le tasting room

Loire wine tours, tastings, day trips from Paris & short breaks organised by experienced English wine trade professionals.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Coteaux du Layon Tasting - Angers 28th November

We attended a tasting of selection de grains nobles wines from the Coteaux du Layon and its villages on Saturday. Full details and tasting notes have been posted on the News section of le tasting room's webiste.


Monday, 23 November 2009

Wines for Thanksgiving & Christmas

With Thanksgiving coming up this week and Christmas not far away I've been turning my attention to wines that match these traditional meals.

We seem to turn to the classic wine regions for special occasions - maybe an acknowledgement that many of the finest food wines tend to come from the Old World. Of course New World wines have their place too and can be superb when matching with the right dish, it's just that living in the Loire makes me a little biased on this front.

The traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner is no easy affair when it comes to wine. If it were just a case of finding a red or white to match a simple roast then our task would be simple. It's the many accompaniments that change everything.

I have been reading your Tweets and researching recipes for the festive season. What seems clear is that the word 'traditional' means many different things. Family traditions hold firm in the kitchen. What is considered 'de rigeur' in the Loire, is different from that in Kentucky, London, New York and around the world.

A typical Thanksgiving dinner (if I dare use the word typical because there is little typicity) will probably include a roast turkey and several side dishes to include anything from sweet potatoes cooked with maple syrup, cranberry sauce, corn, Jello-O made up with whipped cream, nuts and cherries, and herb stuffing. What recommendations on the wine front then?

Well, to find a wine that will go with everything from starter to pud is probably a bit difficult but there are one or two wines from the Loire valley that I would certainly suggest.

Food and wine matching is a very subjective issue. Many would choose a white wine with roast turkey, many would choose a red. There are no hard and fast rules but first and foremost choose a wine that you like!

Gamay based reds from the Touraine region such as Henry Marionnet's Vinifera 08 would go well. With lots of summer fruit, raspberry notes and lightish tannins, the wine would partner the fruity accompaniments.

Soft elegant Cabernet Francs from Bourgueil are wonderful with a roast. Pierre-Jacques Druet's wines are elegant, with silky integrated tannins. Try the Fiefs de Louys 2005 or for a real treat go for the Vaumoreau 2000 with it's blackberry fruit and smoky cigar box notes.

Chenin blanc from Vouvray is excellent if you prefer something fresh and sherbetty with hints of pears and a little residual sweetness. Very dry wines can taste even drier if the side dishes served alongside have a touch of sweetness whereas a wine with a little residual sugar on the palate can be very complimentary. Try Bernard Fouquet's Cuvée Silex 08 or Les Marigny 07 (slightly sweeter).

Pumpkin pie, pecan pie and Christmas pudding all call out for a luscious sweet wine. Try a Coteaux du Layon or a Bonnezaux from the Loire. These wines are made from Chenin blanc grapes that have been left on the vines until they are supermature. Often affected by 'noble rot', which gives them wonderful marmaladely aromas and flavours, they are fabulous wines. We love the wines of Eddy Oosterlinck-Bracke in Faye d'Anjou. The Passion de Juchepie 2003 is superb. Rich and unctuous with wonderful aromas of dried apricots, nuts and marmalade, velvety on the palate but not in the least cloying.

And to start off your celebrations - look no further than the Loire for a glass of sparkling wine. Why pay big bucks for a Champagne (ok I know it's being discounted in the UK at the moment) when you can enjoy a wonderful sparkler from Saumur for a fraction of the price. Don't think of this as second best. Would you expect the wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy to taste the same? The Loire makes a wide range of traditional method sparkling wines that are excellent in their own right. Try Langlois Chateau's Quadrille Extra Brut 2002 - made from a blend of 4 different grape varieties, it's full bodied with lovely toasty notes and real depth.

Not all the wines I recommend are available worldwide but the styles and grape varieties give a good indication of what to look for. Above all, happy Thanksgiving (can't quite bring myself to say Happy Christmas just yet).

If you have an interesting recipe for Thanksgiving or Christmas or have found a great wine that matches one of your dishes I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Pruning in the Loire valley

Now that grapes are gathered in, leaves are starting to fall and winter is approaching, vignerons are beginning to think about pruning the vines in readiness for next year's harvest.

