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

Thursday, 30 September 2010

20 years since the TGV came to Tours

A TGV arriving at Tours station

The first TGV (Train de Grande Vitesse) arrived in Tours on 30th September 1990 bringing Paris just less than an hour away from Tours. The idea to build a TGV Atlantique network was conceived in 1976. The TGV Ouest has two branches one to Le Mans and the second to Tours. Work started in 1987 and the TGVs to Le Mans and beyond serving Angers, Nantes, Rennes etc. on the existing conventional lines started running in 1989. Those to Tours started running the next year.

The dedicated TGV line stops just to the south of Tours. Work is just beginning on the LGV (Ligne Grande Vitesse) extending the fast line to Bordeaux. The complete line is due to be finished in late 2015/ early 2016. When it opens Bordeaux will be 2.05 hours from Paris (3 hours now) and 1.40 from Tours (2.20 at present). The line is being built in two stages – Bordeaux-Angoulême (service starting in 2013) and Angoulême-Tours.   

Antony le Ray-Cook

I was very sorry to learn this morning that wine and food writer and broadcaster, Tony le Ray-Cook, has died. He was found dead in his Pimlico flat (London) on Tuesday morning. He would have been 70 in December.

Tony was a special character – an enthusiast with a great love for the good things in life. He was also an early internet pioneer founding his Wine & Dine site back in February 1995. I'm particularly grateful to Tony as he allowed me to post details about dubious wine investment companies on his site before I set up investdrinks in April 2000. Tony will be sadly missed.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Pierre Aguilas: Chevalier de l'Ordre national du Mérite

Pierre Aguilas

At a ceremony at Chaudefonds-sur-Layon on Monday 20th September Pierre Aguilas was invested with the Chevalier de l'Ordre national du Mérite. Pierre and his wife, Janes, run the 30-hectare Domaine Gaudard in Chaudefonds. In addition to running the domaine Pierre is also President de la Confédération nationale des vins AOC, President de la Confédération des vignerons du Val de Loire, President du comité régional de l'INAO, President d'honneur de la Fédération viticole de l'Anjou and Grand maître de la Confrérie des chevaliers du Sacavin d'Anjou. 

I guess I must have known Pierre for the best part of 20 years and have always been impressed by his determination to improve both quality of the wines of Anjou and their reputation.

Two new publications: Jasper Morris - Burgundy – and Baudry-Dutour website

I have recently received my review copy of Inside Burgundy by Jasper Morris MW (£50 inc delivery). This is the first volume in a new publishing project by Berry Bros & Rudd. Although a little disappointed that it is not called the Sex Lives of the Burgundians as originally titled by Jasper, it is clear even on a brief perusal that this J'espére Maurice as he is known in Bué, near Sancerre, has a deep knowledge and love for the region and its wines. Hardback with 656 pages and detailed maps.


Message about Baudry-Dutour's revamped website:

Depuis  quelques mois nous consacrons tous nos loisirs à la rénovation en profondeur de notre site Internet.

Cela n’a l’air de rien, mais demande un travail titanesque. Aussi nous sommes fiers de vous présenter notre travail : <> . En particulier nous vous conseillons le visionnage des petites vidéos de présentation de chacune de nos propriétés.

Lors de votre « navigation », si vous rencontrez un problème, n’hésitez pas à nous en faire part. Nous pourrons peut-être y remédier avant que la horde des curieux ne s’engouffre.

Nous attendons avec impatience vos commentaires :


Last evening: some photos

Sunset@Les Bergers, Epeigné-les-Bois

Pleasantly lemony and clean sparkling Vouvray from Royer Père et Fils, Vernou

Cork from the 2005 Reserve du Château du Petit Thouars

Some reflections on saying no to cryoextraction

 The Syndicat rejected this

 I'm delighted that the Syndicat des Quarts de Chaume threw out so decisively on Monday night the demand from two of its producers to allow the use of cryoextraction in the appellation. This and other decisions that the Syndicat has taken should enhance the credibility of the Quarts de Chaume.

At the meeting they also decided to limit the weight of grapes harvested from each vine to 1.4 kilos with a maximum tolerance of 1.7 kilos. Adjusted for the vignes larges it was agreed that this would equate to 2.5 kilos. The Syndicat previously agreed that grapes for Quarts de Chaume have to reach an average potential alcohol of 18% with 17.5% at the lowest.    

