Marçon, Jasnières (Loire Valley) , oct 7
Welcome in Chenin Blanc country ... Benedicte de Rycke was on my visit wish list since I tasted her wines at the Porte de Champerret Paris spring wine fair . I had stopped at her stand because I wanted to taste a Jasnieres , and maybe because a female vigneron sparked my curiosity . I loved her Chenin Blanc wines and their delicate hazelnut aromas and freshness . Some of her cuvées, even though from vineyards in Jasnieres appellation, are labelled as Vin de Table.
The Jasnières Appellation is one of the many App. of the Loire valley, and it covers a very small area indeed : a 300 meter by 3 kilometer strip on the slopes parallel to the Loir river ( not the Loire : the Loir is a minor river which flows ultimately into the Loire ).
On the Loire appellations map , Jasnières is the northernmost one, in the middle ( grey patch between La Fleche and Orleans ) .
The total potential vineyard surface of the Appellation is 128 hectares, of which only 70 to 80 hectares are effectively planted , with about a dozen vignerons living off their activity. Here , when not in Jasnieres , the vineyard are in "Coteaux du Loir" Appellation.
When I called , Benedicte and her husband Thierry were busy with the last harvest days, which began 13 days ago . I thought that was a great opportunity to witness this crucial stage . It took me two hours and a half to get to Marçon on my motorcycle ( B. was sorry not to come along , but she was busy) . By the way , Benedicte de Rycke and Thierry are both motorcyclists ( wow , a woman-vigneron-biker , I love that...) . After a few words and warming up with a hot coffee, I followed them on their harvest duties, as they checked the harvester and hauled the grapes to the chai with a tractor , and at the press , as they monitored the slow flow of the juice .
I first spent some time near the press : an horizontal press ( not pneumatic ) which works fine , even if they are thinking about buying a new one someday . I marvel at the juice flowing in drops under the press... When you think that this turbid liquid will make a (I'm sure) great Chenin Blanc wine...Thierry takes a sample from the decantation vat to check the density : 12,5 . This is more than usually. And acidity is about 6-6,5 . He says it is always arduous to say good or bad just from this data . 2001 for example was not a good year in that regard (density was 10,5-11) but they made very beautiful dry wines out of this millesime . And in 2003 (hot wave year) they reached 12,5-13 , with very low acidity (5-6) but as they harvested earlier than their neighbours, they could preserve some acidity . Yet , 2003 wines here are not long laying down wines .
Benedicte de Rycke graduated from the Macon-Davayé Oenology School in Burgundy where she worked on Chardonnay . Then she worked in Sancerre, at Joseph Mellot . She loved the whites in general, their subtility . And as she later worked for the "Caves Saint Georges" in the former Bercy wine district in Paris, she discovered Chenin Blanc while on a visit at Fernand Moron, a Loire estate that makes Chaumes , Quart de Chaumes and Coteaux du Layon . She fell in love with the delicate aromas of Chenin Blanc and from then on, she had a plan to own a vineyard . She bought her first plots in Jasnières in 1985 and ultimately created her winery in 1989 .
She later met her husband Thierry , a computer consultant who owned also vineyards . After they married , they kept the estate under her maiden name .
Today , their total vineyard surface is about 5 hectare, mostly Chenin Blanc , plus some Pineau d'Aunis . [ see on the left, Benedicte helping maneuver the harvest load backwards to the press].
In spite of having all the plots in Jasnières App. zone , part of the production is in Vin de Table (Table Wine label) : 3 years ago, she proposed a Chenin blanc cuvée that she considered excellent to the tasting commission for the agreement (as it has to be done every year to get the appellation status).
The agreement was "adjourned", which means it was not bluntly refused , but that the wine had to be modified through blending with another cuvée before coming back to the agreement tasting (you have to pay for it each time).
Benedicte de Rycke shows me Chenin Blanc . Seems perfectly ripe , with some botrytized grapes here and there . She says the season has been close to perfect this year . We taste : sugar and vividness . Summer was very dry . At one point a short hailstorm damaged some of the grapes in july , but they rapidly healed as the weather turned dry again . Exceptional healthy year... Benedicte jokes and says when the year is good, she makes Table wine , and when year is so-and-so, she makes Jasnières Appellation wine...
Most of the harvest is done with a mechanical harvester, the steepest slopes being done manually . A first passage is done, when they pick manually the botrytized grapes or clusters with noble rot for the Cuvée Prestige . Asked about who in their couple makes the important decisions for the wine, she answers with alluding jokingly to what she calls her bad temper . In general, unlike Thierry, she does not like to be too cartesian, to have to rely on analysis at the lab : She tastes and decides if the time is right or not, as she feels it . About the vinification , she says she does not like the violent manipulations of the wine, like cooling down the juice , then heating it up to 28° C for extraction, like some others do . Also , no wood here , no casks , only stainless steel . In the other estates in Jasnières , vinification is usually either in Stainless steel , or old big capacity casks (foudres) which let the wine breathe but don't imprint a woody taste . Here , they are only both of them to work , so foudres would only add on the workload .
Clay filtration and since a few years , they use a soft technique : diaphragm-filtration (filtration pauvre en germe, in french) at bottling . She says the important thing also is to make the right choice as when to begin the harvest . The harvester is collectively owned by a group of Jasnières estate which is financially sound as the estates around here are quite small . We end up drinking a glass of bernache at a different stages, depending of the vat from wich it comes : Pure grape juice first , then the typically slightly-alcoholic-and-sweet bernache , one from Pineau d'Aunis , one from Chenin Blanc [ see picture below, this beautiful soon-to-be Chenin Blanc wine ].
It is almost dark when I leave , with the three bottles I bought ( between 5 and 6 Euro each ) plus the one she offers me : I will taste it with B. This is a Benedicte de Rycke Jasnières Cuvée Tradition 1998 . She says this dry wine was made with nice ripe grapes . It seemed very fresh, with lots of acidity then, quite too vivid . She bottled it with a little of its own gas so as not to put SO2 and yet protect it , making it slightly sparkling ( the word in french is "perlé" , when there is just a hint of sparkling in the wine ) . She says since last year , the wine develops aromas of hazelnut and dry fruits . 3 days later , we taste : Clear yellow with greenish reflections . B. says the nose reminds her the first time she had a glass of Chenin Blanc . Hazelnut , freshness . Honeyish side I would say also . B. adds : neat, purity in the mouth . Average length . Pleasant retro-olfaction with some citrus . The "perlé" light sparkling has disappeared . After relaxing a few minutes with our glass at hand and then smelling it again, it seems much more aromatic, more complex after this delay . Great visit and great bottle , thank you Benedicte and Thierry .