PART 1: RADIKON IN OSLAVIA
Before we get into the visit, why don't you go read up on Clai Bijele Zemlje's BRAND SPANKING NEW PROFILE!
Giorgio Clai's enthusiastic: "Welcome to Paradise!" set the tone for a breathtakingly beautiful and informative visit. Nestled in the Alpine foothills of Croatian Istria, The Clai household is completely surrounded by nature.
The first vines we visited just a few feet from the house.
These 90 year old vines are a historical vineyard in the area. Giorgio acquired them when previous owner died 3 years ago. The North-East exposition is great for keeping alcohol down.
The parcel is co-planted with many olive trees.
"It was traditional to plant rows this way: three vines, an olive tree, three vines, an olive tree..."
Nearby willow tree branches are used to tie down the vines.
The Plavina grape is grown here, which Giorgio uses for his sparkling. It is co-planted with Moscato.
From these old vines, we walked for about 10 minutes to the next site. On the way over, I was able to ask Giorgio some Clai factoids. The estate consists of 7 hectares of vines and 3h of olives spread over three different sites. The first two are walking distance from the house, and the third -the lieu-dit Sveti Jakov- is a 4 km drive. His first labeled vintage was 2001.
The second plot we visited is home to 16 year old vines of Pinot Grigio and Refosco. It is exposed full South.
There is a lot of late budding this year, partly due to a lot of rain. Lasted year, Giorgio added organic minerals and ground-up stone from the Dolomites in hope of lowering PH levels a bit.
"There is so much limestone here it really raises acidity levels."
For many years, Giorgio felt it was necessary to get organic certification, but he's recently had a change of heart. He feels that it's the work that matters, not the perception. Just for everyone's organic peace of mind, here is a picture of Giorgio's vines:
And these are his next door neighbor's:
Oh, the magic of Round-Up...
The soils here are mainly composed of clay, but Giorgio adamantly pointed out that in just 20m the compositions vary from sand, sand and clay and richer clay. Here is a picture of the latter.
Also within walking distance (this time a bit further), the second major site is host to Merlot, as well as some Moscato reserved for a sweet wine.
Everything here is exposed West. The climate is very different from the first site, with a constant wind that keeps it cooler. The soil is dark, rich clay. After noticing that the sites we'd visited so far were fairly isolated, Giorgio confirmed that most of his vines have no neighbors.
After a good 45 minutes of hiking around, we drove 4 km to Sveti Jakov.
Sveti Jakov is one of the most beautiful vineyards I've ever seen. Unlike the other sites we'd visited, Giorgio does not have a monopole here, and shares the vineyard with an unspecified amount of neighbors. His vines are 34 years old, and they are the only one that he didn't plant himself. When he took over, everything was in Pergola, which he chopped down to re-train in the more quality-oriented guillot.
They vines were also "chemically dead", and had to be converted back to organics.
The two sites we'd visited earlier see their microclimates influenced by the mountains, but Sveti Jakov is much more affected by the winds of the sea, resulting in a constant wind that is essential at combating oidium and mildew. On a normal year, Giorgio only applies 3 copper treatments to Sveti Jakov (5 in the others).
"It would be impossible to work organically here without these winds."
The soils are much rockier here.
There are also many olive trees planted throughout the vineyard.
After visiting the vines, Giorgio was excited to show us the new cellar he is working on.
The current cellar is microscopic, and this will permit him to separate vinification, aging and storage into different rooms. He's also very excited to start working with gravity.
By having this system put in place, it will avoid extra rackings and transportations, all while keeping the grapes optimally fresh.
In the cellar, we got to taste through a variety of whites and red from barrel.
In 2012, the Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Sauvignon for the Ottocento white were cofermented. The wine macerates 8-12 days on its skin, depending on the vintage. Only half of the malo was done, but the results are very promising.
Giorgio explained that despite the over-abundance of sun and drought in 2012 (not a drop of rain all summer!!!), acidities are still really good.
"If the vines are not confused by chemicals, they know when to grow or not. They shut themselves down when necessary. This is how we retained our acidity in 2012."
We then tasted some 2012 Malvasia that had fermented and macerated on the skins for 25 days. It will be used to balance out either Sveti Jakov or the Ottocento. The 2012 Refosco will be blended, but the 2011 is so good it might become it's own wine. The Sveti Jakov 2012 white sees 4 months of skin maceration, and it's delicious.
Here is an adorable picture of the Clai dog that has absolutely no context in this recap whatsoever.
After tasting in the cellar, we had an incredible home-cooked meal and tasted the 2011's, which are top-notch. The wines are so elegant and balanced that I always forget how high in alcohol they are. I gotta admit I was a little tipsy by the end of the meal...
Our next visit brings us to yet another country, Slovenia! Stay tuned for our play-by-play of our visit with Branko and Vasja Cotar!
Three weeks ago, a small group of us set off to Italy for a two week trip. After spending a day in Venice (where, according to Maya's step-calculator thingy, we walked 7.5 miles!!!), we drove to Oslavia to hang with Stanko and Saša Radikon.