To have accepted the use of cryoextraction would have signalled a return to the bad old days of the  late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s when much of the sweet wine produced in the Layon was of poor quality, although the technique of cryoextraction was developed during the 1980s. It would have threatened the impressive progress made over the last 20-25 years with the reintroduction of selective picking, reduction in yield, etc. It is quite likely that other Quarts de Chaume producers would have decided that why take the risk making sweet wine naturally when cryoextraction allows you to pick the grapes when they are less ripe. From the photos I took on Sunday and yesterday (see below) it is also clear that it allows yields to be pushed up well beyond the limit possible for naturally sweet Quarts de Chaume. The permitted maximum yield for Quarts de Chaume is 25 hl/ha. To make top quality, naturally sweet wine you have to go well below this – much closer to 10hl/ha than 25. Cryoextraction allows you to harvest at 25hl/ha and probably much higher in some parcels as these photos show:

Taken yesterday in a terraced parcel in the Quarts de Chaume – 20+ bunches

Doubtless accountants would find such arguments compelling. 

I'm not saying that Quarts de Chaume made by cryoextraction are bad wines. After all cryoextraction assisted Quarts de Chaume have won numerous awards. However, they are not I think true terroir wines. Indeed they could be made more economically on flat ground, machine harvested and then concentrated. The Quarts de Chaume is classified as one of the three crus of Anjou because of its terroir or special site: its proximity to the Layon, its soils, its microclimate, etc. which all go to making these vineyards particularly favourable to the development of noble rot. Cryoextraction and the quantity of grapes on these vines makes this special terroir irrelevant, except that the finished wines benefit from the reputation of the Quarts de Chaume.

The Syndicat's decision to require in 2011 a minimum of 18% potential at the time of picking and a limit on the amount of what can harvested from each plant will surely force changes to the way the vines on these terraces are managed. Under the current way they are managed I would be very surprised if they can reach 18% potential and if the fruit on each vine weighs just 2.5 kilos – between 4 and 5 kilos per vine looks much more likely.

I note on the InterLoire site which details the requirements for Quarts de Chaume that:

'Contraintes techniques : Vendanges manuelles avec tries successives de raisins arrivés à surmaturité et présentant une concentration par l’action ou non de la pourriture noble. Contrôle « à la parcelle » des conditions de production.'

I have to wonder whether the above parcel meets the 'conditions de production'. If they do, then it would appear that the 'conditions' are actually pretty lax!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Further scenes from Anjou

Anne Guitton (née Guegniard) picking in Clos Le Grand Beaupréau, Savennières

We spent part of today wandering around the Aubance and the Layon, including another look at Chaume and Quarts de Chaume, before heading to Savennières for a delightful and simple picnic in the Clos le Grand Beaupréau. Getting to Savennières is decidedly difficult at the moment as the highway department has clearly decided that the start of vintage is the ideal moment to dig up most of the roads around Savennières.

Château du Breuil, Beaulieu-sur-Layon

View across to Château de Suronde, Quarts de Chaume

Christian Papin, Domaine de Haute Perche

Botyris developing rapidly in Christian Papin's Les Fontanelles vineyard (Coteaux de l'Aubance)

A neighbouring parcel to Christian's showing the danger this year of a slightly higher yield and less aerated bunches with the danger of grey rot developing

Christophe Daviau measuring fermenting must@Domaine de Bablut

Greeting two new wine consultants@Domaine de Bablut

Quarts de Chaume votes decisively to ban cryoextraction

Lower part of the Quarts de Chaume looking down towards the Layon

Very good news!

At their meeting last night the Syndicat des Quarts de Chaume voted decisively against the use of cryoextraction (also called cryosélection) by 15 votes to 2. Domaine Baumard, who have been allowed to use this technique until now, will be given time to adapt to the ban.

From 2011 the average potential alcohol of the grapes for Quarts de Chaume at the time of picking must be 18° min with 17.5° as the absolute minimum permitted, which I suspect will make cryoextraction both less attractive and largely unnecessary.

More details later.

Monday, 27 September 2010

2010 vintage in Anjou: some photos

Alexandre Cady with his 2010 Grolleau
We visited a number of Anjou producers today. They were all happy with the way the 2010 harvest is progressing even though the good weather of last week has broken. They don't need any more rain and some more sunshine would be good. However, for the moment rot is under control and the grapes are coming in at good potential degrees of alcohol - many Grolleaus at 12 or more, which is unusual. A few producers are starting small pickings of Chenin Blanc.

Here are a few photos:
  Golden Chenin Blanc@Domaine de Bablut, Brissac-Quincé
Coulée de Serrant, Savennières

Future 2010 Coulée de Serrant

Victor Lebreton, Domaine de Montgilet sorting plastic picking boxes

Domaine de Montgilet - new vibrating table to remove leaves etc.

Jo Pithon outside the new Pithon-Paillé winery in Saint-Lambert-du-Lattay

Looking across the Layon towards the Quarts de Chaume and the hamlet of Chaume

Clos Chossay: record Sauvignon Blanc harvest

 Suzie Robertson and the Sauvignons

Mark Robertson, owner of the perfectly formed, bijou vineyard - Le Clos Chossay@Epeigné-les-Bois reports a record harvest in 2010.