As a rule, it's better to wait until the vines are completely dormant before pruning as the sap will have receded and generally it's better for them to have a period of complete rest with a good dose of cold weather to kill off any lingering bugs and diseases. In some vineyards, pruning begins within a couple of weeks of vintage - leaves still clinging to the canes. I'm rather critical of this practice as when it comes to producing quality wine, delaying pruning is one of the criteria. Not only does it give the vines a chance to rest but the later the pruning, the later the vine bursts back into action the following season. Stands to reason in a cool climate region such as the Loire that this makes sense - less chance of problems around budburst and flowering, decreased risk of frost damage at a tender stage of development. But, the reality of pruning here in the Loire is a different issue.

A couple of years ago an initiative was launched to encourage the unemployed to be trained by competent vignerons in the art of pruning. I know of several producers locally who embraced the idea. A skilled pruner arrives with a team of 'trainees' and they prune together. The problem with this is that not all trainees have the 'eye' required to make the right decisions. The end result is a badly pruned vineyard and while the vines will continue to produce fruit (like most plants, vines bounce back), they often produce too much, the fruiting zone can be in the wrong place, the crown of the vine too high.

So, in an ideal world, a competent team will sweep through the vineyard during the winter (typically end of December onwards) but the reality is often far from this ideal. Vignerons firstly have to find willing seasonal employees who have the ability to make the right decisions and ensure that pruning is finished in time. Which is where we come back to early pruning - many producers start early because they don't have enough people to wait until the time is right.

It has become increasingly difficult to find skilled labour when it comes to pruning vines in the region. Methods are dicated by the appellation and it does take a certain amount of skill to make the 'right cut'. It requires quick and efficient analysis of the vines one at a time, moving quickly through the vineyard.

We'll be doing some pruning in Anjou in the new year so will take some precise before and after shots and post them on the blog. Until then - we'll be holding off. Maybe you'd like to come and join us in the Spring and have a look for yourself.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

An English Oenologist - Custom Crush

We had the pleasure of catching up with some of our old contacts in the UK wine trade last week and spent an afternoon with Emma Rice at her new lab in Sussex. We met Emma while studying viticuluture and oenology together at Plumpton College. She, like me, was one of the few people on the course to have an exisiting wine trade background and the WSET Diploma. Since graduating, we have all taken different paths but Emma decided to set herself up as a consultant oenologist having spent a year in California.

Emma taking samples to test for malolactic fermentation

The English wine industry has taken off considerably during the past 20 years having previously been the subject of scorn by many who consider England a joke when it comes to wine. But, the emergence of some really good sparkling wines made by producers such as Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Camel Valley and Breaky Bottom as well as increasingly interesting still wines has made people have a rethink and we have seen a lot of new producers entering the fray as well as investment coming from elsewhere. This is where Emma comes in.

Setting up the equipment to test for Sulphur

Most producers in France manage their vineyards and wineries themselves but they often look for outside assistance when it comes to analysing their wines. This is because winemakers are not always chemists and the equipment required to run standard tests is expensive and requires skill to operate. They may do rudimentary tests to check the levels of sugar during fermentation and use a simple kit to test for sulphur but where real accuracy is involved, an outside lab is routinely used. Samples are dropped off or collected, the tests run and the results delivered back to the producer.

There are few people in England who offer this kind of service and Emma saw an opportunity. She works closely with a number of small producers giving advice during winemaking, collecting and analysing samples for them and being on hand to offer assistance when needed.

Testing for Sulphur by the aspiration method

While we were there she was testing free and bound sulphur levels and checking if malolactic ferments had started.

The sample of wine goes here and air is bubbled through

This is the indicator - if there is Sulphur in the wine it will turn purple and Emma will then use titration to measure the level accurately

Having been stronger in the arts and not the sciences at school (a long time ago), I admit to feeling near terror at the thought of having to return to chemistry in 20003. After a few preliminary headaches I became really interested in the subject and surprised myself. I'm sure this is related to the fact that winemaking is all about chemistry and understanding it explains so much. Of course, you don't need to be a chemist to make good wine.

