The sun was warm, the skies clear and the vignerons mighty pleased. So was I, as a matter of fact. I was told to expect grey drizzle and many occasions to try out my umbrella. Luckily, I got nothing like it. With temps in 20 degree Celsius range, blue skies and spectacular autumn reds and golds in the vineyards, the last week in October 2009 in France’s Loire Valley was certainly not what I anticipated. Not what the winemakers anticipated either.
Some were saying they hadn’t seen anything like it in 40 years. Others, like Pierre-Jean Sauvion, Oenologue and “Façonneur de plasir” at Château du Cléray-Sauvion in the Muscadet AOC compare it to more recent vintages. “The vintage 2009 in Muscadet will look like the 2005, so you can imagine how happy the growers are after the low yields of 2007 and 2008. On top of that, the berries were in very good health so we can do a lot of skin contact. What was surprising was that the fermentation took forever – at least a month – which is quite unusual but results in great complexity in flavour.”
Further inland, the news is generally the same. In AOC Savennières, home of the world’s most complex expression of the Chenin Blanc variety, Evelyne de Pontbriand of Domaine du Closel and President of AOC Savennières notes that the great weather allowed for harvesting of the tries (repeated passes through the vineyards to select fruit in a state of optimum ripeness) in a fairly relaxed manner. “We noticed that the areas where we have experimented with biodynamic practices gave particularly fine grapes.” Red varieties – Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon – also ripened well and the wines are showing richness in both colour and aromas.
For bubbleheads, Caroline Gestin, Coordination – Animation, Union de Maisions de Fines Bulles de Loire (the association of the Loire’s top bubbly producers) reports that the “Chardonnays are splendid with pure varietal expression while the Chenin Blancs are fresh and without any harshness.” If 2008 was a year for Champagne, she notes, 2009 is the vintage for Loire sparklers. “Well balanced between structure, acidity and alcohol with good berry maturity. Splendid, isn’t it?” I’d say so.
Finally, moving into the central vineyards of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Menatou-Salon and the like, Benoît Roumet, Directeur, Bureau Interprofessionnel Des Vins Du Centre calls the 2009 vintage “exceptional,” with smaller yields than previous resulting in white wines with freshness, power and reds with “great colour and spicy notes on the nose.”
Stay tuned to Tidings for a more complete report on the wines, food and history of the Loire Valley wines and the challenges faced by the region’s producers in the North American market.