Straddling the Loire (Vouvray, France – Day One)

Closer to Tours to the north-east sits Vouvray, the Loire Valley’s second or third most famous appelations and one of the great white wine regions in the world. Until recently no-one could claim that they were doing more for the chenin blanc variety than Vouvray, but some upstarts down in South Africa are now establishing a reputation with this misunderstood variety. To be labelled as Vouvray AOC you can only make white wine from 100% chenin blanc, but similar to Alsace they make wines of differing levels of sweetness as well as producing some excellent sparkling wine. The vineyards of Vouvray sit on a plateau about 50m above the village of the same name which lies on the banks of the Loire River. On the opposite side of the bank sits Montlouis-sur-Loire, which is actually between the Loire and River on a headland. Montlouis is also 100% chenin blanc and the wines are arguably as good, but they aren’t as famous as their neighbours across the river. I spent my first day in this part of the region on either side of the bank coming to terms with a variety that isn’t particularly fashionable in Melbourne, but is more widely planted further west.
Did I mention how cold it has gotten?

Domaine Bourillon was another estate recommended to me by the wonderful people from Europvin who have been such an amazing help in Europe. I received a reply from Frederic Bourillon himself to my visit request, again it was in French that I could understand but it didn’t designate a time. When I arrived Fred was finishing up with some other visitors who bought a lot of wine, and then had to leave so he left me with his two sons. For the second day in a row the visit was entirely in French, but with more practice I was starting to be able to sustain more of a conversation and understand more. Fred’s sons were really lovely, but a little distracted as a large group of middle-aged guys turned up for a tasting which required their attention. This left me with long gaps between each wine to twiddle my thumbs. The caves are amazing and incorporate some really cool modern art. They even have carvings on the walls, and as such are some of the most impressive cellars I have seen on my trip. I highly recommend a visit.

Very cool cellars at Domaine Bourillon

Again because the visit was in French I have had to do additional research about the estate, found on the Berry Brothers website (http://www.bbr.com). Interestingly the Bourillon website is in French and Chinese, but not in English. The domaine was founded back in 1921 by Gaston Dorleans (great name) outside of Vouvray in Rochecorbon, and is now run by the fourth generation Frederic Bourillon-Dorleans. In total they own 27 hectares of vineyards of chenin blanc at an average age of 30 years, on which they practice what I refer to as ‘necessary viticulture’. This basically means they only do what is necessary, minimising any practices that interfere with the natural balance of the terroir but still protecting the soils and vines when they need to. The grapes are pressed and the juices fermented in stainless steel apart from about 15% which is fermented in barriques. Wines aged in barrel are done so in the 15th Century caves that are typical of this area, chalk mines used to build the many chateaus in the valley. Click here to read my tasting notes.

Not sure if this is offensive or not…

My second visit was to come to terms with a producer I knew a little about as I had tasted and stocked one of their vouvrays back at home. The producer was Francois Chidaine who is actually a native of Montlouis-sur-Loire where he got his start and is still located today. Francois comes from a family of vignerons but in 1989 at a tender age he made the decision to start his own domaine and make wine. Initially this was only from 4.5 hectares of vineyards and very early-on he was targeted as one to watch in the Loire. This assessment wasn’t far off as he has truly established himself in terms of quality and individuality, taking the holdings to over 35 hectares in such a short period. The vineyards he now owns include 20 hectares in the Montlouis-sur-Loire appellation, another 10 in Vouvray and about seven in the Touraine appellation. He completed the conversion to biodynamic viticulture in 2003 and this natural approach has played a significant part in the reputation he has earned.

The Francois Chidaine range of wines in La Cave Insolite

On the southern bank of the Loire just outside of Montlouis is Francois’ La Cave Insolite, where people can taste and buy Francois’ wines and also buy wines from a number of producers both in and out of the Loire Valley. This was where I met with Olivia who explained to me the philosophies and practices they employ to their terroir wines. The focus of the tasting was on the Montlouis-sur-Loire wines, and I had the chance to taste the different terroir wines through different vintages and different levels of sweetness. The discussion covered a number of other topics as well, including language, communication, and the complexities involved with talking to people about wine from different cultures and backgrounds. The wines themselves are for the most part stunning, with a few wines coming from tougher vintages not presenting as well. Click here to read my tasting notes.

Vouvray vineyards

Click here to see more photos from Day One in Vouvray

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