'Picked the Sauvignon yesterday. A record-breaking 27 litres (31hl/ha if my calculations are right). Healthy grapes with a bit of noble rot, decided to leave these grapes in.
Potential 12.3%.'

In the press

All clean afterwards

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Quarts de Chaume: cryoextraction a necessity for some producers?

Really suitable for Quarts de Chaume! (above and below)

CRM and I took a stroll in the Quarts de Chaume and Chaume this afternoon to look again at the difference between the two appellations and to see how the grapes were coming along; although it will obviously be some time before picking starts here.

In much of the Quarts de Chaume bunches are well spaced out, a low yield as one would expect and the grapes have turned golden with a few early signs of noble rot. One parcel we saw was dramatically  different - a terraced vineyard in the lower south west part of the Quarts de Chaume. It had a very high, luxuriant foliage and a staggering number of large bunches of very green grapes on each vine - up to 18  bunches on some vines!

Difficult to see how grapes on these vines could ever ripen sufficiently to make sweet wine of the standard associated with Quarts de Chaume without the help of a concentrator. Assuming that these vines are not used for Anjou Blanc (bag-in-box) or vin de pays, the need for the owner of these vines to use cryoextraction  to make Quarts de Chaume becomes crystal and shockingly clear. Truly a machine to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse!

If cryoextraction turns such unpromising material into sweet wine one can well understand why Jean Baumard believes la cryosélection `m'apparaît être une des découvertes oenologiques majeures de la fin du XXème siècle`.  

In such overcrowded conditions it is hardly surprising that the wrong type of rot (grey) is likely to develop.

 It is instructive to see how different the vines, foliage and grapes are in much of the rest of the Quarts de Chaume.

Better ventilated, much lower yield and smaller bunches

Noble rot developing in a parcel of Bellerive's vines

Looking at the vines in the Quarts de Chaume today only reinforces my belief that cryoextraction should have no place in the Quarts de Chaume. It should be an appellation for naturally sweet wines not for wines born in a concentrator.

2010 Vendange in the Cher Valley – full speed ahead! (part two)

 Sauvignon Blanc being processed@Jean-François Merieau

Happily the heavy rain of Thursday night/ early Friday morning does not appear to have done too much damage. Fortunately the ground was dry so that picking machines have been able to continue to work. Yesterday we dropped in to see Jean-François Merieau (Saint-Julien-de-Chedon), Thierry and Joël Delaunay (Pouillé), Jean-Christophe Mandard (Mareuil-sur-Cher), Jacky Preys (Meusnes) and Vincent Ricard.

All said they were happy with the way the vintage was going, although they certainly don't want any more rain. Anything up to 40mm fell Thursday/Friday. Fortunately the last couple of days have been quite cool with a north wind at times helping to dry out the grapes. This morning we have sunshine and clear blue skies. All of them started on various days over the last week and most are picking Sauvignon Blanc, although Jacky Preys and Vincent Ricard had also picked some Pinot Noir and the Delaunays some Gamay and Chardonnay. Vincent had also picked some Sauvignon Rose (also called Sauvignon Gris or Fie Gris) which was coming in at 14% potential. Overall the Sauvignon Blanc appears to be coming in between 12%-12.5% with considerable variations in acidity ranging from about 5 grams per litre up to 6.2. 

Of all of them it is Vincent Ricard who has his foot hardest down on the accelerator. "I started picking by hand on Monday through to Thursday. However, with the rain I've switched to machine. This morning we started at 4am and we have just finished the fourth pressoir. (I saw Vincent around 5pm). It's going to be 15 days flat out as the forecast for late next week isn't very good. For the moment  what rot we have is noble but that can change and I don't want to lose the Sauvignon aromas."

All the juice I tasted was clean and quite rich, so 2010 is still looking pretty promising but no more rain please! 

Quarts de Chaume: say no to cryoextraction tomorrow

 Will the producers vote for this?

The Syndicat des Quarts de Chaume meets tomorrow to decide whether to permit the use of cryoextraction to concentrate the grapes/must. Two producers – Baumard and Laffourcade – have requested that cryoextraction should be allowed.

Along with Bonnezeaux, the Quarts de Chaume is the Loire top sweet wine appellation. There should be no place for cryoextraction here. I hope and trust that the Syndicat will reject this demand. 

For more details please see here, here and here.

or this?

Claude Papin (Château Pierre-Bise) is the president of the Syndicat des Quarts de Chaume. I am sure he would welcome your views on the use of cryoextraction in the Quarts de Chaume. His email address is 

Saturday, 25 September 2010

2010 Vendange in the Cher – full speed ahead!

Sauvignon  Blanc@Jacky Preys

Empyting a picking machine@Jean-François Merieau

This week has seen most Touraine producers start picking with some, like Vincent Ricard, accelerating following the heavy rain Thursday night/ early Friday morning.