So thanks to Emma for an interesting an informative afternoon - we're looking forward to hearing more good things about the English wine industry with her help.

Emma Rice
Custom Crush
Tel: 00 44 7530 999 592

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The politics of picking

Feeling good today as we finished the harvest at Chateau de Pimpéan after what has been a hard but enjoyable week. This has been my first full harvest since we moved to France (Nigel's 2nd) and it has been good to participate on equal terms with other members of the team rather than just dipping in for the odd half day here and there.

The beginning of the day is always hard - it takes a while to warm up and get your eye in on the bunches, cutting quickly and moving on swiftly. Two members of the team tackle a row each, one on either side. You notice that some people work together better than others - chances are they have harvested together before, second guessing each other's moves well in advance. Cuts and grazes are fairly common for the first couple of days.

So this is where the competitive edge starts to kick in. As we move down the rows in teams of two, glances are cast to check who is going the fastest and who is lagging behind. It's irritating when you come in last and feels great when you finish first. And then we have the issue of emptying the buckets. Cries of 'seau' come thick and fast - just as you've got down on your knees again to collect some bunches hanging near the ground, the guy carrying the hod is after you again!

But any pressure you feel comes from yourself. In reality, the team works well together. Those that finish first come back and help those coming in behind. That way, everyone starts a new row at the same time. Sometimes you're first and sometimes you're last - it depends upon the time of day, how you're feeling and if your knees and back are bearing up to the strain well that day.

And what a great feeling at the end of each day to come away knowing that you've participated in one of the most important periods of the vineyard year. That cup of English tea has never tasted so good nor has the glass of two of wine in the evening after a long hot soak in the bath.

Tomorrow is our post-harvest party. Maryse will be lighting the old bread oven at Chateau de Pimpéan and we will be celebrating with a glass or two and some fouaces. We thought we'd take along a couple of bottles of Breaky Bottom from England to start off the evening. Will let you know how we get on.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Hand harvesting for Chateau de Pimpéan

On the face of it, joining in with a little hand harvesting seems like an easy option. Reality is of course somewhat different - it's hard physical graft and requires stamina and fitness. An hour or two is manageable but 7 hours a day for a week and one quickly realises that it's extremely tough. 2 people share the responsibliity for each row moving with real speed, darting in and out of the foliage, cutting the (thankfully very healthy) grapes off and leaving any unripe 'grappions' behind. Every 5 minutes or so, the chap responsible for the 'hod' arrives in order to chivvy you along and empty your bucket before returning to the row. This inevitably leads to an enormous amount of bending up and down, lifting and emptying, crouching over and then returning to all fours in order to make sure nothing gets left behind. When someone misses a good bunch, others are quick to point it out with cries of 'une bouteille ici'. Having had the weekend off, we return tomorrow to continue harvesting for Chateau de Pimpean. Despite having sore legs and arms, numerous cuts and scratches - we feel rested and ready to go again. There is a great sense of teamwork and satisfaction when the tractor drives off with a full trailer of healthy Cabernet Franc grapes. For us, it gives the opportunity to stay in touch with the reality of growing grapes and making wine at ground level. There's an awful lot of hard work going on in the vineyard during the year culminating with vintage. Then, we wait and look forward in anticipation to this year's wines - they should be good...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Harvest in Bourgueil with Pierre-Jacques Druet

Some pictures taken at the end of last week when we visited Pierre-Jacques Druet. Despite being inundated with trailors of grapes arriving, he still found plenty of time to give us an excellent tasting and explain the process of winemaking to our clients from San Francisco.

Cabernet Franc grapes arriving at the winery

Pump is primed ready to take the free-run juice straight to a settling tank for the rosé

An amazing amount of free-run juice comes straight from the trailor

Pierre-Jacques checks the juice with his refractometer - good news - 12.5

The harvesters still find time to select a few wild mushrooms for dinner, carefully stored in a trug balanced on the front of the trailer
Once the free-run juice has stopped flowing, grapes are manually pulled into the crusher destemmer giving the 'must' which is then pumped directly into tank

Care is taken in the winery to ensure everything goes smoothly

Tank full and ready for fermentation to start

Friday, 9 October 2009

Harvest in Savennières - Domaine aux Moines

Photos from Domaine aux Moines in Savennières yesterday. We arrived to find pickers selecting grapes for the 1er tri. Weather conditions have been perfect in recent weeks although potential alcohol is escalating which has meant picking must get underway. There is very little noble rot present this year as the weather has been extremely dry. What little there is will increase if current conditions prevail with foggy mornings and sunny dry afternoons.

