Planning our annual tip to France is always fun and this year we seem to have been busier than ever, August was full on finishing with a great time at Children in Need Carfest, the next weekend was our Autumn tasting and then bags packed off we fled to Newhaven to catch the Ferry to France.
Monday morning and firstly we set off for the wine store at Rivesaltes to deliver the wine we have already purchased to be put on a pallet ready for delivery to the UK.
After a few days break we make our way across the Spanish plains and visit Galicia from here we will move on to Ribera del Duero and Rioja.
Again we return to France where we visit two more of our wineries in the West of France. Then all to soon we are back on,the ferry to Portsmouth.
2017 trip to the Continent has been great we are adding two new wineries to the Carte and several new wines will be added too. Three weeks goes very quickly!
Château de la Tour Chollett
Sunday morning and we drop in to see Kirsty and Paul, all is calm here today as their white grapes have all been harvested and the red ones are hanging on the wines awaiting picking. Tuesday is the planned day to commence, firstly Merlot folled by Cabernet Franc and then after a couple of weeks the Cabernet Sauvignon should be ready.
Again we hear the same story reference 2017 vintage, due to the unusual weather this year, it is reported that in the Bordeaux Region yields could be 80% down on previous years. Paul however is hopeful that they haven't been hit this hard but won't know until the grapes have been harvested and then they will know the actual tonnage picked.
When it comes to blending each year's wine, the chef's hat must be put on , you will find the mix of grapes will vary from year to year and this when the skill of the wine maker comes into play. Paul and Kirsty do this here with a little help from their wine consultant Florent.
This year for the first time they have sold Chollet wine to the Japanese. Asia is becoming an importantmarket for wine growers in Europe.
Château Viella can be found in the village of Viella this is a beautiful area of rural France this year we are staying in the village in a B&B run by a lovely English lady.
Before we relax we call in at the Château and are greeted by Clair who is the owner’s daughter, she and her sister have just joined the team, her English is brilliant which of course makes our visit here much easier. We have arrived too late for their Concert evenings which is such a shame as the event takes place in the grounds of the Château with music food and a chance to sample the lovely wines from here-
Harvest hasn’t started yet but they plan to begin picking the coming week, we stock one of their red wines which contains the unusual grape Tannat, only grown in this area of France and it is reported that due to the anti-oxidant properties of this grape play an essential part of protecting against cardio-vascular disease!
Our biggest seller from here is the dessert wines, Louise d’Anne which pairs beautifully with tarte au citron and Vinosolis try this on Christmas day with your pudding – delicious.
We have stocked up on both wines in readiness for the festive season
Bodegas David Moreno,
We are now staying in Haro the Capital of Rioja and make our way to Bodegas David Moreno, we have been visiting this vineyard since 2003 where we happened on it one day when we were cycling around the area. We weren’t in the wine trade just wine enthusiasts so when we started Carte-du-Vin in 2010 David Moreno wines had to be included on the Carte.
Now fourteen years later we visit again, in 2016 this Bodegas was awarded ‘Mejor Bodegas Abierta al Turismo 2016’ with over 30,000 people visiting a year. We have phoned ahead and Rafa who is the Export manager is there to greet us, we have a couple of friends with us who haven’t been here before (they are great fans of Moreno wines!) so we get the complete tour. In the cellar, there are rows on rows of barrels as like the wine in Ribera, Rioja stays in barrels for months, the time varies depending on which type of wine being made as one of the great differences between Crianza and Gran Reserva is the time of maturation in mainly American oak.
There is one section kept in the cellar for wine purchased by members of ‘Club del Vino’, each barrel contains approximately 30 bottles of wine, once purchased the owner can visit regularly to taste the wine as it matures, when bottling takes place they are kept in locked crates and can be either taken away for drinking of enjoyed with a meal in the restaurant which is also situated in the cellar – what fun!
We have been out of stock of Blanco and Rosé for several months and need to stock up on reds, purchases made and we leave the winery.
Bodegas Prios Maximus
We leave Galicia and make our way to Ribera del Deuro the sun shines and we arrive at our Hotel which is a converted Monastery with Thermal Pool in time for a quick glass of Rose before we meet Dani at Prios.
This is our fourth year at this Bodegas and what a change, on our first visit we had to clamber over pipes, boxes etc the tasting was on a barrel in the middle of the store room, what a difference four year’s make! the Bodegas has been transformed and now is a ‘state of the art’ winery. New shiny machinery for bottling de-stemming etc. the cellar where the barrels are stored has also been updated with wooden stays to hold them steady and enable a fourth row to be stored. All the red wine made here is stored in either French, American or Hungarian barrels for at least 6 months. There are new Offices, Conference Room and tasting area, it is now the most stunning building.
