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Tag Archives: Francueil

The Sauvignon Blanc trip

This week we enjoyed two days of visits with an American couple wanting to explore the Sauvignon Blanc wines of the Loire Valley. We were delighted to put together this custom tour featuring one of our favourite grape varieties, in the region where it originated and has its finest expression.

Sauvignon grapes awaiting picking

In France, Sauvignon Blanc is grown in the maritime climate of Bordeaux as well as the continental climate of the Loire Valley. The climates of these areas are particularly favourable in slowing the ripening on the vine, allowing the grape more time to develop a balance between its acidity and sugar levels. This balance is important in the development of the intensity of the wine’s aromas. Winemakers in France pay careful attention to the terroir characteristics of the soil and the different elements that it can impart to the wine. The chalk and Kimmeridgean marl of Reuilly, Sancerre and Pouilly produces wines of richness and complexity, while areas with more compact chalk soils produces wines with more finesse and perfume. The gravel soil found near the Loire River and its tributaries impart spicy, floral and mineral flavours while in Bordeaux, the wines have a fruitier personality. Vines planted in flint along the Cher tend to produce the most vigorous and longest lasting wines.

Our clients selected a fine hotel in Amboise as their base and we collected them each day to begin our discovery of the region. First stop was Francueil, where we were able to witness the grape harvest arriving and tour the wine-making facilities of the growers co-operative. As we were to hear throughout our trip, quantities are cruelly low, while quality is above average this year. The combination of frost, hail and mildew during this growing season has not been seen since 1991, and crops are down to 20-30% of normal.

This co-op has been in operation since 1926 and is now the largest in the Loire. We were introduced to the recently retired winemaker who still comes in to help out for the pleasure of it, after working at the cellar for 42 years.

The labeling machine at La Gourmandiere, Francuei

We were able to taste a range of interesting wines at Francueil, several with awards to their names. One of our favourites was their “Tete de Cuvee” AOP Touraine Sauvignon which has a silver medal in the World Sauvignon Wine Competition this year. We were also interested to taste the brand new appellation Touraine Chenonceaux and enjoyed this very much. Although 27 villages either side of the river Cher are allowed to produce wine under this name, there is currently only a tiny area in production and the growers are determined to produce wines of the highest quality here.

After a lunch at a restaurant in Montrichard we moved on to the famous  Monmousseau wine cellars outside the town where more Sauvignon was tasted, both local and Sancerre from the eastern edge of the region on the river Loire. Their Cheverny contains 70% Sauvignon & 30% Chardonnay and made an interesting comparison. We were allowed to go off on our own and explore the tunnels where they store their sparkling wines but with around 15km of passages we were lucky to find our way back in one piece!

From here we went on to the co-op at St Romain sur Cher where their three Sauvignons cannot help but please and have won a clutch of awards. Our journey back to Amboise was through delightful countryside and ancient stone villages.

The next day we drove an hour and a half up the Cher, passed Vierzon to Quincy, an appellation of 240 Ha growing only Sauvignon and a hidden gem producing high quality wines. We spent the morning tasting many of them, both traditional still wines and those produced from vines 40 years old or more. The growers have invested in windmill-like fans which start up automatically and, in theory at least, protect the vines from frost. This year was extreme and much damage was done, but perhaps they were protected in part by this system.

Visting the Touraine cellars

Lunch was taken in Valençay, where we also took a look at the stunning chateau and its walled, soth facing vineyard. Tastings of Valençay wines were made at the co-op and at Chateau de Quincay, who produce both Valençay and Touraine wines, making an interesting direct comparison.

Our final breathless visit was across the river at a favourite vineyard where we saw the grapes coming in and were invited to help with the hand picking. My clients had a train to catch however, but we were able here to add the last piece to the Sauvignon puzzle, tasting late picked, sweet wine from last year’s crop.

Sweet, dry, still, sparkling; Sauvignon Blanc has it all and in a range of styles dictated by the nature of the soil and climate, in addition to the desires of the winemaker. This was a fascinating trip and a deep insight into the heart of a single grape variety.

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Loire Valley vineyard open days

Vineyard open day

American clients at the vineyard open day

When touring the Loire Valley region  we always keep an eye out for signs announcing an upcoming wine event.

Last week a group of our clients were lucky in their choice of days to visit and I was able to take them to an open day for the launch of the new seasons wine at a wine producer near the royal palace of Chenonceau at Francueil.

We were treated on this occasion to more than the usual tasting of a dozen or more wines; the hunting horn troop from  Château de Montpoupon were playing in the cellars, Miss Touraine and a fine selection of wine-related antiques and artifacts were on display. We were able to talk to many of the growers and production staff and the tasting took on a whole new aspect when we had the vignerons explaining their techniques to us.

The event through our schedule into chaos and we had to ditch a chateau visit, but we all agreed, over a delightful lunch in Montrichard later, that it had been a marvelous way to spend a morning.

I have a whole pile of notices for other events on my increasingly cluttered desk, and if bookings coincide with any of these, you can be sure we will be going!

In the meantime I am talking to winemakers who export to the Far East in anticipation of a tour we are hoping to arrange later in the year for a group of buyers from China and Tiawan. I surprising number are already doing so, it would seem.

The Loire Valley Harvest

A recent visit to Vouvray confirmed what we had observed throughout the Loire Valley region – the season was a month late.At Monmouseau they started picking on 9th September last year, while this year it was not until 9th October. The winemakers were waiting for grapes to arrive and with time on their hands gave us a fascinating tour of their facilities, deep in the cliffs of the Rochecorbon district. They also confirmed that sweet Vouvray wine would not be produced this year – it had not been warm enough.

At Montluoise sur Loire we tried the Cave Touristique for a tasting visit but were disappointed, not by the wines, but by the attention a seriously overworked staff could give us. It is a sales operation for several local producers and the sales man, while speaking English, was not the most expert I have encountered. Several points he made were quite wrong and I began to wonder if I should take anything he said seriously.

Cabernet Franc grapes are laoded into the press.

We were also able to watch Cabernet Franc grapes arriving at the co-op in Francueil. Hand picked grapes were loaded onto convayors after a test was made to confirm the sugar levels. After tasting the grapes we were allowed to tour the production facilities: the largest hydrolic press in the Loire and fermentation vessels dating back to the 1920’s (they have state-of-the-art stainless steel vessels as well, but the original old lined-concrete versions are wonderful). They are enthusiasts at Francueil and I had a long discussion with the co-op chairman about the history of the area as reflected in the names of the wines offered.

All winemakers are also confirming that while quantities are shockingly small this year, wine quality will be high. Unfortunately areas like this are unlikely to be able to charge any more for this scarce product, so incomes will be very low.