The tractor reverses down the row to allow pickers to empty their small picking buckets.

The Chenin Blanc grapes are in excellent condition with Mme Laroche describing this year's harvest as 'très sain'

Pickers gather at the end of the rows to discuss the next parcel

Healthy Chenin grapes - these will be left a little longer but the shrivelling due to lack of water can be easily seen and some bunches contain severely dehydrated grapes that already have a potential alcohol of around 20

The tractor bringing in the 1er tri

Mme Laroche guiding us through a tasting of Domaine aux Moines

Tasting a range of vintages of Domaine aux Moines Savennières, Mme Laroche discussed the different growing conditions for each wine and this was borne out in the diversity of style and flavours that we found. From the more primary fruit, tight young wine of 2006 to the evolved complexity of the 1992, full of honey, grapefruit and minerals - these wines change so much over time.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Saumur Champigny vintage update

Lovely view from vineyards close to Saumur showing the river Loire and the chateau in the distance

Just returned from a morning in and around Saumur and Saumur Champigny. The weather continues to be perfect this week giving growers the opportunity to take their time and hold off harvest until they think fit. We drove around many of the Saumur Champigny communes - not a single person spotted in the vineyards. The Cabernet Franc grapes look in spectacular form - clean and healthy with no rot.

Healthy grapes from the village of Chaintres in the Saumur Champigny appellation

We spoke to Domaine de Hureau - they are starting tomorrow as is Chateau de Villeneuve - they will be passing through for the 1er tri, the reds to follow next week. At Filliatreau there was lots of activity cleaning tanks and machinery in anticipation for a 5th October minimum start.

Preparing for harvest at Domaine Filliatreau in Chaintres

Will keep you posted as and when harvest starts - we will be there on Saturday.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Vintage update - Vouvray & Chinon

Was over in Vouvray this morning collecting wine from Bernard Fouquet. His press is at the ready with equipment clean and ready for harvest which will begin on Monday. He says that the vines have suffered from a lack of water and this lead to a 'blockage' of maturity. Yields are anticipated to be normal/healthy but the grapes will yield a small amount of juice as they are quite hard. The grapes have seen the onset of noble rot so he is hoping conditions remain dry as any rain could lead to grey rot setting in. At present there is a tiny amount of grey rot but nothing to be concerned about. Harvest on Monday will be for the petillants - acidity is not high but he says there is always a difference between those levels recorded during random sampling and those achieved on the day. Conditions are excellent.

We drove around the vineyards perched above the village of Vouvray. Many vineyards have grapes in great condition and others appear to have a lot of mildew and grey rot. This seems to be mainly where the canopy has been left dense. Photos are not of Bernard's vineyards - we took random shots.

Grapes in this vineyard looking extremely unhealthy, stripped the leaves away to take the photo

On the other hand, these look in good health, clean and without rot, clearly leaf stripped.

Moving on to Chinon, we had a chat with Jérome Billard at Domaine de la Noblaie. He will be waiting for at least another week before harvesting his Chenin for the whites. Potential alcohol is around 12 on average and he is delighted at the current weather conditions which are 'perfect'. Sunny days with a little wind allow the vines to perform normally and without any stress. There is a little grey rot but only a tiny amount and a little noble rot setting in which he feels will add complexity to the whites. He is going to hold off as long as possible if the weather conditions prevail.

I'll post more photos on the Facebook fanpage tomorrow.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Brocante on the river Loire at Le Thoureil

A few photos from the Brocante at Le Thoureil a 10 minute walk from our house. The weather stayed fine although was damp and rather foggy which kept the crowds away. Fewer stalls than normal and less people attending made it a gentle experience today. No apologies for including yet another picture of a boat on the river - the colours seem to differ so much as the seasons change that I just can't resist.