To make this transformation has taken a lot of time and planning but this has not been to the detriment of the wines as this is the main concern of the family. Picking has started earlier this year and like the other vineyards we have visited the yield is down but the quality of grapes is superb so 2017 vintage should be a good one.
We have stocked Samieras 1040 for several years but never had the opportunity to visit the Vineyard or meet Antonio the vigneron.
So, Sat Nav set, off we go - if only it was that easy we had one of those times where we just went around in ever decreasing circles, then when travelling through a small village we noticed a sign on a door and bingo we had found Bodegas Samieras.
A lovely young man welcomed us he was Antonio’s son, they are busy harvesting now but luckily after a phone call Antonio could join us so we could sample the wines, firstly we tasted the juice of grapes picked just days earlier at this stage the liquid is very cloudy and sweet but even now there are subtle differences to each varietal they certainly have their own character.
Onto tasting the actual wines, firstly we try 1040 it is a very elegant wine and the vintage we try today is as lovely as always. We also sample another wine this is just called Samieras Blanco again a mixture of grapes traditional for this area, we decide to add this wine to our list.
Samieras is a very small vineyard and the whole wine making process is completed in the garage at the side of their house still very professional but very compact!
J.L Denois Artisan Vigneron
We have been looking for a tradition Cremant from France as an alternative to Champagne.
After some research, we are pleased to say we have found Jean Louis Denois who originally came from Champagne and is now making his Cremant in the traditional champagnoise method. The wine we have purchased here is a mix of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir,
All grapes on this estate are picked by hand, carefully placed in small trays and transported to the cellar without any further disturbance, they are then put directly into the de-stemmer this means the grapes are nurtured and handled as little as possible to make sure the best quality juice is extracted to make the wine.
The Cremant from here is delicious and will soon be available on our carte, this decided on we then had the opportunity to taste further wines made by this vigneron, he is making a 100% organic and sulphite free red wine from the vineyard he acquired in 2006 in the upper Val d’Argy the grapes here are exceptional because of their low yields and superior quality, he has developed his own unique concept in wine making which he calls “grand cru protocol” that integrates organic growing principles and his families tradition of deep respect of the vines themselves. The wine produced is truly fresh and flavourful with no evidence of oxidation. If not drunk in one sitting it is possible to keep the bottles open for a couple of days and they will keep their stability and flavour. Can’t wait to try this wine in the UK.
Yet we are not sure if we will be stocking these sulphite free wines but we have taken 6 bottles to sample at home and who knows are next visit tom the area we may be adding these wines to our list.
Thursday we have been invited to join Jonathan & Rachel at Domaine Treloar for lunch, they have both been up since first thing as harvest is in full swing here. By the time we arrive they will have picked several tons of grapes transported them back to the vineyard where they are de-stemmed and put into tanks to start fermentation.
At present there are 12 hectares being harvested but it has been decided to clear 2 plots as the vines have contacted a virus, so need to be destroyed and then they will let the land rest for a couple of years before replanting.
This is one of the first wines we started stocking and we have stayed at the Vineyard several times, It is great to catch up with everyone. We enjoyed a lovely BBQ and tasted the new vintages on offer with the lunch. Wine ordered we leave Jonathan about to give a tour of the vineyard to two groups, as we have said before the life on a vineyard is not easy and especially at this time of year there is little time for rest.
After a pleasant lunch looking at the Mediterrean we move onto the next vineyard.
Château Rouquette is owned by the Boscary family, they have been making wine here for four generations, today Jacques, Dominique, their two sons Arnaud and François run the estate which nestles atop the cliffs of La Clape region of Languedoc in 420 hectares of pine forest and Mediterranean scrub, Château Rouquette’s 58 hectares of vines are planted in small plots overlooking the sea. Consequently, in summer they reap the benefit of refreshing sea breezes, which evaporates and allows for slower, fuller maturing of the grapes.
We were met by Jacques himself and were treated to an informative trip around the property followed by the opportunity to taste the wines produced here. Once back in the tasting room we had the most wonderful tasting, there was the opportunity to try every wine produced here starting with a refreshing Rose and finishing with a sample of L’Absolu which is a Decanter Trophy winner and sells for 68 euros. With each sample we were given a fresh glass so that the wine can be enjoyed at it's best. What a special afternoon we had here – ‘thank you’ to all at Rouquette.
Today we have been joined by friends from home, no rest though we are visiting two vineyards today.
The first visit is to Domaine Grangette where we buy our Picpoul de Pinet, we have stocked this wine for 6 years and its popularity in the UK grows all the time.
Grangette is a family owned Estate and the running or the vineyard has been taken over by the daughter of Michel Moret, Christabel and her husband have given up their life, working in the city to be able to spend more quality time with their young children. Their life on the vineyard is hard but they have reclaimed valuable family time.
