Awards and citations:

1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

2001: Le Prix Champagne Lanson Ivory Award for

2011: Vindic d'Or MMXI – 'Meilleur blog anti-1855'

2011: Robert M. Parker, Jnr: ‘This blogger...’:

2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award

Monday, 5 November 2018

Vignobles et Signatures venture to London (part one)

IMG_8344 (1)

For the first time since the Vignobles et Signatures group of French producers were founded in 1984, representatives from 15 members of their 17 members came to London to show off their wines. In the case of Roger Groult it was their cider and Calvados and for Famille Lesgourgues an Armagnac.

I don't know whether V&S decided that October 2018 was their last easy chance to display their wares before the utter lunacy of Brexit kicks in at the end of March 2019 leading to who knows what sorts of complications – visas, travel delays etc. – to make the short journey across the Channel/La Manche. Two of the club's members were absent – Domaine Rolet (Jura) and Vignobles Joseph Janoueix (Saint-Emilion, Pomerol). I can only assume that they decided that it made no sense to visit a small island off the coast of mainland Europe in the middle of a full blown nervous breakdown and wilfully committing economic and political suicide. Who, furthermore, from 29th March 2019 will not be able to afford to buy their wines. All in all a rather understandable and hard-headed decision.

Whatever it was a very good tasting with the 15 who ventured into the lunatic asylum as each producer was sensibly limited to showing four wines/cider or spirit.. This meant I was able to taste the majority of the wines although I didn't have time to taste everyone.

All the wines shown were of a high standard – I didn't taste one poor wine.

Vignobles & Signatures have three Loire domaines – Château de Tracy (Pouilly-Fumé), Guilbaud Frères (Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine) and Couly-Dutheil (Chinon).

Château de Tracy

I started with Château de Tracy (Pouilly-Fumé). It was good to meet Juliette d'Estutt d'Assay, who took over a couple of years ago from her brother Comte Henry d'Assay, who ran the estate for many years but in 2016 founded his own négociant business – Comte Henry d'Assay  – which concentrates on Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire and the Côtes de Gascogne.

Juliette showed three wines – the 2017 domaine, 2015 Haute Densité (a small plot planted with 17,000 vines per hectare) and 101 Rangs also a 2015 from a plot on flint near the château. Of the three I found Haute Densité, which is matured in a 30 hl  foudre, the most impressive with its concentration, length and clear potential to age.

Pascal Guilbaud 

I first met Pascal Guilbaud (Guilbaud Frères) in February 1989 during my first professional visit to the Pays Nantais and my first trip for a Decanter article. Those were the days when the sales of Muscadet in the UK were buoyant and there was an annual article in Decanter. Pascal wasn't in London instead it was good to meet his daughter Romane and her partner Maxime Fernandez. Romane started working at the family firm in October 2017.

From their four wines I picked out the characterful 2017 Soleil Nantais and the complex 2009 Clos du Pont, which is made in a long ageing (more than two years) Muscadet Cru Communal style. Guilbaud Frères first made this cuvée in 1983. Romane told me that although they are in the commune of Gorges, Pascal isn't part of the Gorges Cru Communal as it was they who started off the movement with this cuvée. As an outsider staying outside the Crus Communaux movement, which is raising Muscadet's profile seems a pity, especially if you were a precursor.

Approach to the Couly Dutheil cellars
in the centre of Chinon 

Due to finishing the fine 2018 harvest Arnaud Couly stayed behind in Chinon. They showed two whites from 2017 – Blanc de Franc (Vin de France) from 100% Cabernet Franc and Les Chanteaux (Chinon Blanc) from 100% Chenin Blanc. It is rare for Cabernet Franc to be vinified as a still white, although this is a frequent practice for Loire sparkling wines. It works well with the 2017 Blanc de Franc having good concentration and attractive texture. Of the two reds the Clos de l'Echo naturally stood out with its ripe concentration of black fruits. Although it can be drunk now this really needs more time in bottle to reveal its full potential.

My post next week will cover the producers from outside the Loire.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Anjou-Saumur bans total weed killer vineyard use

Indiscriminate use of weedkiller in Touraine

Ban on total weed killer in Anjou-Saumur vineyards:
report from Vitisphere (27th September 2018)

Fin du désherbage total en Anjou-Saumur

'Sur les quelque 20 000 ha que compte le vignoble angevin, il faudra désormais enherber ou travailler l’inter-rang.

L’attente fut longue, même un peu incompréhensible tant la mesure semblait de bon sens dans l’ambiance environnementale du moment. Il a fallu quelque 18 mois pour que le Comité national de l’Inao valide, le 6 septembre dernier, les nouveaux cahiers des charges des 27 appellations d’Anjou-Saumur, qui introduisent l’interdiction du désherbage chimique total.

Désormais, seul le cavaillon pourra être désherbé chimiquement. Sur l’inter-rang, le vigneron pourra enherber, travailler le sol, ou désherber via des produits de bio-contrôle. C’est ce dernier point qui a fait débat avec l’Institut provoquant un délai avant le vote par le Comité national, car la mesure a dû être examinée par la Commission technique.'

