Upper Loire - Easter 2017

This was the first visit to this area for thirteen years.  The Hotel Panoramic has been revamped and the next-door restaurant is no longer part of the hotel, The group arrived, as usual, in dribs and drabs but was soon united in the bar, chatting about the election which had been announced that morning and waiting for the official welcome. Dinner was in the Restaurant Les Augustins, accompanied by some excellent regional wines.

Day two dawned bright but looking out on the magnificent view one could see not only the vestiges of mist but smoke from anti-frost fires and braziers. The coach took us across the Loire to St, Andelain and the Domaine Champeau, a small, attractive winery in the centre of the village. It is owned by two cousins. They showed a crisp Pouilly-sur-Loire (mainly Chasselas) and three excellent Pouilly Fumés (100% Sauvignon Blanc) – especially the one matured in barrels made with alternating staves of oak and Acacia. The spirit of the visit was somewhat dampened when we were told that overnight 25% of the crop had been badly affected by frost. Ironically, the growers of the area were due to meet that evening to discuss how to combat the threat of frost.

A return over the river to Chauvenay and Domaine Eric Louis, a well-established family owned and run concern, with vines in various parts of the area. The group was greeted by a cheerful young man named Pierre conducted an informative tour of the winery and cellar –very modern and extremely well kept. One memorable thing, however, was seeing a large stainless-steel tank with what appeared to have an enormous dent, apparently the result of cleaning air-pump being inserted without leaving any escape, thus sucking it in from the inside. The highlight of the visit was lunch and a tasting of a good rage of wines. This was in a tasting-room and consisted of a selection of local produce including excellent ham, Berry Lentils, salads etc. The Wines include white and red Sancerre –the Cuvée Pauline was particularly good – a Menetou Salon, a Pouilly- Fumé and a Quincy.

A brief journey to the winery of Joseph Mellot, The Mellot family have grown and made wine in Sancerre since 1513. The company was divided in1969 when Joseph Mellot took over the winery which bear name while Alphonse had the rest. With land all over the Central Vineyards with an emphasis on sustainable viticulture. It is one of the premier names in Sancerre. In fact, the visit was a little disappointing. Not much inspection of the winery and a limited tasting, some of the wines were not as good as the veteran members of the group remembered. Perhaps the gilded memory of the ageing! And so, to the hotel and dinner next door.

Day three began fine but cold, all ready for a longer trip to Quincy and the Domaine de la Brosse Brllay, A visit to the vines included an planation of the co-operation between the growers in the appellation. A series of heaters with raised fans have been installed across the vignoble which are activated at the threat of imminent frost. There are also a number of large “canons” used to disperse hail. The joint efforts were further demonstrated on a visit to the winery. This is owned jointly by the members of the appellation who employ a winemaker and other staff. This is not the traditional co-operative- the grapes from each owner are vinified and bottled separately, A fine selection of canapes and small dishes accompanied the domaine’s wines. Quincy only has Sauvignon Blanc and the four of Philippe Portier, the proprietor, were bright, aromatic and surprisingly complex. The oak aged one was particularly rich.

A short drive to Reuilly and the wines of Denis Jermain, an affable and welcoming proprietor. Denis’s Domaine de Reuilly comprises 18 hectares of vineyards all in the commune of Reuilly. There are 11 hectares of sauvignon Blanc and 4 hectares of pinot noir. The Kimmeridgian soil contains a high proportion of crushed sea shells that are over 150 million years old. The three hectares of pinot gris, which are used to make a vin gris rosé, are on the vineyards of Les Chatillons.. The grapes travel a maximum of 2km from vineyards to the shared winery in Reuilly, which operates rather like the one in Quincy, but without the shared winemaker. The oak for Denis’s barrels comes from his family forest.

The final day took us to Chavignol and the Domaine Henri Bourgeois. A highlight of our trip in 2003 Bourgeois is one of the leading Sancerre producers. For 10 generations, the Bourgeois family has devoted its passion for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir to craft wines of exceptional quality. Each member of the family, Jean-Marie Bourgeois, Arnaud, Lionel & Jean-Christophe, brings his knowledge and expertise to the Estate. Rooted to the village of Chavignol, owning some of the greatest terroirs of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé they work on a mixture of many vine plots. Each plot is isolated and worked to respect the expression of its terroir, Tthey now also make wine in New Zealand, they have a vast array of White Sancerre and we tasted many of them, along with some Pinots having both elegance and body. The family seem to own most of the village -including an hotel and a restaurant,

The trip ended with dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant La Tour in Sancerre where an innovative six course menu was accompanied by a range of regional wines.

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