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Sunday, 10 February 2013

Horsemeat and Baumard's Quarts de Chaume

Horse's head@a winery in the Terras do Sado  
(Photo used for illustrative purposes – no suggestion that the winery owner is in any way involved in the meat scandal)  
No, I'm not suggesting that the Baumards have enhanced the flavour of their 'Quarts de Chaume' with horse rather that there are clear parallels with the scandal now engulfing the processed food industry.

The horsemeat as beef scandal is not about taste but mislabelling – misleading consumers to believe that are are buying a product containing beef when it actually contains a proportion of horsemeat. In some instances the only meat in a 'beef' product has been found to be horse. 

As far as I know there have been no complaints about the taste of the contaminated meat products. Instead the scandal is about passing off a cheaper meat as more expensive beef – allowing someone in the processed meat chain to make a greater profit than would normally be possible. 

There have understandably been expressions of outrage. Here are just two examples:

An Aldi spokesman said: "This is completely unacceptable and like other affected companies, we feel angry and let down by our supplier.

"If the label says beef, our customers expect it to be beef. Suppliers are absolutely clear that they are required to meet our stringent specifications and that we do not tolerate any failure to do so.”

UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "We don't believe at the moment that there are public safety issues - there may be fraud issues in terms of people eating something that isn't what the label on the tin says it is."
BBC News 10.2.13 

Although very different in scale, the Baumards have attempted to pass off inferior and cheaper grapes – unripe and probably ignobly rotten – as Quarts de Chaume. This is certainly the case in 2012 and may well be partially the case in 2011 and  2010 as the following photos indicate. I would be very surprised if any of Baumard's grapes in 2012 met the appellation's minimum requirements – 18.5% potential for each sweep through the vine. Just as with beef consumers have the right to expect the wine inside the bottle to match the label, particularly as they pay a considerable premium for Quarts de Chaume. They don't expect to pay the premium for grapes possibly suitable for a dry white wine processed into a sweet wine. It is customary for Domaine des Baumards to declare the maximum, or close to the maximum, permitted under the appellation rules. 

There is nothing wrong with horse meat just as there is nothing wrong with artificially created, processed sweet wine providing the label is truthful and the consumer knows that this is what they are buying.           

The Baumards have been using cryoextraction since 1989. It is not known whether this process has been used for every vintage or just some of them. I have photos of the Quarts de Chaume vines of Domaine des Baumard for the last three vintages – 2010-2012.  

In November 2011 the new Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru décret was signed into law. The term Grand Cru can be used from the 2010 vintage onwards providing the criteria of the new décret are met. Prior to this the minimum degree of ripeness on the vine was 17.5% potential. As the new décret did not become law until November 2011 grapes picked in 2011 and 2010 at 17.5% potential but not as high as 18.5% could still qualify as Quarts de Chaume but not Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru. 

The 2011 décret lowered the permitted yield per hectare from 25 to 20 with 1.7 kilos allowed for each normal sized vine and 2.5 kilos for the vignes larges. The changes came fully into force for the 2012 vintage. Florent Baumard has both normal sized and vignes larges – normal on the plateau, so so 1.7 kilos max per vine, with the vignes larges on the terraces – 2.5 kilos per vine. 

1.7 kilos of grapes (in this instance eating not wine grapes) 

 2.5 kilos of grapes

Bunch@848 grams  


2010 vintage: 
Every year since 2008 I have spent at least three weeks in the Loire during the harvest trying the cover what is happening from the Pays Nantais to Pouilly-sur-Loire. Such is the size of the Loire and distances involved it is impossible to see all the appellations every year. 

On 26th September 2010 I made a special point of visiting the Quarts de Chaume as the Quarts de Chaume Syndicat would be voting on elevating the appellation to grand cru the following day.  

As I had always been impressed with Domaine des Baumards Quarts de Chaume I had assume that their vineyards would be similar to those of other high quality estates in Anjou – low yields, small bunches carefully spaced. All the measures that has transformed the best sweet wines of Anjou over the last 25 years or so.      


View through the vignes larges on the terraces of Domaine des Baumard 
across to the south bank of the Layon. 
Instead I was utterly staggered to discover vines that were groaning with large bunches of green grapes. It was suddenly clear why the Baumards were so insistent on retaining cryoextraction. Florent Baumard did say that of course these grapes were not used for Quarts de Chaume but it is clear from the last three vintages that their yields are high, as are their declarations de récolte. Nor has Florent said what they were used for.      

Baumard – 2010: vignes larges in the Quarts de Chaume: pm 26th September 2010

The vines of other Q de C producers were markedly different – small yields, widely spaced, small bunches – not yet ready to pick but coming along nicely. The Ban des Vendanges had yet to be declared for 2010.    

Below: Château Belle-Rive 

2011 vintage: 
I was in the Quarts de Chaume  on 28th and 29th September. The 2011 vintage was very early and these last days of September were gloriously warm and sunmny with temperatures above 30˚C. Picking had already begun with potential degrees in the late 20s. 

The Domaine des Baumard vines were less heavily laden than in 2010 and with some bunches on their way to surmaturité. The domaine had, however, failed a control by the INAO in late July – their Quarts de Chaume vines judged to have excessive yields. The excess grapes were picked in early September and are believed to have been used to make Crémant de Loire. A somewhat unique approach making Crémant and Quarts de Chaume from the same vines, although I'm sure it made economic sense!   

 Baumard: vignes larges at the top of the terraces

Baumard: vignes larges with a range of ripeness: 28th September 2011 

Baumard: a promising bunch

 Baumard: large bunches a long way off ripe even for a dry white wine

Baumard: if all the bunches were like this there would be no need for cryoextraction!

Baumard: probably a case for cryoextraction...

28.9.2011: grapes from another producer close by to Baumard's vines already looking magnificent – passerilage rather than botrytis at this stage:  

Still a big variation in ripeness within the small bunch which is such a feature of Chenin Blanc

2012 vintage: 

Baumard: heavily laden vine on the plateau with around 18 bunches.
Just 1.7 kilos allowed from each vine - this is way over the limit.

Domaine des Baumard has declared nearly 80hls from this very difficult vintage has already been covered here (English) and ici (Français). In the 2010 and 2011 vintages I can only speculate on the role played by cryoextraction. In 2012 we know that Florent and Jean Baumard picked well below the required minimum degree of ripeness. Therefore it cannot legally be sold as Quarts de Chaume. The minimum required degree of ripeness has to be achieved on the vine and not in the freezer.  

It is astonishing and highly regrettable that Domaine des Baumard has attempted to pass off this industrially concentrated sweet wine as Quarts de Chaume, one of France's greatest sweet wine appellations

Jean Baumard devoted a book to the Quarts de Chaume – 
ironically he and Florent appear to be determined to undermine its reputation 

2013 vintage:
Very early days of course but I hope that 2013 will be a much easier than 2012 proved to be and that the quality of this year's Quarts de Chaume is similar to that of 2007, 2010 and 2011. Loire vintages ending in '3' have a mixed reputation. 1893, in particular, and 2003 being very good to great vintages, while 1963 being the opposite.

It would be very good news if 2013 proves to be the year that Florent Baumard abandons the high yield practices of the bad days of the 1970s and 1980s and changes his approach to join that of many of his fellow producers in the Coteaux du Layon, who have made such dramatic progress over the past 25 years.

An invitation:
Once again I plan to be in the Loire during the vintage. It would be good to organise a morning or an afternoon in late September or early October for any interested journalists in the area at the time to visit the Quarts de Chaume to see how the grapes are progessing and prospects for the vintage in the presence of as many producers, including I hope Florent Baumard, as possible.              

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