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

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Epeigné-les-Bois: result of 2nd Round of election for new Conseil – Sunday 28th June 2020

Result of the 2nd Round of the municipal elections @Epeigné-les-Bois:

Ludovic Guillon: 102 votes (56.04%) elected

Dominique Hisbergue 80 votes (43.96%)

58.65% of the electorate voted. 0.55% of votes were declared invalid. This compares to 62.18% voted on 1st Round with 2.06% invalid votes. Although the number voting in the second round is a little lower than in the 1st Round, it is far above the national participation that was just 34.67%, so an encouraging level of participation in Epeigné-les-Bois.

Result of election@Sale des Fêtes

Composition of new Conseil:

Frédéric Chevalier

Claire Dupré

Jean Candiago

Stéphane Maghissene

Fabienne Somméria

Michel Caraty

Francis Benoît

Amélie Boguet

Viviane Fève

Michèle Prieur

Ludovic Guillon

Update 2nd July 2020
The first meeting of the new Conseil will be tomorrow (3rd July 2020) at 19.30. The agenda will include the election of the new Maire and deputies along with various other roles and posts. 

Fabrice Gasnier est le nouveau Président du Syndicat des Vins de Chinon

Press release on the appointment of Fabrice Gasnier as the new president of the Syndicat des Vins de Chinon following the end of Francis Jourdan's three year term.   
'Elu par les 27 personnes siégeant au Conseil d'Administration du Syndicat des Vins de Chinon, Fabrice Gasnier remplace désormais Francis Jourdan qui a dirigé l'AOC de 2017 à juin 2020. Fabrice Gasnier se met donc au service du collectif pour un mandat de 3 ans. Il peut s’appuyer sur un bureau renouvelé pour partie, composé de Sébastien du Petit Thouars (Château du Petit Thouars) et Jean-Martin Dutour (Domaine Baudry-Dutour) comme vice-présidents, Rodolphe Raffault (Domaine Jean-Maurice Raffault) trésorier et Béatrice Lambert (Domaine Béatrice et Pascal Lambert) secrétaire, ainsi que sur les 5 présidents de secteurs de l’appellation.

Vigneron, Fabrice Gasnier -50 ans- pratique la viticulture biodynamique certifiée depuis 2008, sur les 30 hectares du domaine familial situé sur la commune de Cravant les Coteaux. Fondateur de la Cuma de Cravant, il a une bonne expérience du collectif avec la mise en place de systèmes de protection commun des vignes contre le gel. 
Elu pour représenter les 170 vignerons de Chinon, il aura pour mission la promotion de l’appellation et la garantie de l’authenticité des vins de Chinon. Les enjeux de demain sont nombreux, particulièrement tournés vers la transition écologique de la production et les actions à mener dans le cadre du changement climatique ; le commerce, le développement de l’export et la gestion des stocks vont aussi être l’objet de son attention. Il défend déjà avec ardeur « l’esprit de Chinon », c'est-à-dire l’image culturelle de nos vins, attachée à l’humanisme de Rabelais et au patrimoine qui font la singularité du positionnement de l’AOC Chinon. Fabrice Gasnier confie : « La marque « Chinon » nous donne à tous beaucoup, c’est un juste retour que je lui consacre aussi de mon temps ». Une mission cependant conséquente lorsqu’on sait que Chinon est la plus importante appellation de vins rouge de Loire – environ 13 millions de bouteilles produites chaque année- qui s’étend sur 26 communes.'

Francis Jourdan, the previous president

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Sunday 28th June 2020: Epeigné-les-Bois – 2nd Round elections.....

Mairie @Epeigné-les-Bois

Covid-19 voting precautions:
Instructions include: all voters must wear masks, clean hands entering and exiting the Salle des Fêtes and no more than three voters inside at any one time. 

More than three months after the 1st Round of the municipal elections (Sunday 15th March), the 2nd Round will be held this Sunday. The 2nd Round had originally been scheduled for Sunday 22nd March but was postponed due to Covid-19. 

Following the 1st Round 10 new councilors for the 11 seats on Epeigné's Conseil were elected. Two candidates – Ludovic Guillon (49.47%) and Dominique Hisbergue (49.47%) narrowly missed getting the magic 50%. Both tied on 49.47% with 94 votes each. They are the two candidates this Sunday. Votes can be cast between 8am and 6pm.

