Pouillé-sur-Cher, Touraine (Loire)
When I first met Junko Arai ( on the right ) and chai master Noella Morantin, very briefly during the Angers Loire Valley wine fair in january, I asked about the possibility to visit the estate in Mareuil sur Cher and was kindly invited to . But busy schedules delayed that day. I called once 1 or 2 months ago and Junko Arai was leaving for Japan. The second time was the right one. My interest was both because I was impressed by her wines (I still vividly remembered her atypical Gamay 2003), and also that I was eager to learn more about a japanese woman settling down in the middle of France to make wine...
Junko Arai, who bought her vineyards early 2002 ( 1st harvest in 2002 ) did not enter the wine world from scratch . She runned a wine importation business from France to Japan ( and still does today ) named Cosmojun . This importer job allowed her to meet many different vignerons and wineries across France . Replying me as I lauded what I appreciated in the japanese civilities and delicate ways , even in Tokyo , she said she symmetrically fell in love with everything she saw in this part of the Loire Valley, with the relaxed ways and quality of life of its villages . So, when she learned her friends at Clos Roche Blanche were selling a few hectares of vineyard, she decided to invest and make the big jump.
Noella Morantin, her chai master who also works in the vineyard, is working with Mrs Arai since last year . The cursus of this charming young woman, who looks like a pioneer woman when she rides with apparent ease her giant de-earthing machine [ see the picture above , shot last spring and the one on the right in the cellar ], is interesting : Previously in the advertising field, she decided to change direction in 2000, followed a viticulture-oenology BTS degree . Then she completed her training with a few months as a trainee at Agnès & René Mosse' estate , where she learned the skills of the job . She also spent some time with Philippe Pacalet and Marc Pesnot.
Pascal Potaire was the one who fine-tuned all the details when
she sat at the wheel as chai master for the first time . She shows me the vineyard, on the slopes above the cher river : 6,6 hectares altogether, clustered on both sides of a small paved road going down to Pouillé ( a village ) and to the river . The church tower and some roofs are visible from here ( picture on top ). Sauvignon on the right and Gamay on the left of the road.
Junko Arai joins us as we walk along the plots [ see on the left : I witnessed her typical japanese perfectionism at harvest time . Here, meticulously sorting the Gamay grapes ] . Noella says the work these days is de-budding and tying up, wich is, after having lowered the wires, close them back up on the vine shoots and hold them with staples . This is a lot of work , done manually . And many of these tasks are achieved later than usual in the season , due to the very cold winter and early spring . Another thing to do : Topping and trimming with shears, to concentrate the sap on the grapes and limit the expansion upward.
The estate was in organic viticulture from the start, and moved progressively to biodynamy . As the plots are clustered and lined by woods on both sides of the slope, there is no disturbance by neighbouring "traditional" treatments, except for one plot on the top of the hill, wich runs alongside a plot of another estate . I did not post the picture (I had to make choices), but the transition between both of these plots is very visual : A little too square and neat on one side, and relaxed with grass left between the rows on the other side...
Sauvignon vines are on the average 40 to 60 year old, with nice and fine grapes . Gamay vines are 15 to 20 year old .The plots Junko Arai bought were organicly managed since 1992 . All the plots are on AOC Appellation . But remember that in France AOC geographical zone is not enough to have AOC mentioned on a label , but the wines must pass the agreement yearly , usually a blind tasting by a panel of tasters of the region who determine if the wine fits the traditional charecteristics of the given AOC . If it does'nt pass the test , the wine will be labelled as Vin de Table, wich is not really a problem if the wine is nice and has a solid customer base . Here, the Sauvignon gets the agreement each year while the others, including her Gamay, don't get it and are sold as Vin de Table . A big help to start this winery was to have people like Michel Augé , D. Barrouillet & and C. Roussel , and Pascal Potaire nearby and who were eager to share their own experiences with the common goal of making natural wines. Many vignerons would be happy of such a proximity and expertise sharing . Les Bois Lucas' wines are of course exported, on a 50% average ( 70% for 2003, because of a smaller production and the necessity to satisfy the japanese customers ) to Japan where the whole range of her cuvées are sold, and also to Belgium and Switzerland .
We drive now to the chai : temperature begins to be high, out there in the vineyard ...