We are welcomed and have a tasting, the wine as always is of a great quality, they are trying to diversify and are making several new wines, from 30 hectares which are planted with many varietals of grapes, obviously the main seller is the Picpoul which is only grown here, this year the vines have been decimated by frost in April Christabel tells us they have lost over 50% the harvest, on the plus side though like other vineyards they are finding the quality is excellent.
Wine purchased we move further south to Narbonne Plage.
We leave Corbêires and continue to the next wine region of Minervois
Phillipe is another passionate small producer with a vineyard of 10 hectares his care for his land is second to none and the reward is delicious wines.
Similar to the other producers we have met this year the harvest is looking good but the yields will be low as April this year the vines were caught by a frost and Philipe reckons that 1/3rd of his crop was destroyed.
Château Spencer la Pujade.
Next stop Corbiéres where Sebastian is waiting for us at Château Spencer la Pujade, he is the nicest man and a very talented wine maker. We had a quick tasting this included sampling the P’tite Soeur Rosê which has just been put in tanks to ferment at this stage it is cloudy a little effevesant the taste is of a sweet juice very pleasant but not wine yet! To help the process the wine is drained from the tanks and aireated through a filter (see phot attached).
Wine purchased, loaded and off we go to the next vineyard.
Our last visit today is further south again a small producer near Montpellier they are still in the Languedoc region.
We normally see Brice here but he was not available today as he and his wife had just had their second baby, so now with two children under 2 Sundays are a family day.
However as always we were given a warm welcome by Elisabeth and Franscois Jourdan who are the owners of the vineyard, here like most of our suppliers this is a family run business and their daughter who is very talented in handicrafts is selling beautiful handbags and necklaces in the tasting room.
We buy two wines from here a red which is a mix of three red grapes a very easy drinking red for all occasions and pairs well with winter casseroles, the other wine is a rosé the grape used for this is Aramon traditional to this area but only grown now by the Jourdans, in the past it was used in red wine but not well regarded however as a Rose it is delicious.
Domaine Berthet Rayne
Sunday morning and we visit one of original suppliers in the Côtes du Rhone Village Cairaane Domaine Berthet-Rayne.
Since our last vsit this family run vineyard have created a new tasting room for Degustation’s and it may have only been 10;30am on a Sunday morning but the room was full of customers buying wine.
Marina and Andrê have now handed over the marketing of the vineyard to their daughter Alexandra. So now it is possible to follow news from the vineyard on Facebook and Instagram.
100k further south we drop in at Domaine Grangeneuve we have now been stocking their wines for 3 years and we are here today to re-stock our shelves.
This is a great time to be in France as all the vineyards are starting their harvest and all our producers are saying that 2017 should be a great vintage the grapes being picked are of an excellent quality but the quantity will be down due to the lack of rain during the growing months.
Domaine du Murinais – Crozes Hermitage
Saturday and it is raining no problem as we need to head south to visit a new Domaine in the Northern Cotes du Rhone.
Crozes Hermitage is now a popular choice of wine in the UK but 20 years ago things were different there was little call for wines from this area. Luc joined the family business in 1998 at this time his father was specialising in soft fruits and although there were 17 hectares of grapes these were picked and sent direct to the Co-operative. Luc however saw an opportunity to make a quality wine from the excellent vines that were growing here.
He set out to learn the wine making trade by visiting various vineyards in Burgundy and Southern Rhone, returning to the Domaine with excellent blending skills.
Today the winery makes 65,000 bottles of wine a year, an elegant white which is a 50/50 mix of Roussanne and Marsanne grapes and three different reds made from the traditional Crozes Hermitage grape varietal Syrah, these wines differ in quality which is decided by the age of the vines and terroir.
We are going to stock Crozes Hermitage Blanc – Cuvee Marine and Crozes Hermitage Rouge – Vielles Vignes they will be ready for sale by mid October.
Pierre Brigandat & Fils – Channes
Arriving at Dieppe at 5:00 am we make our way to the first producer on our list.
Travelling along country roads towards #PierreBrigandat & Fils the villages are decorated with paper flowers this was for the annual “Route du champagne fête 2017” where the estates’ cellars open their doors to one and all, for 20 euros you can visit 24 different growers and taste their bubbles. It’s on foot you are given a map, champagne flute in the form of a pendant then off you go! Unfortunately, we were a month late for this festival but a date for the diary for another year.(for further details of the fete visit www.aube-champagne.com)
We have been invited to join Bertrand and his workers for lunch, the grapes are being harvested now and the vineyard is very busy but its 12 o’clock and all work stops for a cup of Champagne and a chat followed by a traditional 3 course lunch with wine – delicious!
After a quick look, around to see the start of the process to change Pinot Noir red grapes into the wonderful champagne we all enjoy, we load the car with Champagne and get back on the road to find the Auberge we have booked for the night.