Election billboards @Mairie

Ludovic Guillon

Dominique Hisbergue

Whatever the result of Sunday's vote it will be good to have a conseil with a new mandate. The old conseil held its final meeting last evening. 

Details of the 1st Round vote:
62,18 % des citoyens d'Épeigné-les-Bois sont allés voter à l'occasion de ce 1er tour des municipales. Ce chiffre était de 73,31 % en 2014 (soit une baisse de -11,13 points). D'autre part, 2,06 % des suffrages n'ont pas été admis car estimés invalides.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Discovering Desprat Saint-Verny with Léa (Part 1 – morning)

Léa Desprat

Desprat Saint-Verny winery & shop
2 Route d'Issoire, 63960 Veyre-Monton

On our first full day in the Côtes d'Auvergne we spent the day with Léa Desprat, daughter of Pierre Desprat who is managing director of Desprat Saint-Verny.

The Desprat Vins company was founded in 1885 in Aurillac. Pierre has run this wholesale wine company since 1984. In 2017 Desprat Vins merged with the Auvergne co-operative Saint-Verny, which was founded in 1950 and has been owned since 1991, following the co-op getting into financial problems, by Limagrain, a seed specialist company. This brought the largest distributor of Auvergne wines with the largest Auvergne producer into partnership. Léa along with her sister Lucie are the fifth generation of the Desprat family to be involved in the company.

Saint-Verny now has 62 associate grape growers with around 170 hectares of vines and vinifies 8000 hectolitres producing one million bottles of wine (Côtes d'Auvergne and IGP Puy de Dôme) a year. The aim is to keep yields down to 45 hl/ha. In total the Auvergne wine region has around 400 hectares in production – 267 ha as appellation Côtes d'Auvergne, 71 hectares as IGP Puy de Dôme and 50 hectares as Vin de France. This makes Desprat Saint-Verny as by far the largest producer in the Auvergne accounting for just under half of the total vineyards in production. 

Pierre Desprat

The small town of Châteaugay
about 10 kms north of Clermont-Ferrand

Our day with Léa started at the Domaine de la Croix Arpin at Châteaugay owned by Pierre Goigoux, who is good friends with Pierre Desprat. Pierre created his domaine in 1989 and now has 18 hectares of vines mainly in two of the Auvergne crus - Châteaugay (total area: 64ha with vines between 300 and 500 metres altitude) and Chanturgue (6ha) which is in Clérmont-Ferrand. Both crus are for red wine only, so whites (Chardonnay) and rosés (Gamay/Pinot Noir) produced here are plain Côtes d'Auvergne. We also met Etienne Rachez, who used to be the wine-maker for Saint-Verny. He is now in partnership with Pierre making a range of wines called Héritage Volcanic from purchased grapes coming from 10ha of widely scattered plots both north and south of Clermont-Ferrand.

After the introductions we headed out to one of Pierre's vineyards close to Châteaugay town to have a look at the type of volcanic soil here and, in particular, the pépérites, which are described as 'volcanic truffles'.

Pierre showing us some pépérits

Etienne pointing out the volcanic strata

Close up of volcanic rocks

Pierre: "Here we are in a rain shadow formed by the chain of volcanoes to the west. We have less than 600mm of rain a year, which is similar to Nice or to Alsace. This means that mildew is much less of a threat here than it is in other parts of the Loire. There has been a big change in the image of organic viticulture over the past few years. Eight years ago or so I wouldn't have considered going organic – I was certified Terra Vitis. Last year, however, I started the conversion to become organic and I think it won't be long before all vineyards are organic."   

Pierre's vineyards are dominated by the
iconic Puy de Dôme, the highest of the volcanoes, to the west

Looking east across the plain of the River Allier
to the faint smudge of the hills of
the Parc Naturel Régional Livradois-Forez   

2020 grapes already well
in advance
(18th June - above and below)

Gnarled old vine

We tasted wines from both Pierre's Domaine de la Croix Arpin and Etienne's Héritage Volcanic range. Here is a selection:

Domaine de la Croix Arpin:
2018 La Fondeuse Blanc, Côtes d'Auvergne
Pierre describes his La Fondeuse as a Chardonnay in a 'Burgundian style'. This cuvée from selected parcels is vinified and aged in barrel for 12 months and naturally the 2018 has a touch of wood. It is richly textured, concentrated and may well develop further in bottle.

