The restored Abbaye de Fontevraud
I have just returned from the first edition of Loire Millésime organised by Interloire. It was based in the now magnificently restored Abbey of Fontevraud. We were lodged in the attached L’Hotel de Fontevraud, which has also been extensively renovated and greatly improved since I stayed there some 12 years ago.
Enjoying the abbey’s current magnificence it is strange to reflect that from the time of the French Revolution when the monks were thrown out and 1804 when Napoleon signed the order to make Fontevraud a prison that it was a jail for over 150 years. The last prisoners did not leave until 1985.
Loire Millésime was based on a similar event in Languedoc that has been running for a number of years. It was a mix of tastings, master classes in both French and English as well as visits to vineyards and evening events – at Fontevraud, the Ackerman cellars in Saint Florent Saint Hilaire and an evening of tasting very fine Chenin in all its guises at the Domaine de Rocheville in Parnay.
I attended two master classes – one on the different types of ripeness/maturity in red grapes and the other on looking at the different qualities of sweet Chenin Blanc. Both were excellent.
Unfortunately it was decided that the major tastings during the day – dry whites, rosés and reds – should be with rare exceptions from the 2016 vintage. Although interesting for people like myself who are able to spend a considerable time in the Loire and tasting these wines, it is virtually useless for someone who is rarely in the Loire and who has been brought to Fontevraud at considerable expense. Interloire had flown in a number of journalists from North America – why get them to taste a mass of unfinished wines? Unlike Bordeaux the Loire does not sell en primeur.
Sadly there was a spectre at our Loire celebration – frost. 2016 was marked by a series of frosts at the end of April and 2017 is very worryingly following a similar pattern. There were frosts during the nights of 18th/19th, 19th/20th and 20th/21st.
There has been damage in various appellations from Muscadet through to Pouilly-Fumé. For the moment not as widespread as in 2016, although obviously it is very serious for any producer seriously affected by frost. This is partly because the ground is very dry and also that attempts to combat frost in the Loire are becoming more sophisticated and more widespread. This includes new wind turbines in Saint Nicolas de Bourgueil and the use of helicopters in Montlouis as well as at Château de l’Aulée in Azay-le-Rideau.
The threat of frost is not yet over. Further low temperatures are forecast for this week. With a series of small vintages since 2012 Loire producers are desperately hoping to reduce frost damage to a minimum.