The family's main parcel is located right under the Stanko and Suzanna's house.
Standing next to the Merlot vines, Saša explained that finding large vineyards in this area is very hard, and that a parcel of this size (3 h) is uncommon. Along with the Merlot, Ribolla Gialla and Pinot Grigio are planted on the lower slopes of this hill, which is 190m in altitude and exposed full South.
Everything had to be replanted in 1997 after a devastating mudslide in 1994. Besides horse manure, the only thing added to the vines are copper and sulfur treatments, which Saša is trying to reduce by incorporating propolis, a bee based product effective against mildew.
The training is similar to Albarello. Three cuts, two buds per cane, 4 to 6 clusters per vine.
Prior to the 97 replanting, everything was trained in double guyot. Only a few rows at the bottom of the hill survived.
As you can see in the photo below, they had recently plowed every other row, effectively letting the other have "the year off".
The soils consist of heavy clay with a strong presence of shale.
The subsoils here absorb the region's large amount of annual rainfall, and this natural water reserve is instrumental in conserving minerality and acidity in the grapes.
Oslavia is host to a handful of famous winemakers, and from the Radikons' vineyards, you can spot -among others- some of Gravner's vines.
After visiting the vines, we walked back to the house to taste in the cellar. Before we could make it, Stanko distracted us with this big fish.
It had been caught that morning, and would serve as our main course for lunch.
Cooling off from the hot sun, we ventured into the cellar.
The winemaking at Radikon has been covered extensively in the past, but it never hurts to reiterate. There is no temperature control for fermentations, with punchdowns in the first 48 hours to get fermentations going. Along with their old school, hand-held "punchdown stick", their is a one-of-a-kind mechanic one designed by Stanko himself!
The grapes are de-stemmed. The juice then ferments and macerates on its skins -which amount to 20 to 30% of a full tank- for 2.5 to 4 months. After a racking of the skins and gross lees, the wine is aged in large barriques for up to 36 months. The first big attempts with skin contact took place in 1995, with Stanko producing half of the Ribolla Gialla this way.
"Ribolla has very thick skins. My father realized that the skin contact with Merlot made the wine better, so why not try it with Ribolla? It brought more structure and complexity."
Prior to this decision, the wines were fermented in stainless steel and aged in barrique. In the early years, maceration times were much shorter.
"This was a big inspiration for the S line. It has permitted me to understand what my father was doing in the early days."
For those unfamiliar with the S line, S stands for Saša; the wines see 2 to 3 weeks on the skins, are aged in barrel only one year and are immediately released.
Fun cellar factoid: the cellar's walls are the subsoils of the vines we'd just visited, and because of all the water they constantly hold, they sweat out this cold, wet mineral slime.
We tasted a bunch of 09's. They were really good.
To celebrate our successful tasting, Stanko popped open a bottle of 2010 Ribolla Gialla PET' NAT!
That's right, both François Pinon and the Radikons have produced petillant naturel: get with the times people! This experiment started because Suzanna Radikon, who loves bubbles, complained there was never enough in the house. 2010 was a bit of a disaster; there was way too much sugar left, and over half of them exploded during the re-fermentation. But what's left of it is delicious!
Lunch was as good an opportunity as any to taste the recently bottled 07's Radikons and the 10' S wines, as well as some back vintages.
One of those was a 99 Ribolla Gialla, labeled as a DOC Collio. In 2000, Stanko asked that the DOC modify its rules for color so it could allow skin contact wines in the Collio DOC. They declined, so he intentionally declassified everything in 2001.
Another unexpected treat was to taste a pre-skin contact, 1993 Pinot Grigio!
It was bright and mineral, but not exactly memorable. Whatever sulfur was used at the time had completely blown off.
After finishing up lunch with Suzanna's "Best Apple Strudel Ever Made" (Denyse Louis quote), Stanko had to run to an orange wine festival taking place in Croatia. After saying our goodbyes, Sasa drove us to a newly acquired parcel just across the Slovenian border.
This vineyard was planted in 2004 in selection massale, with Ribolla on top, Pignollo in the middle and Tokaj on bottom.
"We always get good wind here from the proximity to the sea."
We ended our visit by climbing up this funky watch tower, getting a bird's eye view of the local surroundings.
That night, we ate at La Subida, which many consider one of the best restaurants in Italy. The all local/organic food and wine program follows seasonal menus, so we got to eat a lot of dishes based on spring herbs and wild asparagus, accompanied by an all-star cast of Friulian and Slovenian wines.
Next up, our visit to Croatia with Clai Bijele Zemlje! These wines have been shrouded in mystery forever, but a full profile and visit recap will finally shed some light (and appropriate shine) on Giorgio Clai's incredible estate!
PART 6: CLOS ROUGEARD
Ahhh, the Loire wine fairs... The wonderful moment where every wine professional in France -not to mention us pesky importers- cram themselves into tight spaces in order amiably chit-chat with vignerons and taste their current offerings. What started as a one-stop affair over three days at the Salons des Vins de Loire has become a multifaceted, venue hopping taste-a-thon: if I'm not mistaken, there were 7 "off's" (unofficial satellite events) this year. We went to 5 of them.