Lire la suite – read the rest here.
It has now been agreed by the French wine authorities (INAO) that the use of weedkiller in the vineyards of Anjou-Saumur will be severely restricted. Their use is banned between rows of vines and can only be used under the vines. The alternatives are grassing over, working soil – harrowing etc. or the use of organic weed suppressors. There now follows two months of consultations when opposition can be voiced. The ban is expected to come into force at the beginning of 2019.

The use of weedkillers on the headlands/ extremities of a vineyard was already banned from 2008.

This is a very welcome development. I hope we will see a similar measure being introduced in Touraine, where in the generic Touraine Appellation total blitzing of vineyards is still unfortunately all too widespread. 


Wednesday, 17 October 2018

2018 Loire – brief report from Anjou + making a Grand Cru credible

Chenin - 18 
Chenin Blanc destined for a single cuvée of moelleux 
at Domaine de Juchepie


Picker's hat 
Picker's hat held in place by a local stone

We spent last Wednesday and Thursday in Anjou on a quick visit to see how the harvest has been going here. Overall the message is much the same as in other parts of the Loire. Several producers commented that they had never seen grapes like these before – giving both quality and quantity.

Of the producers we saw many started in early September – Damien Laureau (4th September and finishing by 10th September), sisters Anne and Marie Guégniard, Domaine de la Bergerie (6th September) and Vincent, Catherine and Emmanuel Ogereau also on 6th.

I tasted juice/fermenting wine at all three domaines and I found them all clean and precise often with potential complexity depending on the particular parcel and age of vine.

Visiting Claude and Réné Papin at late Wednesday afternoon, Claude was critical of producers who he thought had picked to early and suggested that many 2018 wines would be simple, fruit driven without complexity because the grapes had been picked before they were physiologically ripe. The counter argument to this is that picking started in early September to avoid alcohol degrees shooting up to ridiculous heights due to the very warm conditions. Some of Damien Laureau's cuvées are at 14.5% despite starting and finishing early.

It will be exciting to taste these wines when they are finished. Perhaps we will be able to see who got it right....... may be!

Once again the one sour note in 2018 is mildew with some very badly affected. We dropped in to see Eddy et Mylène Oosterlinck-Bracke(Domaine de Juchepie). Sadly they have been badly hit by mildew this year which has affected their morale as they have lost around two thirds of their crop. This means that instead of making a thrilling range of different sweet wines they will probably just make one. From the limited first pressing, however, it is already at 22% potential alcohol.

Cab Franc - PA 
Cabernet Franc for Petra Alba, Anjou-Villages Brissac,
Domaine de Bablut


Quarts de Chaume – the Loire's only Grand Cru – must be credible

Très Cru 

Approved in November 2011 the appellation Quarts de Chaume (some 43 hectares) remains the only Grand Cru in the Loire and seems likely to remain the valley's solitary Grand Cru for some time to come. Its rules are strict and precise with clear indications of how these rules should be monitored. This is as it should be as Quarts de Chaume can be one of the world's great sweet wines.


Mature bunch 
Very promising bunch – clearly showing
Chenin's typical variable ripening pattern


Excess bunches
At least 12 bunches on this vine
Cahier des Charges
1.7 kilos

Maximum yield per vine fixed at 1.7 kilos or 
2.5 kilos for any vignes larges 
(low density plantatings)

Production rules 

Bénéfice GC 

12 or 13 bunches on this vine perhaps more
– weighing just 1.7 kilos in total?

On Thursday morning I spent about an hour walking around the eastern part of the Quarts de Chaume appellation – the part to the east of the hamlet of Chaume. The previous afternoon I had spent a little time in the western part – unfortunately during one of the rare times during this harvest when it was raining. Here Baumard's vines had been picked – probably recently, so I cannot comment on their condition except that in his parcel on the plateau the grapes are often amongst the most advanced in terms of ripeness and incidence of botrytis. Whether the fact that these are vignes larges (low density vines) is a factor is an interesting question.

The fruit that I saw on Thursday morning were in variable states of ripeness – a characteristic of Chenin Blanc. On the whole the vines had a limited crop with the notable exception of a parcel of vines immediately east of the Château Echarderie – see photos above. It may be that the owner of this parcel is not intending this year to make Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru from this parcel. If so, this would be the correct decision, as unless these bunches are remarkably light, they appear likely to weigh considerably more than the maximum 1.7 kilos per vine allowed in the legislation of 22nd November 2011.

It would, however, be a little strange if the owner of this parcel is not intending to make 2018 Quarts de Chaume from these vines as the price point for Quarts de Chaume is naturally higher than any other labelling options. In which case, the 'control sur terrain' should have ruled this parcel ineligible for the appellation Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru until the crop had been reduced in line with the regulations. Given that this is a small prestigious appellation it should be easy to carry out the necessary checks and, if some parcels have an excessive crop, the rules (22.11.2011) make it clear that they should not benefit from Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru appellation. The particular over-loaded parcel was right by one of the main unmetalled tracks through the appellation and certainly not tucked away in a hard to find spot.

Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru is proudly promoted by the Loire as an exceptional wine. Claude Papin, president of the Quarts de Chaume producers, is rightly concerned that all bottles of Quarts to Chaume are up to standard. Wine buyers have the right to be assured that all growers in the Quarts de Chaume respect the rules and that the premium these wines can rightly command is justified.

I made some similar points on Jim's Loire around this time last year on vines that had a noticeably low weight of crop.