have been reduced to two. Monday felt busy, but most exhibitors I spoke to on Tuesday felt it was too quiet on that day. Significantly, I think, overall visitor numbers are down; last year the organisers claimed “close to 8,500 visitors”, whereas this year there were “more than 7,500 visitors”. So although the place was buzzing on Monday, I suspect this was just the effect of condensing the Salon into two days. That’s a poor result. Having said that, the number of exhibitors at the Salon was up this year, from a low point of 230 last year (down from 400 the year before, and down from the heady days when there were 700+ exhibitors) up to 300 this year, a 30% increase.

So in short there were more exhibitors, and it felt busier (on Monday, anyway), but in fact this year’s Salon saw even fewer visitors than last year. That’s a shame, as there were plenty of great tasting opportunities here, and the region continues to offer both value and quality to discerning wine buyers. With La Levée de la Loire just next-door, providing access to 280 organic and biodynamic domaines, there was still more great wine here than you could taste in a month.

The 33rd Salon is set for February 4th and 5th 2019, so just two days again. First though, we have Vinovision, in Paris next week. It will be interesting to see what trends are established there.

Salon 2018: Nearly Done

It’s Tuesday morning and I have three days of tasting under my belt. I spent Saturday at the Renaissance tasting in the glorious venue of the Hôpital Saint-Jean, where I thought two Savennières domaines, in particular Damien Laureau (sporting handsome beard) and Tessa Laroche of Domaine aux Moines were some of the stars of the show, especially Tessa who has completely turned around the family domaine which always made interesting but rather old-school wines. Until Tessa took over that is, as today they are minerally, precise and profoundly better.

One other star of the show was Domaine de Bellivière, but then Eric’s wines are nearly always remarkable, so maybe this is not really news. Usually I might also mention Richard Leroy at this point, but of course Richard wasn’t there. As I described in my Anjou 2016 report last year, Richard suffered a total wipe-out in the 2016 frost and made no wine. And so there was little point in him coming to smile sweetly at people with no wine to pour. His absence is just one small example of how devastating the frosts of 2016 and 2017 have been for some people. All fingers crossed for 2018.

On Sunday I went to Les Pénitentes, a tasting group led by Thierry Puzelat, René Mosse and Hervé Villemade. This was a really funky way to spend a Sunday morning. And when I say funky, I mean funky. After a few hours I headed back to Renaissance, where I revelled in the pure and perfumed Roannaise Gamays of Domaine Sérol and Domaine de Pothiers, both domaines having enjoyed success in the 2017 vintage. Some of their superior cuvées are seriously delicious, and although I have drunk some of their lower- and mid-level wines at home, I really must track down some of the top single-vineyard wines some time soon.

Salon des Vins de Loire 2018

It was soon Monday, and I headed up to the Salon des Vins de Loire proper, and after a rather patchy weekend (yin and yang – the highlights described above were balanced out by any number of vinous lows) the quality of wines was overall very good indeed. With only two days of tasting at the Salon this year I drew up a list of a dozen domaines where I simply had to taste, and I visited eleven of them, exceeding my expectations, making for a successful day. But as my ‘hit list’ included Domaine de la Pépière, Château Pierre-Bise, François Pinon, Philippe Alliet, and Alphonse Mellot, is it surprising that quality was so high?

Indeed, the only thing about the Salon week in Angers that does surprise me, and it surprises me every year, is that many visitors to the region only go to the ‘off’ salons that focus on ‘natural’, organic and biodynamic domaines, thereby missing out on some of the region’s very best wines. There is dogma in wine-writing and wine-blogging as well as winemaking, it seems. I am content that I am sufficiently open-minded to visit a selection of salons, and taste with a number of groups of vignerons bound by a variety of different philosophies and aims, rather than just restrict myself to one ‘type’ of wine. To do so would certainly give a rather blinkered view of what the Loire Valley, a great wine region, is achieving.

Today (that’s Tuesday, in case you haven’t been following the scheme) I will cross off number twelve on that list, François Chidaine. After that I have now drawn up a reserve list for today. I don’t normally do this but I didn’t want to get to Tuesday evening and have that ‘oh crap’ moment when I realise I missed out an important visit. Any vignerons who I don’t see before the end of the Salon, if you are at Vinovision, I will hook up with you there. And I will be making some visits in May, in a combined Bordeaux-Loire trip, and October for the harvest.

Salon 2018: The Rock Star Lifestyle

After a tasting of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage with Bordeaux Index on Thursday, and dinner in London on Thursday evening, I spent Friday ambling down to Angers. It was my second super-early rise in two days, for my second early flight in two days, this time to Paris. This was followed by a couple of hours hanging around Paris CDG airport, after which I boarded the train to Angers. My hotel is a short walk from the railway station in Angers. By 6 pm I was falling asleep on my bed and rather than fight it I just gave in to sleep.