Well, 6 if you include Viti-Valaire International, our annual private tasting at L'Herbe Rouge. Since 2007, we've been hijacking Cécille Argondico's incredible restaurant (which just got a shout-out in Le Fooding), and showcase Louis/Dressner growers from outside the Loire Valley.
This year, Franck Peillot, Olivier Horiot, Francis Boulard, Loïc Roure, Michel Tête, Jean Manciat, Jean-Paul Brun, Alain Coudert, Eric Texier, Xavier Courrant, René-Jean Dard, Dominique Hauvette, Tom Lubbe, Virginie Maignien, Luc and Marie Michel, Patrice Lescarret, Clemens Busch, Mattias Knebel, Gernot Kollman, Elena Pantaleoni, Elisabetta Foradori, Silvio Messana, Nadia Verrua, Alessandra Berra, Sonia Torreta, Fernando Garcìa and Joāo Roseira showed their wines over two days of tasting. Talk about an all-star lineup!
The whole thing is catered by Cécille, who is an incredible cook. Just when the palate starts to get tired, BOOM! SWEETBREADS IN MUSHROOM SAUCE!
Look how happy Guilhem Dardé looked eating that chicken at last year's festivities!
We got to taste some 2012's and a bunch of interesting surprises, including this late harvest Altesse from Franck Peillot.
Dubbed QV à Louis, the wine was in a riper, richer style than the normal Altesse, but still remains skillfully balanced and complex. Yum.
Speaking of Franck, here he is wearing a rasta hat with fake attached dreadlocks.
Franck decided it would be funny to put on a show where he would imitate Jean Paul Brun. It involved fake 100 dollar bills, a huge prop joint and the rasta hat. If I understood correctly, the reasoning was this: Brun translates to brown in English, so Jean Paul Brown sounds like James Brown, and James Brown somehow relates to Rastafarianism. Also, the fake money represents the mattresses of cash Jean Paul sleeps on at night (check comment #14). A bit of a stretch by any means, but the end result had the entire room rolling. Moving on...
Renaissance des Apellations! Biodynamic wine! New, late harvest Aligoté from Alice and Olivier Demoor!
It's already sold out...
Les Penitentes! The Puzelats, Mosse, Villemade and Gaubicher shindig took place in the beautiful Chateau D'Angers this year.
The biggest highlight for me was the Probilière, a new gamay from Puzelat-Bonhomme from an organic parcel of 100 year old vines. It was also fun getting the stink eye from the girl preparing cheese after asking her to give me a piece of each one (she forced me to pay for two plates...).
After that, it was time for the Dive Bouteille in the lovely Chateau de Brézé.
Highlights included being really cold, tasting 2012 Beaujolais at 0℃, getting smushed by a sea of Parisian hipsters, drinking a lot of Loirette, Luca Roagna being punctual and behaving (his girlfriend was there), a Chamonard 1988 Morgon that was OFF THE CHAIN and the Le Coste, Noella Morantin and Yannick Pelletier 2011's. Also, re-tasting 2012 Beaujolais later in the day and finding out it was actually delicious (albeit in short supply) was a huge relief.
That night, the Super Bowl was on. Just like every year, a contingent of our group wanted to watch it, so we got all fratty and bought a 40 pack of Kronenbourg (aka the slightly less shitty Budweiser of France).
We iced those babies down along with some whites and watched Beyonce kill the half-time show.
We also briefly swung by the Salons des Vins de Loire. At this point, we see pretty much everyone else we work with at offs, but it was still a great time to catch up with François Cazin, Frédrik Filliatreau, Evelyne de Jessey and taste 1976 Luneau-Papin.
That night, we ate at Une Île, where first-timers got to experience the single best Beurre-Blanc sauce in the entire world.
For reasons I'd rather not explicitly state, I always found it very amusing that they have black toilet paper there.
It's official: the blog has officially sunken to a new low...
That's it for the Loire-Fest series, but don't fret: the coming weeks will be host to a new series of visit-recaps from our recent excursion in Italy, Croatia and Slovenia. Great pics and info from Radikon, Clai, Cotar, Montesecondo, Fonterenza, Sanguineto, Panevino and Giovanni Montischi. Plus, two new estates will be unveiled! Stay tuned.
Louis/Dressner Selections: We've Got Internet Content!™
"An anecdote that has always stuck with me was during my time in US, vinifying in the state of Washington. Where I worked, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling and Chardonnay were all planted together in the same vineyard! It struck me as odd that they thought they could produce quality wine this way, but I later realized that they were simply trying to figure out what grape was best suited for this terroir.
When I came home, I had a revelation. My family's land already had established grapes grown on established terroir. I also realized that with just one grape (Pinot Noir), you could produce many different styles of wine and still have them be reflective of a place. I hadn't originally planned to come back or even to vinify my family's vines, but from that moment on I knew I wanted to make Rosé des Riceys and Coteaux Champenois."
