Our house was a former storage barn for wine. The wine press was in the bedroom Janis and Clark are using. Perfect for our interests in the wines of the region. Although Janis and Clark are glad the press is no longer in their room.
|The wine press from our house.|
We chose the western Loire Valley for the opportunity to see châteaux and vineyards. Both are in the near vicinity of our house. We are living in the country and have views of vineyards from our front yard,
|Planting new vines|
Those of you that traveled with us in previous trips know that we collect our wine bottles as a reminder of the tastes of our region. We continue that tradition, except this year we don't have a mantel on our fireplace, so we've had to improvise. The window sills outside are deep, so they have been called into duty as our display space. People arriving will either feel nervous that there are drunks inside (not at all!!) or feel welcomed to a place where fine wines (we think) are consumed.
|Wine bottle collection as of this morning - no duplicates, 76 unique labels|
|Our top shelf picks thus far. These have a place of honor on the left side of the door|
We think the collection just reflects the many memorable fine wines in this region. Clark has a spreadsheet that tracks each wine we taste, buy, and consume. I believe I heard that we had purchased 121 bottles of wine since arriving (averaging about 3/day with the average cost per bottle somewhere around 8 Euros per bottle, I think.) We have a small stock of whites and rosés in the frig and reds on our wine buffet.
|our wine buffet - sommelier only zone|
Our purchases come from a variety of places: the Hyper U (heeperoo), our local grocery store, wine cooperatives, local vintners, and wine fairs. The boys have stumbled on a 1996 Médoc for 14 Euros at the supermarket and we've had 4 bottles of that. At 21 years old, it is at the end of its cellaring life, but the wine is still smooth and mellow.
The Loire Valley is renowned for its whites which was a bit worrisome for Janis and Clark at first, as they prefer red wines. But we are also finding plenty of interesting red wines - mostly from Cabernet Franc, the grapes from this region. And the whites, rosés and sparkling wines have been better than Clark expected. We're even learning how to drink a sweet wine with desserts, foie gras and especially the birthday cakes for Janis and Clark. (How did they manage to schedule their birthdays in France?) White wines here are mostly from Chenin Blanc grapes, which I find refreshingly dry but fruity. Of course, you have to taste the wines to know what you like and we have done lots of that.
The very first day we were here (Sunday, April 9) Janis noticed a sign for a "portes-ouvertes" for a winery in the town we were exploring (Vauchrétien). "Portes-ouvertes" translates as "open doors" so, we followed the trail of signs down a couple of roads out of town and TA-DA! the winery of the Domaine des Giraudières parking lot is full of cars. And the door is OPEN. So we walk in, following the noise to the stock room of the winery which has been decked out in small glass rounds atop wine barrels and a long table of appetizers. This post from April 9 will give you more details about this discovery. And our first wine purchase.
Spring, especially April, seems to be a popular time for wineries to feature open house events to introduce customers to their new vintages. They always seem to serve appetizers as well. We have since attended several "porte-ouvertes" at local wineries. We've noticed that many of the folks attending the open house are locals, known to the owner's family. And it is usually the vineyard owner's family that is staffing the event, serving and servicing the folks who are visiting. In general, we stick out like a sore thumb, but staff and locals alike have been warm, welcoming and happy to share information about the wines, the foods and the region. Besides the Domaine des Giraudières, other open houses we've attended so far include:
Domaine d'Asseray in Vauchrétien
|Dave and Janis in the expanded tasting room normally the fermentation room|
|getleman on the left is the owner of Asseray|
|display of Asseray wines|
Domaine de Bablut
|Janis, Dave, Alex, Christie, and Clark at Domaine de Bablut|
|Accueil means welcome (and where the wine tasting usually is)|
Domaine Clos des Mailles just outside Brissac
|tasting at the Domaine de Mailles|
We've also tasted (and bought) wines from wine cooperatives in the region. Small growers who don't produce enough or have facilities to create their own wine typically participate in a wine cooperative. They sell their grapes to the cooperative whose winemaker produces wines under labels designed by the cooperative. These wines are also produced to AOC standards.
Our VERY local (we could walk home) wine coop is just at the bottom of the hill in Brissac, not far from the chateau, Les Caves de la Loire.
|our local wine coop|
|Janis, Ben, Emily tasting at our local wine coop|
|Wine tasting at Les Caves de la Loire|
The other cooperative we visited is called Robert et Marcel, located in St. Cyr about a half-hour from here. Besides the above, this winery has an AOC called Saumur Champigny (a red). So we add a few more bottles to our collection.
Stumbling across wineries while touring
We have found a couple of places when we were out and about. Dave was interested in trying a Savonnière wine. What's special? Dave says: "They're good". They're also very pricey as it's a small region right on the banks of the Loire just northwest of Angers. These are white wines that improve with age for 10-20 years - very unusual. So we stopped there one day on our way to or from someplace. Of course, we had to buy a couple bottles there as well. And they are good.
|Domaine du Closel|
|wine caves with examples of the old way bubbly was made|
|Clark in the very modern tasting room|
|down in the caves under Grenelle|
And then, perhaps our favorites, are the local vineyards.Driving down our country roads, you pass signs, often small, offering "Dégustation et Vente" for some winery. That means tasting and purchase. Many local wineries have a website and post the hours they're open. Others don't post hours, so you just drive in and see if anyone's home. The vineyard closest to us that we can see from our yard is Château d'Avrillé.
This week, on our way home from visiting the castle at Plessis-Bourré, (post to come yet), we stopped at the Domaine de Haute Perche. Like Avrillé, this domaine has a lovely tasting room with bar and tables built onto the side of the building that holds the tanks, bottled stock and packaging room. We were served by the winemaker himself, Serge, who while he didn't speak much English, probably understood much of what we were saying.
|Serge served us his best wines|
|Fermentation tanks - there are an equal number in the basement under us|
|Grape presses - the stainless one is pneumatically driven|
|look at all those lovely wine bottles, sigh|
This area did suffer frost in late April and we have seen it in the vineyards around us. It's good to be drinking wine here this year. We've been told that it will take 1-2 years for the affected vines to recover and produce again. French wine could be a bit more pricey the next couple of years.
|the leaves were just coming out before the frost hit|
|the same vine after the frost - no grapes for a year or two from these vines|
Not all vines were affected. Here are some photos of the vineyards that were not affected taken this week:
|see the little grapes forming?|
We still have several weeks to continue to explore and discover the wines of this region. We're learning a lot about growing vines and making wine and it's a French vocabulary not taught in school. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.
PS. It was raining this afternoon, so we went to Gonorderie winery and Judy can't keep track of how many wines we tasted. More later, time for aperos