2018 Les Amandiers, Côtes d'Auvergne Châteaugay
From a parcel of vines with almond trees around the edge of the plot, this is a blend of Gamay with some Pinot Noir. Attractive richly textured black fruits, considerable concentration and length. Can be drunk with pleasure now but it should age well and develop further in bottle.

2018 Côtes d'Auvergne Châteaugay
A blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir with attractive soft, quite rich fruit and good texture. To drink now or keep for up to five or six years.   

2018 Le Damas Noir, IGP Puy de Dome
Damas Noir is a variety of Syrah that was around before phylloxera but then became almost extinct. A conservatoire for rare grape varieties was established in the Auvergne in 1990 and Damas Noir was one of the varieties that was rescued. Pierre planted some Damas Noir in 2011. This rare wine has red cherry and floral notes, concentrated fruit and freshness in the finish.

Some Syrah is now being planted in the Auvergne. It has, however, to be labelled as IGP since it is not an authorised variety for Côtes d'Auvergne.      

Héritage Volcanic:
1495 Chardonnay 2019, Côtes d'Auvergne
1495 is the height of Le Puy de Dôme. A part of this white Côte d'Auvergne is vinified and aged in barrel. It has crisp citric and floral notes and freshness and salinity in the finish despite having 14% alcohol.

2019 Effet de Fun, Côtes d'Auvergne 13.5% alc.
A rosé made from 100% Gamay 'pressurage direct' (no skin contact) with pear notes. From vines on volcanic soil it has notes of pears along with some textured mouthfeel. I was impressed by the quality of the rosés that we tasted in the Auvergne and this has been confirmed by drinking some of them back in Touraine.

Pierre and Léa @Saint-Verny

Along with the second part of the day with Léa, reports on visits to Domaine Miolanne, Annie Sauvat, David Pelissier and Benoît Montel to follow. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Côtes d'Auvergne: a few local eruptions.....

Stock photo of volcanic eruption at Tungurahua (Ecuador)

Some local tensions 
In common with a number of other French wine regions producers in the Auvergne appear to have problems working together for the collective good. This was highlighted by a news item in La Montagne when there was a change in the presidency of the Syndicat AOC Côtes d'Auvergne at the end of 2019. 

Yvan Bernard was président of the Syndicat AOC Côtes d'Auvergne from 2015 to 2019, when he resigned and was replaced by Gilles Vidal, an associate of Desprat Saint-Verny. It is unfortunate that the La Montagne article reports that there has long been strife between the independent vignerons and the members of the Saint-Verny Cooperative – now associates of Desprat Saint-Verny. 

Yvan is currently vice-président of Loire Volcanique – the association formed last year to promote the four Upper Loire appellations: Côtes d'Auvergne, Côtes de Forez, Côte Roannaise and Saint-Pourçain. Loire Volcanique should not be confused with  Vinora*, an organisation covering wines from around the world produced from vines planted in volcanic soils. Vinora was formed a few years ago with Pierre Desprat, who is its président, a leading player. It held its first conference and salon at the end of January 2020 at Clérmont-Ferrand.

Vidal is keen to end the disagreements and has as his two vice-presidents two independent producers: Benoît Montel in Riom and Pierre Goigoux, who has his own domaine but is also an associate of Desprat Saint-Verny. Goigoux was president of the Syndicat between 2011 and 2013, while Montel is president of the Fédération Viticole des Côtes d'Auvergne and Vidal is the vice-president of this organisation.

Yvan Bernard, ex-president Syndicat AOC Côtes d'Auvergne

Gilles Vidal, président
Syndicat AOC Côtes d'Auvergne

Benoît Montel
Syndicat AOC Côtes d'Auvergne

Pierre Goigoux

Syndicat AOC Côtes d'Auvergne

Unfortunately there is tension between Vinora and Loire Volcanique. Léa Desprat, daughter of Pierre, is critical of the name – Loire Volcanique – as from the four appellations involved Saint-Pourçain and Côte Roannaise do not have volcanic soils. Benoît Montel, vice-president of Loire Volcanique, says Loire and Volcanique are two separate entities. This seems to me to be too fine and subtle distinction and that most people will naturally assume that the soils of all four appellations are of volcanic origin. This is regrettable as I think the grouping of these four appellations makes sense, especially at present when a renaissance is underway in the Upper Loire. Perhaps a better name would be 'La Loire commence ici', although, of course, the source of the Loire is considerably further south. 