Note to everyone: that video was not produced by Olivier! Anyway, he's a really interesting, smart guy, so read up on the man!
PART 5: BREAKING BAD WITH BERNARD BAUDRY
I was out of commission for the Rougeard visit (bummer, I know), so today's visit recap was typed up by Average American Consumer Joe Dougherty! Joe is a wine lover who lives in New York. In his remaining free time, he is an investment banker working to fund biotechnology companies. Before jumping the rails to Wall Street, he was a scientist for 20 years, with a few degrees in chemistry. He finds that his scientific training adds an interesting perspective on the wines that he drinks for pleasure, not just analysis.
Let's all thank Joe for for letting me share this with you! Thanks Joe! Ok, ok, here goes...
JOE DOUGHERTY'S BE-ALL END-ALL RECAP OF CLOS ROUGEARD:
I had my first visit to Clos Rougeard in several years. Getting in there always feels a bit like getting an audience with the Pope. In addition to our group of folks from Seattle, Portland, SF, Chicago, Florida, NYC, etc., etc., there was a sommelier from some Michelin 3-star and some others who came and went in the ancient cellar.
If you ask me, Nady overdoes it a bit with the spray-on cellar mold, but of course tastes vary in interior décor. After all the introductions, Nady said, "Salvador Dali had it wrong. He said the center of the universe is the train station at Perpignan, but clearly it is rather here in Chacé." Tentative chuckles all around.
He lost a lot of grapes in 2012 in Poyeux and the Clos to hail, but had less damage to the Bourg and the white. Yields were already down from the same poor flowering that affected most everyone. This estate shouldn't need an introduction to this crowd, but I'd mention that the Bourg gets 100% NFO, the Poyeux gets barrels that have seen one wine (mostly the Bourg, but for 2 years), and the Clos barrels that have seen one or two wines. He feels the essential thing in barrels is to leave the wood out in the weather for at least 4-5 years before use, and that various commercial efforts to accelerate that interval generally give a poor product. He has his barrels made locally to his spec. The production here in a typical vintage is "0-30,000 bottles." Zero being 1991. 2012 is presumably on the smaller end of that range. He didn't show us any 2012s.
I mentioned elsewhere that these guys don't have bad vintages, only different ones, and I believe it. I can think of two wines in the last decade from them that I really didn't love, and even those you could drink.
He described 2011 as rainy and cool, with a good September. Definitely lighter than 2009 and 2010. The Poyeux has a barky CF nose, refreshing acidity, medium length, medium-light body, and fine tannins. Totally successful light vintage. The Bourg has sweet oak on the nose (though that usually moderates with another year of élevage), good fruit, medium weight, and a longer finish. These vines are roughly 70 years old.
The 2010s were bottled on the day of our visit, but they showed well. He assembles 3 months ahead of bottling. The Clos includes anything he doesn't bottle as Bourg or Poyeux. 2010 is a bigger and more structured vintage, with higher acidity. The tannins have softened a bit, but the wine is quite classic. He will sell the '10s after another year in bottle. The Poyeux is more complex, with deeper fruit, and is perhaps a bit softer. The Poyeux has more sand than the Bourg's classic clay, but they share similar white tuffeau underneath. He feels the wines have similar longevity, that the Poyeux is more elegant, but thinks they just have different styles. But this Poyeux is classic. The 2010 Bourg is less open on the nose, but you can taste the hidden depth. Bigger in the mouth, much more tannic, with a long savory finish, this is memorable stuff. It's pretty, but finishes with real grip.
The 2009s are less typique, with more gras. Riper wines overall. The Poyeux is starting to have some bottle flavors appear, but it is much more plush than 2010, bigger, softer more round. Nady notes that 2009 and 2010 actually have similar acidities, but the fruit hides this to some extent on the '09s. The Bourg is darker but not opaque, with sandalwood, bark, and black fruit on the nose. It's big and rich on the palate (in this context), and the fruit cushions significant tannin on the long finish. I think this needs quite a bit of time.
The 2008 Poyeux is much leaner and more structured. Not friendly now, but IMO fun in 10 years. Nice of him to open one—it saves me trying any of mine for a good while. The 2008 Bourg is in step, with a very limestone feel to the tannins; it's lean but clean. Put it away. Nady comments that 2008 had similarities to 2010 for them, though the summer was cooler. Frost in spring cut yields, but they had good harvest conditions.
The 2006 Bourg is starting to get going—NF feels that the tannins are rounding out, that you could start to drink it if you carafe it. I would be inclined to wait a few more years, personally. He mentions that the older the bottle the less he likes to decant—he'd prefer to pour slowly. The carafe is too much of a shock for old wines. I wish I had some of his wines that were old enough that I would worry about this.
He spares me another infanticide by opening 2005 Bourg for us. Quite dark and primary, but clean and fruity. Powerful but balanced, excellent acidity, the tannins are ripeish but plentiful; this is remarkable stuff. Glad to have some. But it's not for anytime soon.
