2009 in Touraine: Highlights and Memories of a Great Year

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Our year in France started once again last February with the Salons des Vins de la Loire in Angers. This is a great venue for any wine amateur or professional, to sample new releases and meet with some of the great wine producers in the Loire Valley. Over 600 wine-makers were present, with all appellations represent, big and small.

It was a good year weather wise in Touraine, starting with a decent spring, a typically hot July and August with perhaps a little less moisture than is usual for this area, and most recently September which was picture perfect. In fact, as harvesting got underway in most regions the week of Sept. 27th, a little rain would be welcome by most opinion, but never too much at this time of year of course. Both Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc were plentiful on the vines, and most growers I met with were very pleased with the quality to date. There were some early signs of rot in the vines in Vouvray which they are monitoring of course, but at this point it all looks good. Perhaps some great sweet Moelleux this year?

We have just arrived back in Vancouver following our last week on the ground in Touraine. The weather was spectacular, and with harvest in full swing in all areas our timing was simply perfect. The week was organized for a group that asked us to combine aspects of our History & Wine and our Regional Cuisine & Wine for them. It was a packed week for sure. We ate like Kings and Queens of long ago, soaked up as much history as we could manage and sampled regional wine at every opportunity.

One highlight was our visit to the Chateau Chenenceau, often referred to as the Ladies Chateau due to the many powerful women who lived here in the XVI and XVII centuries, Chenenceau is a wonderful place to visit for those who are interested in Renaissance history. The Chateau which played a vital role in the life of the French Monarchy of this era is still adorned with its original furniture, many great works of art including original tapestries.

We had a foie gras tasting with Edouard Clement at Chateau du Vau in Ballan-Mire. Our good fortune had us arriving to a table laden with home made riette (pork pate) and two varieties of Edouard’s foie gras that we were eager to taste. After a tour of the farm and the kitchens we settled into our tasting accompanied by 2 bottles of Vouvray Moelleux Reserve 2003. Fresh bread, duck and goose foie gras, fleur de sel and sweet Moelleux wine… what a decadent treat.

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We harvested Grolleau grapes with organic wine-maker Sebastien Brunet at Domaine de la Roche Fleurie in Chancay. All grapes were picked by hand and participants had a great time calling out to Le Hauteur who would run over so that we could dump our basket of just picked grapes into his 80 kilo capacity (175 lbs) bin on his back. The group enjoyed an hour of picking grapes under a picture perfect blue sky. Back breaking work for sure if we had to do it all day, and impressive to see in operation. We headed back to Sebastien’s cellar, which is an enormous cave carved out of the limestone centuries ago and expands approximately 12 kms (7.5 miles) underground. There we saw grapes pressed, tasted the first pressed juice and had lunch with Sebastien and his team of harvesters before they headed back out to the vines. The group will just have to come back next fall to taste their hard earned contribution to the Sparkling Methode Traditionelle Rose of 2009.

The Royal Abbey in Fontevraud is one of the most significant Monastique sites in all of Europe. Dating back over 800 years, the tombs of Kings and Queens of the early Angevin dynasty are there to be seen. Henri Plantagenet (Henri II), Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lion Heart, Henri’s son, are buried side by side in the Abbey. The tombs are in perfect condition even after sitting quietly for 8 centuries. Many years later, the Abbey was turned in to a prison by Napoleon, and was used as such during the World Wars and until the last prisoner left in 1985. The Abbey grounds are impressive and it was well worth a morning visit.

Following Fontevraud, we headed to one of my favorite villages nearby, Chinon. The old city centre is beautiful and our group enjoyed lunch in a local café and a walk-a-bout on the old city streets.

We followed our visit to Chinon with a stop on the bluffs near Cravant les Coteaux and Panzoult. Chinon is arguably home to the finest cabernet franc in the world. My favorites are usually the barrel aged Vielles Vignes that are silky smooth with good fruit aromas and have soft tannins. The harvest teams were hard at work in vines nearby and we enjoyed watching them with a glass of Jacques Grosbois’s 2005 Vielles Vignes Cabernet Franc in our hands. This organic Cab Franc was a gorgeous ruby colour with vivid red berry fruit, a perfect way to end our afternoon before our farewell meal at Au Soleil Levant in Monnaie that evening.

We headed to Juno Beach in Normandy, where Canadian forces landed on D-Day, as well as the Juno Beach Centre. I was also able to arrange a quick meeting with friends Alain Berthelot, the Mayor of Larre, a little village in Normandy, and his wife Catherine. Alain, a local Military Historian, is forever greatful to the Allies who liberated this part of France and in particular a group of young Canadian and British aviators who crashed in a farmer’s field in his town. A monument has been erected in memorial of these soldiers, where we met Alain for a brief ceremony. It was a quick stop but very moving for us Canadians to experience the reverence in which our soldiers are held by local citizens in this part of France.

The Juno Beach Centre, coupled with a stop at the Canadian Military Cemetery in Beny-sur-Mer, were very emotional to visit. Speaking for the group, we were all very pleased to have had the opportunity to visit this area of Normandy. Words can not do it justice.

Whether we are visiting a 500 year old Renaissance Chateau, tasting wine with wine-makers who have been in Touraine for generations, savouring the local cuisine, or even experiencing the D-Day landing beaches in not too far off Normandy, the local history, culture and traditions that are the fabric of daily life in the Loire are all around to discover and enjoy.


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