Friday, 18 September 2009

School Dinners

With constant talk of the success or otherwise of changes made to English 'school dinners' in the past few years I hope my children will feel privilidged to have been to a French school where food plays a very important role.

We moved to this area of France, close to Saumur, 3 years ago, and I remember my first visit to see the local Collège where the children would go to school. The principal took great pains to point out that not only did his school have a very good reputation for its academic teaching, but that it also had one of the best 'cantines' in the area.

Not being in a large city is an obvious advantage - students number around 600 making it fairly small as Collèges go. The vast majority of food is prepared fresh, daily and on the premises.

Each day there is an entrée, plat, dessert and cheese, always accompanied by a green salad and plenty of fresh french bread. Take today for example - here is the menu:

Rillettes with cornichons
Fillet of white fish served with vegetables and a beurre blanc sauce
Fresh poached peach served with chocolate sauce and whipped cream
Cheese - today garlicky cream cheese

The menus are planned in advance and posted up on the noticeboard. Theme days incorporating foods and flavours from other countries are often included.

What strikes me most is that the food offered to children at lunchtime here in France is the food one would serve any adult. No concession is made for age - after all why wouldn't a 12 year old enjoy a beurre blanc sauce or sauce bearnaise. Food is still considered to be important, something to look forward to. As a result of this, I have seen a change in the way my children eat. They are more open to trying new things, tastes and flavours. Of course, they don't like everything but when dishes such as black pudding , mussels, squid and offal are often served, they have a go and often come back with enthusiastic reports about something delicious they have tried at school.

Do they realise how lucky they are? I think they do - they look forward to lunch and enjoy telling us what they have had when they get home.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Chateau de Pimpean - Exhibition

La Chapelle peinte du Château de Pimpéan est le seul monument de l'Anjou dont la copie, grandeur nature, est représentée à Paris au Musée de la Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine. Dans le cadre d'un partenariat avec ce Musée, le Château abrite du 5 Septembre au 11 Octobre 2009, dans le "Grenier aux Rentes", une exposition exceptionnelle intitulée "Vierges à l'Enfant".
Les neuf moulages issus des réserves des collections illustrent la diversité des représentations de ce thème du XIIIe au XVe siècle et permettent une approche des statues originales qui ne sont pas toutes dans leur édifice d'origine.

The chateau de Pimpéan was built by Bertrand de Beauvau, friend of Roi René in 1435 and has a beautiful tiny chapel that contains some of the most beautiful painted wall murals of the 15th century. The paintings represent themes dear to Roi René - angels carrying their instruments of the Passion and scenes of the life of the Virgin Mary. A representation of the chapel is in the Musée de la Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine and in partnership with the museum, there will be an exceptional exhibition titled 'Vierges a l'Enfant' held in the great hall of the chateau.

The current owners bought the chateau in 1993 and have embarked upon a momumental programme of restoration. Le Grenier aux Rentes houses the exhibition and the room itself deserves a visit with its amazing timber and slate roof. Maryse Tugendhat also makes a single wine each year from the 30 hectares surrounding the chateau. This wine called 'Cuvée Passion' also takes its inspiration from the chapel with the label each year depicting one of the angels of the painted murals.

Semaine :
Départ visite à 17h30
Samedi-dimanche :
Départ visite à 11h, 15h, 17h
Tarif : 10€
(expo, visite, dégustation de vins)
06 85 31 07 86

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Vignes, Vins & Randos en Val de Loire

12 randonnées conviviales et accessibles a tous - vignes, vins & randos, ce sont douze randonnées conviviales pour parcourir le vignoble du Val de Loire les samedi 5 et dimanche 6 september, en compagnie des vignerons venues partager leur passion, leur terroir et leur savoir-faire, sur fond de paysages inscrits au Patrimoine mondial de l'Humanité par l'Unesco.

12 convivial walks, suitable for all 'vines, wines and walks', twelve convivial walks in and around the vineyards of the Loire valley on Saturday the 5th and Sunday the 6th September accompanied by producers keen to share their passion, their 'terroir' and their know- how in the heart of this beautiful countryside (Unesco World Heritage site).