The 2010 Brézé (dry Saumur blanc) had been in bottle for a month. The barrels were 20% new, as he does a 5 year rotation for the white. The wine is leesy, rich, has some wood on the nose, but wow, faboo. Great acidity, tastes dry, an endless finish, a classic version of this somewhat eccentric wine. The 2009 is 14%. NF feels it's a bit disjointed now, and I accept that. It shows a bit of heat, and it's a bit odd. This site has more clay than the Bourg, it's a cooler soil, he feels that chenin likes that. The 2006 Brézé is still showing wood, but Nady thinks it is coming into drinking now. Remarkable stuff despite the wood. I would note parenthetically that I opened a 1997 Brézé recently and it was still very leesy. I felt it could still use more time. I don't have enough experience with these whites to insist on what to do with them.
He opened 1997 Coteaux for us. 6 hl/ha, SGN, 190 g rs, 8.7 ta (!), 11.5%. 3 barrels, 3 years in NFO. Bow your heads.
Thanks again, Joe! Next up, a recap of all the wine fairs and wacky hijinks. Expect Dive Bouteille, Renaissance, Salons des Vins de Loire, etc... coverage.
This blog post is Clos Rougeard Approved.
PART 4: FUNKY FRESH AT FRANÇOIS PINON
After a healthy helping of Chenin, we set off to Chinon to visit Matthieu and Bernard Baudry. The whole family was happy to see us, and even with our late arrival and the rainy weather, we managed to have an extremely pleasant and informative visit.
Because it had been raining on and off all day, our vineyard time was limited. We started by visiting Les Granges, the lieu-dit which produces the Baudry's entry level cuvée.
Located on the right bank of Chinon, the Baudry's own 8 h of land here. The vines are 25 years old, the soils are sand and gravel and yields average 45/hl. The entire estate has been certified organic since 2006, but Bernard has always worked the soil and used native yeasts.
On these vineyards, Matthieu and Bernard feel the need to use homemade compost, as the soils are very poor: not nourishing them would significantly lower yields. While this is of course a process many of our growers thrive for in order to obtain higher concentration in their grapes, in the case of Les Granges, the Baudry's feel that lower yields lead to harsh, undesirable tannins. They also perform a superficial work of the soil to rid it of competing grass.
"Working the soil is very important to bring out minerality, even in lesser terroirs. Cabernet Franc can be planted anywhere. Good wine tastes like terroir."
That, my friends, is a man who looks like he knows what he's talking about.
Many of the hillsides surrounding the area are forested. These used to be widely planted in vineyards, but have not been replanted since the end of World War 2. In a statement similar to Xavier Courrant's last year, Matthieu explained that many of these sites had been destroyed during combat, and that when it was time to replant, many favored the more fertile, easier to work plains, as well as faster growing crops such as corn and cereals.
After checking out Les Granges, we drove over to the enigmatic Croix Boisée site. On our way over, Matthieu pointed out the aforementioned homemade compost.
That's a hefty heap of compost! A few minutes later we were at the Croix Boisée, which is located on the top of a pretty hill.
Okay, so there is a lot going on at this site, which represents about 2 h of land.
Chinon is very similar to Burgundy in that the richness of the soils vary on the top, middle and the bottom of the hill. On the top of the vineyard, Matthieu showed us a bank where you could easily see the chalky limestone that dominates the top half.
The top of the hill is the richest in limestone, which is less favorable for Cabernet Franc and really good for Chenin, so they planted some. This is what produces the Croix Boisée Blanc. Walking down the rows, it is easy to spot how the limestone becomes less and less prominent.
The middle becomes heavier in clay, while the bottom of the hill is a mix of clay and sand, which "brings ripeness".
After visiting the vines, we drove back to the estate and visited the vinification cellars. As of 2005, the vast majority of the Baudry wines are fermented in large concrete tanks. Granges and Domaine are fermented and aged in concrete, Guillot and Grézeaux are fermented in concrete and aged in barrel a year and Croix Boissé is fermented and aged in barrel. Matthieu explained that concrete gives them the ability to let the wine spend extended time in an vessel that avoids the need for constant rackings, sulfuring and manipulation.
"When you don't add yeasts or filter, you need to bottle as late as possible."
We then walked over to the aging cellar, another beautiful cave carved in tuffeau limestone.
Much to my surprise, we ended up tasting all of the 2012's. Though the Croix Boisée was still very young and green, I couldn't believe how well the wines were showing at such an early stage. Matthieu shared my sentiments, and explained that they are usually in a much tougher place at this point of the year. The 2012 rosé had finished fermenting, but was still gassy. This one will be available soon and will not disappoint.
We ended the visit in the Baudry's tasting room. The big attraction was the famed "Terroir Display".
A true labor of love, Matthieu and Bernard dug into their subsoils and reconstituted them into glass containers so that their customers could see exactly what was going on down there. Not too shabby...
We then re-tasted the 2011's and 2010's, (they're great) drank a 99 Croix Boisée, 03 Franc de Pied and had a typically Loire lunch.