Who says wine writers can’t have a rock-star lifestyle?

So I am in Angers, principally for the 2018 Salon des Vins de Loire, although as most readers will know the Salon comes with various ‘off’ events, the most useful of which I find to be the Renaissance tasting (Nicolas Joly, Richard Leroy, Mark Angeli, Eric Nicolas and many more), so this is where I will be spending the best part of the weekend. Then on Monday and Tuesday I will be at the Salon-proper, which also incorporates a tasting of wines from La Levée de la Loire, a great group focusing on organic and biodynamic methods.

The city of Angers is naturally already thronging with British wine journalists*, the UK being an important export market for the Loire Valley for this region. They are attracted here not only by an eagerness to get away from the tedious treadmill of all-expenses-paid free press trips, but also by the stunning scenery, the sweeping vistas, the dramatic clifftop vineyards, the lakes and the waterfalls. You only have to look at the view from my hotel bedroom window, taken at 6am this morning, to get a taste of the atmosphere. Just a few seconds before I took the photograph a herd of elephants had gone by, but I just missed them, sorry.

Salon des Vins de Loire 2018

When I manage to drag myself away from my window I will head out to start four days of concentrated tasting. The difficulty this year will be knowing where to focus my energies, as although I have all weekend in the ‘off’ salons (hurrah!), the Salon-proper has been cut down to two days this year (boo!). It has been on the decline for a few years now, having lost the support of many previous exhibitors, partly because it is very expensive to exhibit at, partly because some vignerons don’t agree with the direction taken by the organising body, InterLoire, all compounded by the considerable financial pressures experienced in the region recently. Both 2016 and 2017 saw extensive frosts, and many parts of the region had difficult times before that, for example 2008 and 2012 also saw frost visit Muscadet, Montlouis has been hit in multiple vintages, and there have been destructive hailstorms in some regions, especially Vouvray in 2013. If you have little wine to sell, and little cash to spare, taking a huge stand at a fair is an expensive folly.

As a consequence I will probably focus on the big names during those two days, domaines I simply don’t want to miss, such as Domaine de la Pépière, Château Pierre-Bise, François Chidaine and so on. Those I know I can meet up with at Vinovision next week, the likes of Luneau-Papin and Domaine de la Taille aux Loups, I will leave until then. Those I can visit when out at my house near Chinon in May or October, especially in Chinon, Bourgueil or Vouvray, will have to wait. Last year I used my time at Vinovision to taste with a lot of less familiar domaines, such as Adèle Rouzé, Jean-Marc Biet and Domaine des Ouches, among others, and I expect this year that will again be a good opportunity to make some new discoveries.

Time to taste now. After all, that’s why I am here.

*This is obviously not true.

Harvest 2017 in Bourgueil

Over the next couple of weeks I will be spending a lot of time catching up with vignerons in the Loire Valley, learning about the 2017 season and harvest, and tasting the results. So it seems like a good time to look back to a couple of harvest visits I made in September last year. Today Bourgueil, and a trip to Château de Minière.

Turning up late morning I found the pickers in the vines close to the front of the château. It was a surprisingly small team, just a handful of people (perhaps the others had gone to prepare lunch!). The picking for Bourgeuil wasn’t due to begin until the following week; this was an early pick for the sparkling wines.

Château de Minière

This was one of the final hods of Cabernet Franc to be emptied into the trailer. It was grey and overcast; I might have taken a better picture if I had played around with the shutter speed a little more, but you only have one chance!

Château de Minière

Once full the trailer is taken to the cellars, where it is carefully positioned (this took several attempts) so that the extending rear tray is directly over the pneumatic press. Look at all that Cabernet Franc! Heaven!

Château de Minière

The trailer is elevated, and it has a vibrating mechanism, so that once positioned the fruit is simply ‘vibrated’ out into the press. As this is for sparkling, there is no destemming required.

Château de Minière

In it goes….

Château de Minière

The process is supervised from atop the press, to ensure no stray bunches miss the opening, and presumably to remove any stray leaves, snails, frogs, fish or disorientated wildebeest, although most of the sorting has been done in the vineyard. Supervision can be done with the ‘kneeling’ technique….

Château de Minière

….or the straddling technique. The only work required is a little packing down into the press to ensure it all fits in.

Château de Minière

Once done, the juice is collected and pumped to stainless steel vats, for the first fermentation. Having had a taste from a vat which had been filled a week or so earlier, the fermentation mostly completed, I was struck by the pure and vibrant colour, and the classically floral Cabernet Franc character.

Next time, a few harvest pictures from Vouvray…..