Being diagnosed with cancer, any form …… but in my case Prostate Cancer, definitely focuses the mind onto the most important things in life. Family is definitely top of my list and the relationship with my wife, my daughter and son in law, all three of whom have been “with me” every step of the way. Next comes my Buddhist philosophy and general approach to life I try hard to follow: a focus on “the here and now”, putting aside thoughts of things I have no control over, accepting the impermanence of absolutely everything, and a recognition of ones current stage of life and living it to the full.
It is into this latter element, living life to the full, that my hobby of Wine Appreciation fits and this includes wine collecting, exploring new grape varieties, visiting vineyards and meeting winemakers, wine tasting, reading about wine and …… writing about it.
One of my early memories of visiting vineyards in France is from 1988 when we visited the village and surrounds of Savennieres in the Loire Valley. We called in at only one vineyard, Chateau de la Roches Aux Moins (The Monks Rock), which has vines of the Chenin Blanc grape planted across 82 acres of mostly schist terrain. We were met by two old ladies, members of the Joly family, who gave us a very short tasting before only allowing us to buy a meagre THREE bottles of their very famous Coulee de Serrant 1987 vintage at £7 per bottle. It was a lot of money to us in those days, but buying a recent vintage today would cost closer to £40 per bottle direct from them. However, our favourite vineyard here is now Domaine du Closel at the Chateau des Vaults located in the centre of the village of Savennieres.
The Domaine is owned and run by Evelyne de Pontbriand, a 5th generation female winemaker here who says this:
“We are artisanal winemakers, artisans of taste and the art of French living. To visit and discover our dry white, red, rosés and sparkling wines is to taste Chenin Blanc from Savennières and Cabernet Franc from Anjou, feel under your feet the slopes of our slate hillsides warmed by the sun of Anjou, be dazzled by the light of the Loire, inhale the fragrances of old roses, hear the ocean breeze rustling in the foliage of the park’s old trees, experience a beautiful page of history in a traditional Anjou mansion.”
I have met Evelyne a couple of times, a sparkling, charming and friendly lady who is passionate about the history and biology of the Chenin Blanc grape.
Her tasting room is managed by Adeline, another enthusiast of Chenin Blanc who is a most patient as well as knowledgeable hostess, who has regularly taken us through a tasting of wines they make from each parcel of land, all quite different, and yet all made from the same grape and by the same winemaker with the same equipment! This is the magic of terroir, that small French word but with a gargantuan meaning and influence. Soil, water retention, slope, aspect, hours of sunshine, mean temperature, rainfall, …… all contributing to that magical influence on the growth of a grape and the resulting wine. Stand in a climat (field) here in Savennieres and look at the vines, then move maybe 50 metres in one direction, see the identical vines, but be aware that the wine produced from them will be very different from those viewed 50 metres away. Terroir, such an influence that can never be seen on such a scale of the thousands and thousands of acres of sprawling vineyards of California, Chile, Argentina …. it’s not their fault, it’s the massive variation in terroir in the Loire, Burgundy, Rhône……. in fact the whole of France.
So, what I’m leading up to here is the fun, then the sheer pleasure of tasting 4 different wines of the same grape (Chenin Blanc), made by the same winemaker (Domaine du Closel) but each made from grapes from different climats/fields. There really is a difference in each wines acidity, minerality, fruitiness, structure and balance. The price of these 4 shown below ranges from €14 to €39 mostly because of the ageing potential and the wines ability to develop into something much more rare. Great fun too with guests in your home, giving them all four to taste and seeing if they can work out the price/value of each, but sadly not this month as it’s still No Wine November!