Next up, our final installment of Loire-Fest at Clos Rougeard! In an BREATHTAKINGLY UNPRECEDENTED MOVE, this will be our FIRST EVER OFFICIAL guest-blog post! Super secret special guest, tune in to find out!!!
PART 3: FROLICKING FREELY AT FERME DE LA SANSONNIÈRE
Places like Vallée de Cousse, the village where François Pinon resides, make me question if spending the majority of my time in a New York is really the way to go. I mean, look at this place!
Can anyone argue this DOESN'T resemble something out of a fairy-tale?
We arrived to François' house in the early afternoon, where the group was introduced to Emmanuel, the young man who has been working at the estate for a few years now. The guy is full of passion and enthusiasm, and it was nice to get to know him better.
It had rained heavily the night before, so the vines were soaked. Under the overcast skies, we drove up a nearby hill to visit a vineyard that goes into the Silex Noir cuvée.
This parcel was originally planted in 1944. François' grandfather must have been quite the optimist, planting a vineyard before the end of the war and all. Vouvray wasn't exactly out of the line of fire either, confirmed by the fact that an American jetplane gunned down in Montlouis crashed directly into this vineyard that same year.
"It happens less and less, but for many years, it was totally normal to find bits of wreckage while working the soil."
Silex Noir translates to Black Flint, and if you look closely, you can spot bits and pieces in the soil.
Kevin also found a piece of (not black) flint to show the group.
Though the vineyard was planted in 1944, the vast majority of the vines producing grapes today were replanted in massale in 1981.
"There is not a single clonal selection in this entire estate."
Our next stop was a clay heavy parcel that goes into 3 Argiles (formerly known in the US as Cuvée Tradition). It was really, really wet, so we couldn't venture too deep into the vines.
You could take a bath in there! The oldest vines here were planted in 1948, and none of them survived last winter's frost.
The rough winter led to a conversation about the ever increasing amount of dying vines due to esca.
Interestingly, according to Emmanuel and François, the fungal illness might not be the issue at all: there is mounting worry that the vines were already dying before anyone could tell, and the esca mushrooms snuck in later. Because esca does not effect every grape variety in France, very little research has been done up to this point. François half-jokingly pointed out that:
"If it's not affecting Champagne, then no research is going to be done."
François' theory is that the problem lies with omega grafting, since these mass deaths have been occurring in the 15-20 years since this technique has become the norm. Emmanuel elaborated that with a poorly executed omega vine, the graft is the equivalent of a clogged or corroded artery: the sap is still flowing, but not the way it should. Furthermore, the grafts might not be healing properly, permitting esca to sneak in and finish the job.
After visiting the vines, we drove back to the vinification cellar.
2012 was a very tough year for François, and he just didn't feel the quality was there to make a Silex or 3 Argiles. In such, 90% of the 2012 production will be produced as sparkling, the rest being a small amount of still Vouvray reserved for his French customers.
We tasted the base of what will be the 2012 bubbles (from grapes that are always used to make sparkling). The alcohol was just 10,5%, but François explained that this is an ideal level for sparkling production.
We then tasted from a parcel that would have gone into Silex Noir . I thought it was very good, but François insisted it was lacking depth and complexity. Ahhh, le perfectionnisme...
We then walked back to the storage/aging cellar, which is adjacent to François' house. Like many estates in the Loire, the cellar is built into the region's famous tuffeau limestone. Here, you can easily spot the many large chunks of black flint, which is unique to this particular area of Vouvray.
Kevin aptly pointed out is the exact subsoil of the first parcel we visited, since François' cellar is directly underneath it.
Everyone got to check out some old bottles of bubbles.
We then returned to the main tasting room, where François broke it down with a geological lesson on the region's soil composition.
As you could see in the pictures above, the tuffeau limestone in Pinon's area contain layers of black flint. Just like limestone, flint is a sedimentary rock left by ancient seabeds. Millions of shells and other organisms made up deep layers of limestone (or chalk), while more complicated chemical interactions between silica (contained in seawater) and organisms such as sponges created nodules of hard flint, which embedded itself into the chalk.
In Vallée de Cousse, these flint stones vary from very dark brown to black. The Silex Noir cuvée comes from vineyards where erosion has crumbled the softer limestone, leaving the harder stones on the surface. Some of Pinon's other soils contain flint, but the layer of clay (i.e decomposed chalk) is too heavy, so they remain in the subsoil.
After our informative lesson, it was time to taste currently bottled wines. François had them all decanting outside for us.
Before tasting, Emmanuel made sure we had rillettes to munch on.
We tasted all of the 2010's and 2011's, which were unsurprisingly great. What WAS surprising was a 2011 PET' NAT' attempt!!! That's right, you heard it here first! Emmanuel convinced François to give it a shot for fun; this, the fact that we saw Mr. Pinon at the Dive Bouteille and that he has the best collection of ascots in France = François giving Williamsburg's finest a run for their money!
The PET NAT itself was pretty austere, and they both agree they let the sugars go too far into fermentation. They might add a little moelleux to even out this current batch, and will try again in the future.