Choose from Jasnières, Touraine, Vouvray, Bonnezeaux, Anjou-rouge, Chinon and more. There qill be pauses along the way to taste local wines and foods, listen to music and participate in entertainment. Suitable for all the family.

For more information visit the Vins de Loire website www.vinsdeloire.fr

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Logis Saint Mexme- a great chambre d'hotes in Chinon

We spent a couple of days in and around Chinon last week and had the good fortune to stay at the Logis Saint Mexme. Overlooking the Collégiale de St Mexme, it's a beautiful 15th century former canonial property owned by Héléne and Jean Michel Craye in Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau, just a 5 minute walk from the centre of Chinon.

We opted for la Suite Saint Mexme which has a bedroom, contemporary bathroom (with separate loo) and it's own large living room which overlooks the Collégiale. Antiques mix with contemporary upholstery to provide a warm, unstuffy atmosphere. A large collection of books in both English and French, both classic and modern, games for those happy to stay put, and a range of CD's to suit every possible musical taste add those finishing touches. You can make yourself a cup of coffee in the room or pop out into the corridor where Héléne has installed a small fridge stocked with bottled water, juices and beers.

A super breakfast is included in the cost (83€ for two per night for the suite, 67€ for the double room) and is served in the dining room on the ground floor where the windows open up onto the pretty walled garden. We enjoyed fresh fruit salad with yoghurt and a selection of patisseries (pain au chocolat, brioche, croissant) and breads ranging from sweet white to seedy baguette and earthy campagne. Héléne also provides a good variety of cereals for those that can find enough space! Of course, a large jug of tea, coffee or chocolate accompanies everything as well as orange juice.

We spent a couple of hours reading and relaxing while working our way through the CD's before wandering in to the centre of town for dinner at Les Années 30. The perfect place to retreat to after a 'hard' day talking business with local winemakers.

So, if you're planning a visit to Chinon and are looking for a great place to stay, we can't recommend it highly enough. You need to book well in advance as there are only 2 rooms. We were extremely lucky to find the suite available when we called. Héléne speaks good English despite her protests to the contrary and is a lively and charming hostess who is keen to help all her guests make the most of their stay. She is on hand to give recommendations for restaurants and wineries to visit and give advice where needed.

It's only an hour away from us, so why not combine a couple of nights in Chinon with a day in the countryside at le tasting room learning all about the wines of the region.

See the website for better photos than ours and call or email directly for availability.

Héléne et Jean Michel Craye
Losig Saint Mexme
115 Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau
37500 Chinon

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Domaine Grisard Vin de Savoie Mondeuse 06

Last night we tried a bottle of Savoie wine that Wink Lorch and Brett Jones of Wine Travel Guides brought last week when they came to le tasting room for lunch. Wink is a specialist in Jura & Savoie (spending half her time in this beautiful mountainous region and half in London) so it came well recommended.

Mondeuse is not a grape variety that many are familiar with (us included). It's an old and distinctive grape variety that produces wines relatively high in acidity with great colour. Originally it was thought to be the same as the Refosco of Northern Italy but this has been shown not to be the case in recent years.

It's always difficult to assess a wine when you have no point of reference. The last time I tried a Mondeuse was about 4 years ago while walking in the Alps during the summer.
On the nose we amusingly likened it first to Gamay, then found Pinot Noir notes and finally a big whiff of pepper came through. My reaction was ' a masculine version of Gruner Veltliner'. On the palate, the acidity is marked, it's juicy and has good fruit and quite a bit of tannin but not austerely so. It's a spicey wine and it went well with the chargrilled belly pork that we were having for dinner. A super change.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Different forms of viticulture

Vinegrowing is broadly divided into four categories and it can sometimes be difficult to understand the differences between them. Here is a brief explanation of the main types.

Conventional Viticulture

Vineyard close to us - grapes sold to one of the local sparkling wine producers in Saumur

The vine rules supreme and at the expense of all other vegetation that gets in its way in the vineyard. Weeds are generally kept under control using chemicals and cover crops between the rows are rarely found. Of course, at the same time, natural predators that would otherwise be found in the vineyard can also be obliterated so in many ways this increases the need for further treatments to be applied. Treatments are applied on a regular basis according to a spray calendar often with little regard to actual necessity. None of the growers that we deal with operate on this basis.

