Claude Lafond at the sorting elevator
Today we visited Claude Lafond (Reuilly), Jean Tatin and Chantal Wilk (Quincy and Reuilly), Pierre Jacolin (Menetou-Salon), Henry Natter (Sancerre), Jean-Max Roger (Sancerre and Menetou-Salon), Vincent Pinard (Sancerre), Lucien Crochet (run by Gilles Crochet – Sancerre), Vacheron (Sancerre) and Henri Bourgeois.
Claude Lafond (Reuilly)
Jean Tatin and Chantal Wilk (Quincy and Reuilly)
"We’ve just started – Morogues is always later to ripen than Menetou-Salon and Sancerre. We are taking our time – we’ll pick some more later this week and then finish sometime next week.” I tasted juice of both the Sauvignon Blanc (clean like others already tasted). “The Pinot Noir is more complicated – I think the style will be similar to 2007.”
Henry Natter (Sancerre)
Cécile Natter: "The year has been delicate and not an easy one. We expect the harvest to take about 12 days – ripeness is quite variable this year. The grapes have really developed well over the last eight days. We now have two of our children ¬– Auguste and Matilde – working with us.”
The Natter family now has 30 ha at Montigny, which includes 7 ha that Auguste and Matilde own jointly. We arranged to come back on Wednesday to see how the harvest is coming along.
Jean-Max Roger (Sancerre)
The village of Bué is chock-full of vignerons – a road sign says that 40 are ready to welcome you. Jean-Max was our first stop. “We started last Monday with the Sauvignon Blanc that had been affected by hail, especially at Thauvenay. Today we have been picking the Pinot Noir for our rosé. The grapes are between 11.5% and 12%. Tomorrow we’ll attack the Menetou-Salon. Then we expect to pick Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Our Sauvignon is between 12.5% and 13.5% with 5.5 gms acidity. This harvest is like 20 years ago – it’s a really classic year. We are very relaxed – taking our time and picking when the grapes are ready.”
Just to show how relaxed Jean-Max is – there was no sign of him when I arrived: he was out shopping, leaving his sons Etienne and Thibault to look after the Pinot Noir coming in.
We had time to taste three wines from 2007. The quite rich, gooseberry flavoured Menetou-Salon Le Petit Clos was showing particularly well.
“We started on Friday 26 September,” says Clément, “with the Sauvignon Blanc and finished on Wednesday 1 October. The SB degrees are between 13%-13.5% with 6 g acidity. We expect to finish the Pinot Noir (13% potential) tomorrow. We are very happy with the quality.”
We taste the juice from various cuvées – Clement comments favourably on their minerality and salinity. As with other producers the yields are down: 30-32 hl/ha in their parcels in Thauvenay – hit by hail; elsewhere 40/45 for the Sauvignon Blanc and 30-35 hl/ha for Pinot Noir.
We arrived just as Gilles was coming in with his pickers at the end of the day with a load of Pinot Noir. I managed to snatch a few moments with him as he and his team were busy checking over the newly arrived Pinot Noir before it went onto the conveyor belt and into the vat. The fruit was clearly very clean with little needing to be discarded.
Gilles: “We started picking last Monday (29th) and we are about half-way through the harvest now. Yields are probably between 45-50 hl/ha and the potential degree for the domaine wines is around 12.5. Apart from the 2008, we have just bottled our 2007 Chêne Marchand, which will be on sale in two to three months.”
I tasted Sauvignon Blanc juice from a couple of vats – as elsewhere clean and precise flavours.
Here we encountered another three happy vignerons: Jean-Laurent, Jean-Dominique and Denis Vacheron.
J-L and J-D “We started on Friday 26 September with the Sauvignon at Saint Romble, which had been hit by hail. Here the yield was 30 hl/ha. We harvested Saturday. Had a rest on Sunday and then harvested from Monday to mid-day Thursday when we stopped and started again this morning. We started on the calcaire (clay-limestone) on Tuesday 30th and on Les Romains the following day. We didn’t want to wait any longer, otherwise we would lose the minerality. Les Romains is already 13.5% potential but with 7.1 g acidity. We have picked about 60% of the Sauvignon and will start on the Pinot Noir this Thursday. Compared to 2007 there is more concentration in 2008, which we think will keep well.”
We tasted the juice for Les Romains 2008 – already very mineral with precise flavours.
Jean-Marie was equally enthusiastic about 2008. One could be cynical and say – of course the vignerons are going to be enthusiastic about their new vintage. After all they have invested a lot of angst and worry since mid-March – concerns about frost, hail, conditions during the flowering, the treatment of mildew and other diseases plus the decision of when to pick – go too early and the grapes may not be properly ripe or go too late and the grapes are past their best. Few mothers are prepared to write off their newly born babies and, after all, the vignerons will have to start to sell their new wines in a few months' time. However, looking at the fruit in the vineyards, watching it come into the wineries and tasting the juice, it is clear to me that the vintage is way better than one could have imagined at the end of August. The fruit is clean, healthy with almost no rot.
I don’t have the experience or expertise to divine from tasting newly pressed juice how the final wine will turn out but any of us can taste grape juice and say whether the juice is clean and enjoyable to taste or whether it has rotten flavours. Everywhere the 2008 juice tastes clean with no false flavours.
“We started picking last Thursday,” says Jean-Marie as we head up the steep road towards the offices and winery. We start by tasting the Petit Bourgeois juice – their vin de pays made from juice they buy in from producers in the Cher Valley, who have to operate under strict quality controls but who are paid well over the going rate. The juice is impressively good – pure and with considerable richness. It’s the same with the rest of the juice we taste.
“We picked some of the Pinot on Saturday – between 12.55% and 12.8%. We are between a quarter and a third of the way through the harvest.” I ask Jean-Marie after his son, Arnaud, and Jean-Marie leads me to what appears to be a wooden panel at the top of the winery – on the same level as the grape reception. Here there is a secret, small wooden enclave where Arnaud, Jean-Christophe and Lionel Bourgeois are squeezed in, busy poring over the maturity data to decide where they should be picking tomorrow.