We then did a flight of Tradition, which for many years was the only dry wine François produced. 1997 was rich and honied nose, with a candied finish. 93 tasted "older", but still had a fresh nose and great acidity. At just 11,5%, it was holding up very well, and had a bit of botrytised grapes in it. A 93 Moelleux was delish.
We ended with a 1953 Moelleux made by François' father that was lip-smacking jolly good. Average American Consumer Joe Dougherty was able to correctly guess the vintage before it was announced.
Our next stop brings us to Chinon for a classy visit with Matthieu and Bernard Baudry! Don't miss it!
PART 2: LOUNGING LEISURELY AT LUNEAU-PAPIN
After our fantastic visit to Luneau-Papin, we set off in our official LDM tour vehicles to Bonnezeaux to visit the legendary Mark Angéli of Ferme de la Sansonnière. A former stone-mason, Mark has been at the forefront of biodynamic viticulture since founding his estate in 1990.
Once the entire group had arrived, we walked over to the nearby vines. The first site we visited was Fouchardes, the 0.5 h parcel that produces the cuvée bearing the same name.
On our way over, Mark filled us in on his plans to plant 5 rows in franc de pied at the edge of this parcel. Phylloxera has a much harder time propagating itself in very poor soils, and by planting in the sandiest area he has, Mark hopes the vines will have a fighting chance. Last time he attempted this experiment, it was in a different plot, and the vines lasted from 1994 to 2006.
With the group gathered around him, Mark began to explain the importance of the Fouchardes parcel in the evolution of his work philosophy.
"This field showed me how to remove the wires, but also that I should make dry wines."
All of Sansonnière's vines are unwired, which is basically unheard of in cooler, northern wine growing regions.
Mark feels that liberating each Chenin gobelet gives them more freedom and air, in turn leading to purer grapes and less rot. This discovery, coupled with the fact that producing sweet wines requires either a constant gamble with nature or manipulative techniques (sulfur additions, filtration...) inspired Mark to completely phase out his AOC Bonnezeaux production in order to favor production of dry/off-dry Anjou blancs.
Next, we talked about soil.
For Fouchardes, the first three rows are plowed and the rest are mowed or lightly worked on a superficial level. For Mark, having constant grass balances the vigor of the vines.
"50 years ago, average yields were 35hl/h. If you stick to those numbers in this area, you are assured quality."
To assure this, vines are tied together at the top to limit vegetative vigor, and he prunes very tightly to 6 bunches per vine (thanks to Joe D's excellent recap of the visit for that detail, which I missed).
One thing everyone noticed was the large amount of worm shit everywhere.
The PC term for worm poop is "castings", and Mark explained why they are such a fundamental part of healthy soils.
"This is a sanitary filter. If you see those (castings), you know their is no poison in the soil."
If you aren't offended by Wikipedia links, read up on vermicompost here.
One thing you won't find in vineyards that use heavy amounts of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides?
Or grass, for that matter.
As far as the soil's consistency (castings included):
"It must feel like couscous."
After a good amount of time in Fouchardes, we continued the tour by visiting by the vines producing the La Lune cuvée.
The vines here are 4 to 75 years old. The soils are primarily clay and limestone, but change consistency every 30 meters, in some cases drastically. This variety of age/soils adds notable depth to the blend.
At the top of the parcel, Mark's son Martial (who is now a partner in the estate) was there with an employee, burning various wood cuttings.
The group freaked out their dog Chicanita, who started nervously barking at us.
She's only a year old, and Martial explained she'd never seen such a large group of people all at once. I would be barking too if this group of note-taking hoodlums started lurking around my property:
Walking through the La Lune vines back to the house, Mark pointed out how free it feels to walk through vineyards without having to follow a single row.
Predictably, we ended our visit checking out the cellar and tasting wines.
We tasted all the 2011's: Fouchardes was nice but showing young (Mark admits this wine needs time to develop in bottle), La Lune was excellent and the rosé was bright, expressive and off-dry/veering to sweet. We also got to try a fun bottling of Grolleau Noir, which was an unexpected, easy drinking surprise. There are only a few hundred bottles of it, and I doubt any will ever make it stateside... We rounded out the lineup with a 97 La Lune and 97 Moelleux, both showing a similar evolution or richer, honied Chenin.
The visit ended with a big chat on natural volcanic sulfur. Sourced from Mount Etna (with a plan B from Japan), apparently you only need to use half as much as commercial sulfur because it does not oxidize. The stuff is loaded into this little contraption, which burns it and distributes it into the wine.
Even the sulfur is natural now! Bazoom!
Three other conversations of note during the visit:
Number 1: 14 estates are now working organically in Anjou, most of which were started by young, non-locals. As a Corsican, this new energy reminds Mark of his humble beginnings in the Loire, and it pleases him to see how much things have changed since the early 90's.
Number 2: Organics are sweeping the nation! This year alone, 4000 h of vines are getting converted to organics in Bordeaux! That number is certainly nothing to scoff at, and Mark believes this is the beginning of a fundamental shift in French viticultural practices.