Regrettably there is almost no overlap between the producers involved in Vinora and Loire Volcanique as only Annie Sauvat is a member of both groups.

Côtes d'Auvergne members of Vinora: Clos Luern, Desprat Saint-Verny, La Tour de Pierre, La Croix Arpin (Pierre Goigoux), Domaine Gougis, Miolanne, David Pelissier, Domaine Sauvat (Annie Sauvat), Domaine Vincent Auzolle. 

Côtes d'Auvergne members of Loire Volcanique: Yvan Bernard, Domaine Charmensat, Benoît Montel, Gilles Persilier, Domaine Catherine & Roland Royet, Domaine Sauvat (Annie Sauvat), Domaine des Trouillères.

Agreed the two organisations have different objectives and scope but I would have thought that it made sense for members of Vinora to also be members Loire Volcanique.

Hopefully these conflicts can be resolved as the Côtes d'Auvergne and IGP Puy de Dôme are still among the least known Loire areas, although they do now have an following including internationally. They need to work together to promote their wines. Conflict and division is surely a luxury they can ill afford.

More details on the tensions see: La Montagne and Vitisphere 

*: David Cobbold, member of Les 5 du Vin, was at Vinora. Here are links to the  two articles he wrote on the event – here and here.   

Monday, 22 June 2020

Côtes d'Auvergne: excellent visit to Yvan Bernard

Yvan Bernard outside his caveau in Montpeyroux

CRM, Wink Lorch, Lyn Parry and I spent three nights in the Auvergne visiting some producers in a small but an increasingly interesting wine region.

Our appointment with Yvan was for 4.30pm. When we arrived his caveau in Montpeyroux was closed, so we phoned his mobile. Yvan was in the vineyards and soon arrived. Initially we spent some time in front of his caveau with Yvan talking about his history and how he works.

He now has 8 hectares of vines in a number of different parcels – some in Montpeyroux and a parcel in Boudes. He has 1.20 ha of Chardonnay, 2ha Pinot Noir, 0.5 Syrah and the rest is Gamay.

Yvan doesn't come from a family of vignerons. Although his grandfather, who was a coal miner, had some vines he only made wine for the family's own consumption. Yvan studied marketing. However, in 2000 he decided that he wanted to become a vigneron, so started studying in Beaune. The following year he studied oenology and did a stage in Brouilly (Beaujolais).

Then in 2002, when Yvan was 23 years old, the maire of Montpeyroux offered him his current caveau, which is classified for its historic interest and belongs to the commune. At the same time he acquired some vines, which were in a very bad state and included some Gamay as well as some hybrids. Yvan now has 8 hectares of vines, which are all organic apart from his parcel in Boudes. In addition to Gamay he has Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay and has planted some Aligoté as well as some Côt (Malbec) as an experiment.

From the start Yvan had wanted to be organic but waited until 2007 when he was ready to start the conversion process gaining certification in 2010. He will soon be moving to biodynamic viticulture.

Yvan has outgrown his cramped premises in the centre of the picturesque and historic village of Montpeyroux and will soon start building a new winery in the vines outside the village, which he expects to complete in 2022.

Yvan talked about the wine history of area compared to the present when there is between 400-450 hectares planted with vines grown between 300 and 550 metres.

"Before 1870 there was a lot of Pinot Noir planted but with the huge surge in demand because of destruction wrought by phylloxera elsewhere in France, Gamay was planted because it was easier than Pinot Noir. There were 55,000 hectares planted in the Puy de Dôme départment and neighbouring areas before phylloxera arrived here late in 19th Century. Because of the demand in Paris and elsewhere there were fortunes made from wine. There were ports on the River Allier to transport wine towards Paris."

"Unfortunately the Auvergne vineyards did not recover from phylloxera. Quality dropped during the boom times, so the region gained a bad reputation. Producers here were slow to graft, while at the same time industry arrived in particular the Michelin tyre factory, so people moved away from the land."