This afternoon we had a quick drive round to see a number of producers – just dropping in to see how the harvest was progressing.

Joël Delaunay on his picking machine (La Tesnière, Pouillé)

Jean-Christophe Mandard (Mareuil) measuring the potential alcohol in his Sauvignon Blanc juice

Jacky  Preys (Meusnes) watching Sauvignon Blanc grapes being unloaded

Getting into bed with Esca!

A vine affected with esca

I'm afraid if you clicked on this page expecting to read some sensational new exposé about some famous footballer and their 'steamy' sessions with an exotic prostitute I fear you will be disappointed. This post is about esca – the deadly vine disease.

Over the past couple of weeks La Nouvelle République has carried several articles that reflect mounting alarm about Esca and its increased prevalence this year. Esca like eutypiose attacks the roots and the wood of the vine blocking off the sap. The consequences for the vine are usually fatal, although it appears that there is a slow acting version of Esca and one that kills the vine rapidly. 

'En attendant, l'esca fait des ravages. Tout particulièrement cette année, où la maladie s'est développée à la faveur de longues périodes de sécheresse. « Auparavant, on avait 2 à 5 % de mortalité. Là, on dépasse les 10 % pour les cépages sauvignon notamment. C'est devenue une préoccupation majeure », témoigne Serge Bonnigal, vigneron à Limeray.' (From La Nouvelle République 20.9.2010.  Read the rest here.

These are apparently not new vine diseases. Until 2001 they were kept in check by using sodium arsenite. However, its use has been banned because it is a dangerous chemical and can leave residues. To date there is no alternative treatment, although Didier Barouillet (Clos Roche Blanche, AC Touraine) suggests that vines that have always been cultivated organically show a lower incidence of the disease and that the planting of wild leeks can help the vine to resist and even overcome esca,

In Touraine, Sauvignon Blanc is particularly prone to the ravages of Esca. This, of course, is the sole variety that will be permitted for AC Touraine if the reforms go ahead. A true stroke of genius by those responsible!

Furthermore Hervé Lalau reports on his Chroniques Vineuses that the UK's passion for Sauvignon Blanc may be abating. See here.

I suspect that the impetus behind making Sauvignon Blanc, the only permitted variety for AC Touraine, is to avoid having to use the name of the grape variety on the label. I will be amazed if AC Touraine will ever be sold in the UK without Sauvignon Blanc appearing somewhere on the label. Almost all Bourgogne Rouge sold in the UK mentions Pinot Noir somewhere on the label and Chardonnay for Bourgogne Blanc. I cannot see why Touraine Sauvignon will be any different.    


Nearly dead vine

Abrupt change in the weather

Lashing rain on a window

Thursday evening saw a marked change in the weather with rain starting around 8pm and continuing until 5am the following morning with some very heavy downpours. Summer has disappeared to be replaced by autumn.

Unfortunately Météo France doesn't have figures yet for how much rain fell – they may be on strike. From Walt's Another American in France site I see that 31mm fell near Saint-Aignan.

There may have been less rain in Anjou and around Sancerre but certainly the Cher Valley got a good soaking.

Yesterday saw some sunny intervals but a little more rain, while this morning it is decidedly cool with thin rain at the moment (10.20am). At noon the temperature is just 12˚C. What a contrast to Wednesday when afternoon temperatures reached 30˚C!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Vendanges à l'ancienne à Bourgueil: Saturday 25th September

Cette année la Cave du Pays de Bourgueil vous accueillera à partir de 15 heures pour les vendanges à l'ancienne près de la Cave de Chevrette. Le soir, repas animé en cave sur réservation - Contact au

2009 Clos de Chaumont, Saumur-Champigny – a reassessment

On Monday 6th September I posted an assessment of a bottle of the 2009 Clos de Chaumont, Saumur-Champigny from the Domaine de la Perruche that I had tasted in London. I was very surprised because the wine was very disappointing. Last night we had the opportunity to taste and drink another bottle of the 2009 Clos de Chaumont. It was entirely different – confirmed by CRM who tasted it blind. Although not a heavyweight Saumur-Champigny, this had good and attractive concentration of ripe fruit that is typical of 2009. This is a bottle to enjoy now, although it should keep happily for the next  three or four years. In contrast the Anjou Villages from Château la Varière, the other property of Jacques Beaujeau, is more a wine for longer ageing.

I can only assume that the disappointing bottle in London had been ruined by a defective cork. It wasn't corked but the cork had presumably stripped it of its character – making the wine thin and harsh. This disadvantage of cork receives less attention than the incidence of cork taint (TCA). It is, however, more insidious as the consumer assumes that the wine is poor and, unless they know the wine well, they are likely to avoid wines from this producer in future.