le tasting room

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

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A week with le tasting room

The season has now swung into action and we have a regular flow of guests from all over the world visiting our beautiful valley. I say 'our' beautiful valley but of course it is not. We claimed our little corner of this special place in France when we moved from the UK in 2006.

Cumeray, where we live and run our business, is approximately half-way between Angers and Saumur. A tiny hamlet, one of 13 that make up the commune of St Georges des Sept Voies. A typical countryside community with its share of artisans and farmers, viticulturists, professionals and us - an English family with wine trade backgrounds.

We welcome, share and discuss our passion for wine, food and French life with like-minded people from countries far and wide. This year we have had the pleasure of meeting people who work in law, research, banking, sport, dentistry, fashion, tv, technology, marketing and nursing. Yet we are all united with one passion, that of wine.

We spent a morning in and around Savennières with guests from Chicago last week. Savennières is a small appellation just 10 minutes away from the city of Angers and covers three communes - Savennières, Bouchmaine and Possonière. We met with Luc Bizard of Chateau d'Epiré whose family has been making wine for generations.

The church of Epiré seen from the vineyards of Chateau d'Epiré

Vineyards are interesting to visit at any time of year as there is always something different to observe. Here, the vines are pruned, ready and waiting for budburst which is due in a couple of weeks. When this happens, nerves are tested until the risk of Spring frost is over. A late frost in this cool climate wine-making region can make or break a vintage.

As there is no foliage on the vines, it's a great time to explain the basic principals of pruning and how this has such a major impact upon final wine quality. It's easy to see what has been done and explain the process.

On one side these vineyards overlook the river which helps moderate the climate and to the other, you can see the famous Coulée de Serrant and the Chateau de la Roche aux Moines owned by bio-dyanimics expert Nicolas Joly.
Chateau de la Roche aux Moines and the vineyards of Nicolas Joly

Nothing will convince you more of the effects of terroir than spending a day in and around the vineyards of the Loire valley. Soil types are quite visibly different and contribute hugely to final winestyle. Here in Savennières the soil is predominantly schistous with spilites dotted around.

No surprise where the minerality of Savennières comes from

In the afternoon we paid a visit to Chateau de Pimpéan in Grezillé where this time our guests had the chance to have a go at pruning themselves. This area, which falls within the Anjou appellation, is known for its red wines from the Cabernet Franc grape and Grezillé marks the point at which the soil changes from slate and schist to tuffeau limestone. Cabernet Franc is happiest grown on this more absorbant soil as it dislikes being water stressed.

The chateau is privately owned and is a huge restoration project under the guidance of batiments de France. Originally built by Bertrand de Beauveau, a friend of Roi Rene in 1435 it has a beautiful chapel from which the wine takes its inspiration. Imposing and stern, dominating the surrounding countryside, 20 hectares of vines surround it. A visit here is not just about wine but about, history, art and heritage.

Chateau de Pimpean during the summer - history, wine, culture, art

Later on in the week we headed off in the other direction with clients from England. Vignoble de la Jarnoterie in St Nicolas de Bourgueil is a 24 hectare vineyard which has been in the family for 5 generations. The wines of St Nicolas are generally lighter than those coming from nearby Bourgueil - good wines for those not seeking robust tannins. Here the soil gives wines that are generally lighter in style then their fuller-bodied neighbours.

The Loire valley region is famous for its chateaux as well as its wine and much of the stone used to build them was quarried from the region over the centuries. There are more than 1000km of tunnels in and around the region as a result of this quarrying and as time has passed by, locals have found ingenious ways of using them to their advantage. Winemakers use the tunnels for storing wine, snails are raised in them and they are home to millions of mushrooms cultivated in damp, dark, conditions.

1km from the road and 20 metres underground at Vignoble de la Jarnoterie

Before tasting the wines of Jarnoterie, we went to see their caves where the wines mature in barrel. This was a first both for us and our clients - we took our Renault Trafic 8 seater car down into the caves. With only just enough room on either side and in pitch darkness, we drove right underneath the vineyards for 1 km. A slightly nerve-wracking but nonetheless exciting few minutes was rewarded when we saw the vast caves at the end. Now used for cellaring and ageing wine, these caves were quarried by convicts who had not paid for their salt. For their crime, they were sent away to French Guyana but as boats only left once every 6 months, they were forced to quarry limestone until the next boat arrived.

to be continued

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