The chai is located in an old farm that Junko Arai bought last year. It is set in bucolic surroundings and the chai is more practical than the one she used previously . Inside : resin vats , 4 troconic vats ; 3 with 40-50 hectoliter capacity, one of 16 hectoliter, coming from Clos Vougeot ( one wine old ) . Also a dozen or two of casks . The resin vat is used for bottling by gravity . On the side , a few "pupitres" , or riddling tables for the sparkling rosé . While we visit the chai, a vigneron from Vouvray, drops a few minutes to determine when he'll proceed to the manual disgorging of the bottles [ see picture above as he looks at the bottles ] . After this operation, they will not add a special dosage, but use the same wine instead to make up the difference .
Some tasting now !
__1 We begin with this very rosé, but the 2004 one : Bottled with temporary cap , a "rosé pétillant naturel" . Still a year or two before reaching the market .
__2 A red : Gamay, 1st harvest 2004 ( cask ) . Doesn't mean they have successive pickings , but they harvest the different plots separately . This Gamay will make the " Cuvée Kuniko" after having been blended with other casks . This 1st harvest had a carbonic maceration, in a tronconic vat . I remember the 2003 millesime of this wine . They say it reached 15° with 3-4 g resid. sugar . Sold out .
__3 Red : Gamay, last harvest 2004 ( total of 4 harvests for Gamay) . Manually picking of course in the estate , with temporary workers hired for the occasion . Nose lightly acetate, she says, but less than 0,4 of volatile . Traditional maceration for this one . Among the 4 harvests for Gamay, 2 were carbonic, 2 traditional . Junko Arai says she is discovering the Gamay potentials . She says this grape variety, with the right winemaker decisions, can be great , and that a lot more can be obtained , than the usual ananas, strawberry, and banana aromas .
__4 Red . Gamay 2nd harvest . Malolactic fermentation going on . Late timing ( cold winter ), but moving at its own pace, patience ...
__5 Red . Gamay 4th harvest again, from a bigger cask, a ton (500 liter) . Some gas, but at this stage, it protects the wine .
__6 Red . Gamay 3rd harvest, carbonic maceration . Still 5 g resid. sugar . Very fresh nose, pleasant with the sugar .
__7 Red .
Cabernet Franc 2004 . Only 5 casks, two 500 liter and three 225 liter . 1st harvest . This one comes from a 500 liter new cask, which explains it is more woody than the others . Will stay 12 months there altogether.
__8 Red . Cabernet Franc 2004, 2nd harvest [ picture on the left, with Junko Arai holding the wine thief ] Will be blended with the other Cabernet Franc casks . Very nice nose . The cask is a Francois Freres ( 2 wines old ) .
__9 Red . Cabernet Franc . 2nd harvest too, but different cask : a Blanchard new cask ( Blanchard is a cooperage of the Loire Valley ) . I like the nose of this one too .
__10 White . Sauvignon . 7 harvests for the Sauvignon . Surprising nose, with ananas and orange juice . Turbid ( no filtration at Les Bois Lucas ). In the mouth, same striking aromas, plus orange peel . 1 to 2 gr remaining . Like it . Will stay one year in there .
__11 White . Sauvignon . Other cask . Nose is more mineral here, less on the fruits . Mouth is more sugary .
__12 Sauvignon . From another cask . Clear, less turbid . Mouth is slightly different, also with some sugar left . Nice wine . Noella looks at the hole on the top of the cask and says that if we listen carefully, we should hear some bibbling, as the malolactic fermentation is still going on .
__13 Sauvignon . 6th harvest . New cask here . 1st nose, a little toasted bread, which is normal with a new cask. No problem , she says , it will be blended with the others. 5-6 gr remaining . ML fermentation is achieved . 14° alcohol . The Sauvignon is granted an exemption by the INAO control body for its high alcohol .
__14 Sauvignon . 2nd harvest . More acidity here . ML not over . More turbidity because the sugar is not eaten yet . Nice mouth nonetheless .
__15 Sauvignon , 5th harvest .
__16 Sparkling Rosé for the end, we end with the one we began with , the 2004 . Second millesime ( the other is 2003__No rosé was made in 2003 ). I am not very familiar with the natural sparkling rosés , but that is a good introduction , I think . This type of hot weather asks for this type of light wine.
Sommeliers , students ( in relation with wine ) from Japan are among the regular visitors in the estate . Here, from left to right : Shinichi,Yoshi and Takashi .
Les Bois Lucas : 7 rue de Montrichard 41110 Mareuil sur Cher .
Phone : +33(0)2 54 75 59 59 .
Junko Arai's website (in japanese__click on the drawing) .
Cosmojun.jp (Junko Arai's import-business website)