C’est partie! The Road trip in France has hit the road – first stop, the Loire. Six passionate communicators from the world of wine, food and travel, have boarded the #Frenchroad trip bus eager to learn how there’s a French wine to suit any style of consumer on any occasion.
First stop of this week-long voyage : Tours, one of the largest towns in the Loire valley. The region stretches from the West coast inland and even down to the central area close to Clermont Ferrand giving space to 80 appellations. This weekend Tours was in full swing with Vitiloire, the city’s annual festival of wine that lines the city’s main streets. Over 130 vigneron and local food producers were bearing the showery weather to meet-and-greet the wine lovers of the region showing them their new vintages and inviting them to visit their wineries. On hand to give the more curious an in-depth introduction to the local tipple, Loire born wine educators (who spoke great English) were on hand to give our road trippers a presentation of how the region uses the main white grape varieties Chenin blanc and Sauvignon blanc to make wines that go from bone dry, drink young beverages to rich, lush sweet wines that can age half a century.
Following the town festival, it was time to put the theory into practice and slightly out of town a winemaker in the appellation of Vouvray. Not unlike many cellars in the area, the bottles were aged in the tunnels carved in the limestone left from the mining of stone to build local residences. The winery made sparkling and still wines with different levels of residual sugar all from grapes grown on its 32 hectares. The Loire is influenced by cold winds from the East and those from the West that blow from the Ocean bringing with them warmer and wetter air. This battering from left and right means that the vintages can vary greatly depending which wind was more dominant over the year. As any weatherman will tell you, global warming over the past decade has changed the weather patterns for everyone and the Loire is no exception. They’ve been dealt a favourable hand though with the maturation period being prolonged meaning more of the grapes are riper and of better quality.
Even if the grapes are able to mature more consistently now, the producers here, by their own admission, have come to realize that they have to start listening to the consumers and react to their tastes. Gone are the days when having Made in France on a label would convince a doubtful customer, the new generation of wine drinkers are hankering after white wines that are accessible, easy-drinking and dry. These factors have pushed more and more producers of this appellation known for its sparkling wines in the domestic market to make dry wines that are young and easy to drink.
Dinner with local winemakers and we were treated to one of the region’s other well-known appellations – Anjou. Anjou and Anjou villages are some of the many wines that make up the middle Loire and are made from Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and local grape Pineau D’Aunis. The Pineau is a versatile grape used to make white, rose and red wines either still or sparkling. In the Anjou it adds a touch of spiciness to the wines.
Day two and we were heading west to the beautiful village of Monsoreau to explore how the region focuses on the natural aspect of its wine industry. What better way to explore this than by bike through the vineyards, past the lodge des vignes (stone houses made for the farming equipment and to offer shelter to vine dressers that had travelled far to work in the fields) and the windmills, lead by the president of the Saumur Champigny region to see how the locals treat Mother Nature. The Loire is one of the regions with the most widespread use of organic farming and we soon managed to get up close to find out how and why.
The appellation Saumur Champigny took the decision twenty years ago (supported unanimously by the wine producers) to prohibit the use of weed killer on 100% of their land. Instead this is restricted to area just below the vines leaving the area between and at the end of the vines (the tournant) to be covered with grass and flowers. These grasses and flowers attract insects, animals and force the vines to dig deeper to find the nutrients they need through their productive cycle. Over the years nature has worked its way and the variety of the flora and fauna of the area has exploded. The evolution of the biodiversity of the area is testament to the low use of chemicals in the area.
This development of the ecosystem can be monitored in many ways. One of those is using bright yellow plastic insect catchers placed in the middle of the vineyards. Attracted by the colour, the flying creatures then hit the perspex dividers and fall into water where they are later catalogued and analysed. The crawling creatures are also collected to obtain an overall picture of the ecosystem of the vines and wine growers use this information to decide then on how to encourage certain insects which protect against disease. In some cases feramones are planted in the vines to attract certain male insects and prevent females from hatching what would be harmful eggs in get cipro in mexico those environments.
Looking to use natural methods to reduce the amount of treatments in the area, the appellation also invested in weather stations which constantly monitor the humidity conditions to predict the risk of disease with more accuracy in each area of the appellation. Over the past ten years, these have helped to drastically reduce the use of treatments in the area thus sustaining the natural philosophy of wine-making shared in the area and also reducing the financial burden on the wine producers.
As tastes change, this makes wine producers not only more efficient having to invest less in expensive treatments to counteract diseases and use natural solutions to promote an ecosystem which works to help the vines be protected and produce better quality grapes. The Loire is also in an excellent position to feed off the recent trend for organic produce and wines and we got the impression that the Loire producers have worked together to develop a system which protects not only their livelihoods but also their health and well-being. Now if that’s not worth raising a glass to then what is?
Visitors to the Loire can join in the fun and explore 16 of the appellations by bike or by foot on the weekend of 3rd & 4th September. See online for more details..