A few favourite photos from 2011 that bring back happy memories.
Clos Cristal in the Saumur Champigny appellation is one of two unique vineyards planted by Antoine Cristal at the end of the 19th Century. He had a vision of producing high quality wine that stood up to the likes of fine Burgundy and thought this required more heat than the average Loire vineyard could produce. He came up with the idea of constructing a series of walls that were 60cm thick, planted vines on the north side of the wall, made holes through the walls and then trained the vines through the holes so that the foliage came out and was trained up against the south side of the walls. This labour intensive and expensive project was never copied by other producers in the region but the 2 original vineyards are still in operation and produce great wines that reflect the extra heat summation coming from the retained and reflected heat from the walls.
In July we were lucky enough to welcome the entire choir of Girton College Cambridge here in the cellar for a morning's introduction to the wines of the Loire valley. The choir was here as part of a busy tour taking in performances in Saumur, Angers and Nantes before a busy schedule in Paris. They treated us to a few bars at the end of the tasting, proof that wine and music are really made for each other.
Rablay-sur-Layon is home to many local potters who hold an annual marché des potiers each year. This rather chubby bear attracted my attention amongst all the wonderful hand-made arts and crafts.
The Loire was so low - hard to imagine how little water. At times we worried that we might not be able to take our regular boat trips with Alain Gillot, local toue sablière owner and wildlife expert. Forced to zig zag across the water to keep afloat and sometimes having to push ourselves off the sandbanks, our trips were always memorable and the river always majestic and beautiful. The lovely architecture of our local village Le Thoureil always takes on a different perspective when seen from the water.
500 Euros per square metre - that's what it cost to lay the hand-cut ardoise (slate) tiles used to replace the roof on the petite chapelle at Chateau de Pimpéan last summer. Expensive yes, but the craftsmenship involved is extraordinary and the end result beautiful. Wonderful to think that the slate used to secure the life of the wall paintings inside the chapel were quarried and fashioned from the working mine in Angers only 20 minutes away.
One of many happy days spent with clients from around the world. We always spend the morning tasting and discussing a range of wines from all over the Loire valley and this was a particularly good day when the chemistry was just right and we came away friends.
Crémant is big in the Loire (the number 2 producer of traditional method sparkling wines outside of Champagne). I particularly like this shot that I took while visiting Langlois Chateau in St Hilaire St Florent just outside Saumur. It shows the yeasty sediment in a bottle of Crémant rosé sitting patiently in the neck of the bottle. The next stage will be to keep the bottle in this position, dip it in a freezing solution, pop it back the right way round, remove the crown cap and watch the frozen pellet shoot out the top. Then it will be topped up, corked, muzzled and 'dressed' ready for the market. A truly great product.
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the Croix de Mission vineyard owned by the Lebretons of Domaine des Rochelles. What an extraordinary year it was - budburst nearly a month early, no rain for months, no hint of summer sun, torrential rain and then - a late burst of glorious heat that ripened these grapes to perfection. Not a hint of disease in sight. Growers in Anjou were celebrating - perfectly healthy grapes, great sugar levels and ripe tannins. Although a difficult year for some, watch out for some lovely reds in 2011 with great fruit and lovely concentration.
Pierre-Jacques Druet in Benais (Bourgueil) always give us a fantastic welcome when we have the time to visit him and we love his very elegant reds from the Cabernet Franc grape. I called him to see if we could pop in with clients during harvest 2011 and he invited us to spend the morning with him and enjoy a working lunch afterwards. What luck! The machine harvester was parked on the courtyard so our first treat was to climb up and take a good look while he explained how it worked. Then we were back in the winery sticking our noses in all the tanks while he explained the different stages of fermentation (maceration, pre-fermentation, mid-fermentation, fermentation finished, pressing off the skins) and also we saw him put his rosé juice into old barrels before they were whisked off to his troglodyte cellars a couple of kilometers away. Then - off the cellars ourselves to see how his unusual rosé is made by an ancient method called guillage. Old wooden barrels filled to the brim with slowly fermenting juice each one pushing out a froth of almost fluorescent pink bubbles. This rosé takes nearly 6 months to finish its journey from juice to wine.
Around 700km of cycle tracks around the Loire valley make it both a beautiful and safe place to get on your bike and enjoy the beauty of the region. This year for the first time we welcomed a group of cyclists from Loirelifecycling.com for a tasting and lunch in our cellar. After a 45k cycle ride through the countryside and along the river during the morning they swept down the drive ready for a glass of Crémant (and a large glass of water) before enjoying a relaxing wine tasting lunch. Terrines, patés, salads, cheeses and dessert were a welcome sight after the morning's exertion and to end the day on a perfect note, Jon Lethbridge who organises the tours came to load the bikes into the trailer and them into the car enabling everyone to relax and enjoy lunch without the thought of a return journey afterwards!
We always enjoy visiting Chateau de Pimpéan as it combines wine tasting with wonderful history and architecture. This photo was taken late in the season and I love the dramatic sky and the low sunshine that illuminates the pavilion.
The leaves have started to fall and yet the weather remains gentle and mild. Still warm enough to take a walk in late October without a coat, I took this while enjoying an afternoon stroll around the vineyards of the Coteaux de l'Aubance.
Mid December and the sun is still shining. We called in with friends to buy one or two bottles of Eddy Oosterlinck-Bracke's fabulous noble sweet wines from the Chenin Blanc grape. Eddy works along bio-dynamic lines and if ever anyone will convince you - it's him. Don't expect tales of dancing around the vines under the light of the full moon but real explanations as to why this approach is best for the vines. And this makes a fitting end to the year as his approach is one that I certainly agree with. It makes sense to give vines the chance to defend themselves naturally against predators and diseases instead of turning to chemicals and sprays. Maintaining a good soil structure full of living micro-organisms can only be good for the vine, good for grapes - and good for us.
Happy New Year 2012!