It all started well as the SNCF were operating – there was no grève that day. Even better there was a special SNCF promotion for VitiLoire – Chenonceaux to Tours return for just 4 euros each. Furthermore there was full-on sunshine and clear blue skies.
After a quick coffee we started on VitiLoire just after 10am – the official start time. It is always good to get in early before the crowds arrive. First off a stroll around the stands along the Boulevard Heurteloup and in the Jardin de la Préfecture. Time to chat with producers I missed seeing because my accident at the beginning of January on black ice precluded me going to the Salon des Vins de Loire.
All without exception were very pleased with the current state of their vines, which are growing fast due to the warm weather. Obviously hail is a threat. News of the hail storm which hit parts of Bordeaux the day before will have underlined the threat. Indeed later in the day on Saturday around 6pm there was a violent storm at Epeigné-les-Bois featuring strong winds and briefly torrential rain but fortunately no hail. Unfortunately this week, although cooler, threatens unstable weather. As I type this there are distant rolls of thunder.
Current indications are that 2018 could well be a generous harvest. While producers need decent quantities this year after small harvests from and including 2012, it will be very important to avoid an excess volume resulting in dilute wines as was the case in 1992 following the severe frost of 1991.
In general flowering is predicted to start in the next ten days or so. Jean-Max Manceau, Domaine de la Noiré in Chinon, said he had seen the first signs of flowering the day before. Although this isn't as early as the remarkable 2011 vintage the start of flowering in early June is still early. Promising news as an early harvests usually bring good quality, although this is not invariably the case especially if there is a lot of rot around at vintage time as there was in 2011.
It was good to meet and taste the wines of Julien and Justine Thomas of Domaine Thomas et Fils in Verdigny (Sancerre). They have 15 hectares of vines, which have been farmed biodynamically since 2012.
Although their red Sancerre is pleasant drinking, the whites are much much interesting. They showed three cuvées highlighting Sancerre's three soil types. Up first 2016 Le Pierrier from the limestone caillottes. This had attractive texture and precision. Next up 2016 Grand Chaille from vines on silex (flint). Again good texture, concentration and length but a currently a little closed in the finish. Lastly 2016 Ultimus from 40 to 60 year old vines on argile-calcere (clay limestone) vinified in oak barrels – spending six months on its lees. This is their most concentrated Sancerre with attractive texture and length but like the Grand Chaille currently closed in the long finish.