"The renaissance here started during the 1990s when producers recognised that they had to up the quality of the wines made here. Over the last seven or eight years our wines have become more fashionable helped by the natural freshness and acidity in our wines unlike wine from regions like Languedoc, where alcohol levels are now high with low acidity. At this time we were one of the VDQS vineyards."

(This category, which was created in 1949, ceased to exist in 2011 and almost all the VDQS's were promoted to appellation status.)

"We then had 25 different crus, which was far too many for the INAO when we applied to be promoted to appellation status, so we had to choose those with a real identity. Now have just five crus – all for red wine except for Corent, which is only for rosé."

Unfortunately the 2019 vintage in the Côte d'Auvergne was very small due to spring frosts, hail and drought. Last year Yvan only harvested 50% of a normal crop due to April frost and drought, August and September were particularly dry. Some of the soils, especially the sandy ones, here do not retain water unlike clay limestone, so are very susceptible to drought. 

Clermont-Ferrand and its surrounding area are in a rain shadow formed to the west by Le Mont Dore (1840 metres) and Le Puy de Sancy (1886 metres) that have substantial annual rainfall while the area around Clermont-Ferrand has considerably less. The annual rainfall at the Mont-Dore ski station is 1582.3 mm, while the average (2011-2019) annual rainfall at the weather station at Clermont-Ferrand has been 536.4mm. Clermont-Ferrand is now drier than it was for the period 1981-2011 when the average annual rainfall was 578.9 mm – down by 7.4%. 

Yvan: "We have three main types of soil here in the Côtes d'Auvergne: clay-limestone, volcanic over limestone and lava flow."

Yvan Bernard in his tasting space in Monteyroux

Tasting: We then had a comprehensive tasting of Yvan's wines. I was impressed by his wines – it was certainly one of the best tastings we had in our three-day visit to the Auvergne. Here are my favourites:

2019 Fleuve Tranquille, VDF, 100% Aligoté 12.5% alc 10€
This was made from grapes bought in Burgundy as although Yvan has recently planted some Aligoté it won't be in production until next year when he plans to make a Chardonnay/Aligoté blend from vines on basalt.

Bottled in February this is crisp and refreshingly lemony with an attractive texture. A good apéro or with shellfish.

2019 Corent Côtes d'Auvergne Corent 7.70€
Made from old vine (between 40 and 100 years old) Gamay d'Auvergne, which has large, tightly compact bunches and keeps its acidity. This is pressed without any maceration (pressurage direct). A crisp rosé with attractive weight and freshness. Overall I was impressive with the rosés we tasted on our trip, especially those from Corent. 

2019 Les Dômes Côtes d'Auvergne 8€
Yvan's first red is a blend of 90% Gamay with 10% Pinot Noir. Mid-plum colour with notes of violets, good concentration and texture but with some refreshing acidity in the finish. A bottle to enjoy with friends. 

2019 Echalas, Côtes d'Auvergne Boudes 8.20€
Boudes is both the most southerly of the Côtes d'Auvergne Crus and the southern limit of the Côtes d'Auvergne. It is also on a level with the most southerly of the Côtes de Forez communes. Echalas is the name for the vertical stakes traditionally used on the steep slopes around Boudes but which are increasingly being replaced by vines trained on wires. 

This is Yvan's non-organic vineyard on red clay. 100% Gamay and made from low yielding old vines, it has attractive peppery, red fruit notes and good mouth-filling texture.

2018 Arkose, Côtes d'Auvergne 12€
From old vine Gamay in Montpeyroux planted on granite with very low yields – 20 hl/ha. This is bottled without the addition of sulphur. Dense and quite deep colour this is a very concentrated Gamay with soft black fruits, complexity, structure and long finish. A decidedly impressive Gamay.    

We also tasted 2019 Banlieue Rouge VDF made from Gamay St Romain bought in the Côte Roannaise to make up for the very small harvest of 2019, the 2018 Les Terrases IGP (100% Syrah) and two vintages (2018 and 2015) of Petrosus (Latin for Montpeyroux and 100% Pinot Noir).  

I will be posting more reports on the visits we made during our three days in the Auvergne.

Yvan and his vineyard worker