Number 3: Mark's Madagascar based charity is doing great! They keep finding new sponsors, raising awareness and money, and he just signed an agreement with a french paper company to replant 150 h of forest this year. In the long-run, Mark hopes to to replant 1000 h a year!
Next up, we continue tasting Chenin from some of the best, this time with OG François Pinon!!!
"I wanted to work normally, which in my mind means not using chemicals. Organics are the bare minimum if you want to do this sort of thing. In the cellar, I've always wanted to use the least amount of entrants possible."
Check out this fresh new interview from one of our newest producers, Loïc Roure of Domaine du Possible! Find out about Loïc past life, interning at Thierry Allemand, discovering the beauty of the Roussillon, participating in AOC tasting panels a lot more over on the Domaine du Possible profile.
PART 1: MUSCADET-A-THON AT DOMAINE DE LA PÉPIÈRE
Muscadet-a-thon is a tough event to follow up, but the Luneau family did a great job of keeping us enthralled by the wonders of Melon de Bourgogne. If I'm remembering correctly, this was the only bright, sunny morning of the whole trip, and we started our visit with an invigorating hike up the Butte de la Roche.
The vines from this lieu-dit produce the Terre de Pierre cuvée. On our way to the top of the hill, Pierre-Marie pointed out a 2.5 h plot of abandoned vineyards the family is planning to purchase. From the top, you can see all the separate communes of the Muscadet.
If you look very closely, you can actually see Marc Ollivier's house! Ok, not really...
Butte de la Roche is unique as terroir gets. The hill is surrounded by wetlands that fill up with water in the fall and winter; in the summer, the water clears out and the surrounding area turns into a large, grassy marsh. Pierre-Marie explained that this unique setting creates incredible bio-diversity in the vineyards. The Luneau's vines here are exposed South-West.
Even more interesting: Butte de la Roche's soil composition. To quote myself from last year:
"The site is actually a geological landmark because it is the only place in the world where deep serpentine subsoil has erupted to to the surface after a series of underground earthquakes. Huge chunks of serpentine can be found throughout the vineyard site and the soil is very tough to work because of how rocky it is. This type of serpentine is a subsoil that no root could normally reach, and gives the Terre de Pierre cuvée a richness and minerality unique to the site."
Kevin found a chunk of serpentine to show you guys:
I found a hunk of basalt:
After listing all these factoids, you might be surprised finding out that only 2 of the 14 vignerons who cultivate vines on Butte de La Roche produce a site specific cuvée from the Butte. The rest blend them indiscriminately with the rest of their terroirs to produce base Muscadets.
Next, we checked out the Le L D'Or parcel.
This site consists of 2.5 h on granite soil; the first 30 cm are decomposed granite, with 500 m of pure granite subsoil directly underneath it. The vines are 31 years old.
Walking through the vines, Pierre-Marie explained how the various little rivers -for example the Sêvre and the Maine- cross and divide all of Muscadet's vineyards, deeply affecting micro-climates.
"We harvested a week and half earlier than Clisson or Gorges here. It is obvious that the Muscadet has a multitude of very different micro-climates, but these are very rarely highlighted individually."
Once we'd wrapped up our tour of the vines, we headed to the cellar to taste some 2012's and other soon to be released bottlings.
In the picture above, you can see the large stainless steel tanks the wines ferment in. You can also spot the Luneau's large pneumatic press on the upper right. After the wines have fermented, they are racked on the lees into these underground vats lined with glass tiles.
These vats were originally designed by an Italian, but have become synonymous with Nantes wineries. They hold 150hl. Muscadet's claim to fame is that it is aged on the lees, which consist of 4.5% of the tank. Battonages are done instinctively to bring balance to the wine.
Like many areas of the Loire valley, 2012 was a tough vintage for Luneau-Papin. Normally yields average 55 hl/h, and this year they were at about 25. The Luneau's didn't have any frost or hail this year, but rather a lot of flowering problems. In the end, there will not be a lot of wine, but the final result is positive: the vintage is bright, rich and full of personality.
In the corner of her eye, Susie Curnutte of Cordon Selections spotted this little guy.
That, my friends is a micro-batch of sulfur free Muscadet. It's just an experiment, and we didn't taste it, but Pierre-Marie wanted to see what would happen. We'll keep you posted.
Once we'd tasted from the cellar, it was time to enjoy a meal alongside many older vintages at the master table.
Once again, a wild board terrine hunted by Pierre-Marie was served. Also, this impressive cheese plate wooed the masses.
Mike from Natural Wine Company loved this selection so much that he overdid it a little when serving himself.
The most interesting conversation of the meal revolved around Pierre-Marie hoping that the Excelsior cuvée will be bottled under a new cru called Goulaine in coming vintages. As mentioned in the Pépière post, these new Muscadet crus are going to start popping up in the next few years, and the Luneau's are just as enthusiastic as Marc about this.
Our next stop? Mark Angéli at Ferme de la Sansonnière!