Lutte Raisonnée

Chateau de la Varrière in Brissac - treatments reduced to a minimum to preserve grape quality

We deal with quite a few growers that operate a 'lutte raisonnée' policy. The literal translation is reasoned fight/struggle and it means that growers tolerate a limited amount of disease and/or problem within their vineyards as a totally normal state of affairs but when it becomes a real problem then they step in and take action which can mean using chemicals and pesticides. This threshhold is however for the individual grower to decide so the term covers a wide spectrum of what is and is not acceptable. For the majority of our growers, this is very close to organic viticulture but without the certification. You will often find grass, wild flowers or cover crops between the rows or they are cultivated to maintain soil structure. Sprays are kept to an absolute minimum and levels of Sulphur and Copper (used to fight against downy and powdery mildew) are applied with a light hand. Often many organic principals are embraced - but - the rules are not set in stone so this gives them a free hand in times of real problem.


Les Fougeraies - vineyard tended by Loic Mahe - producer in Savennieres and Brissac - fully organic and embracing some biodynamic principals

The organic grower is just as interested in maintaining a healthy ecosystem around the vine and in the vineyard as maintaining healthy vines themselves. All chemicals and pesticides are banned with the exception of Sulphur and Copper (used as above) and the land has to undergo a period of conversion to achieve organic status if sprays containing chemicals and pesticides have been used previously. Care is taken to provide a hospitable environment for birds, bees and wildlife as well as the micro flora and fauna. Cover crops are often planted between the rows which can later be ploughed back into the soil providing natural green compost and organic compost may be applied by tractor or by horse. Natural predators play a part in controlling pests in the vineyard. Many of our growers have organic vineyards and their genuine passion shines through in the wines that they make. They generally add very small amounts of suplur during processing, leave the wines to finish their fermentations naturally and rarely add cultivated yeasts.


One of Nicholas Joly's (France's leading bio-dynamic exponent) vineyards at Chateau de la Roches aux Moines

An increasing number of our growers are both Organic and Biodynamic. The biodynamic movement was started by Rudolph Steiner in the 1920's and essentially believes that everything is influenced by the solar system, the stars and the cosmos. Viticultural practices in the vineyard are timed to coincide with the moon and there is a strong belief that certain days are better than others for roots, flowers, fruit and leaves. Homeopathic 'tisanes' are applied to the vineyard during the year and 'horn' manure is buried during the Autumn equinox and dug up and sprayed during the Spring equinox. You may be sceptical about the effectiveness of this approach - many are. All I can say is that those that embrace it seem to make fabulous wines so even if it is just a 'belief', if it leads to great wine and involves a totally natural, non interventionist approach to vinegrowing and winemaking - why not?

Friday, 7 August 2009

Angers - Asleep in August

I'd like to have a grumble about Angers in August. Don't get me wrong, we love Angers - spent a year at University there, know it like the back of our hands, eat there lots, it's great for cinema and culture but.... in August, it's a ghost town.

How can a city like Angers afford to close down during the busiest tourist month of the year? Not only are all the decent restaurants closed (Favre d'Anne, Petit Comptoir, Chez Remi to name but a few) but half the shops are too.

Now I know it's a tricky place at present with the disruption caused by putting in the new tramway but - surely, this is not the month to go to sleep?

I do have sympathy for the rural restaurants closing during August as they rely upon local trade and by and large the French do still go away in August - but - a city that wants to put itself on the map - come on. Am I alone in finding this frustrating?

We are in the fortunate position of knowing Angers well but if you are a tourist visiting Anjou for the first time - you could spend an hour wandering around trying to find somewhere open to eat.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009


A few shots taken in Amboise recently. The views from the chateau are spectacular on a sunny day. Although busy during the height of the season, it's a lovely place to go for the day and there are plenty of pavement cafés and restaurants to choose from.

Looking down from the chateau to the pavement restaurants and cafés

Chez Bruno - a small restaurant we often frequent that serves a simple but tasty lunch menu

View from the chateau

Magnificent wisteria in full flower on the way up to the chateau

View of the chateau from inside the grounds

Streets in the pedestrianized area