Couffy, Touraine (Loire)
Christophe Foucher makes wine on the south bank of the Cher river, east of Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher. The winery is set in one of the outbuildings of his family home, and old farm, that you reach after a short uphill drive from the village, through the wooded slopes along the Cher. The Cher is a secondary river that ultimately flows into the Loire. It is bordered by several Loire Appellations like Chinon, Touraine and Valençay. Christophe Foucher works on a 5,5-hectare vineyard stretched on 7 different locations in the vicinity, some of them owned and the rest rented. He came to this life incidently, through his wife whose family had a few plots here. Originally from the city of Tours futher north along the Loire, he has been living here since 15 years but became a vigneron some 6 years ago, after he spent some time to help his father-in-law, on the vineyard, for pruning and other tasks. That's when he got the virus. He quit his former job which was in the teaching field and went back to school two years in Amboise to learn the basics of vinification. The enology teaching was of course conventional and additives-formatted but he remembers that they were a few thirtysomething-guys in the class who had other projects than simply reproduce the productivist scheme and knew enough to ask sometimes off-putting questions to the teachers.
The first vineyard we stop at is a Gamay plot. It is the most affected by mildew this year. This summer, although better than in 2007, has still been chaotic in terms of temperature changes and it has seen a surge in mildew occurences here and there, which is particularly annoying when like Cristophe Foucher, you don't rest on chemistry. He only uses copper sprayings occasionally but he is reticent to overuse even this milder treatment. He stopped spraying july 15th and doesn't want to spray again this year in spite of the mildew patches on the leaves, particularly on this Gamay block. When he sprays, this is with very conservative doses : 1,5 kg of mix per hectare, that is 4 to 5 times less than recommended. He also mixes some of his own concoctions to the spraying mix, either to dynamyse the vineyard, or to try something different.
He plows every other row, leaving the grass on the other and cutting it occasionally, including between the vines. He plowed 2 weeks ago and the grass hasn't come back yet. No fertilizers and no weedkillers here of course. The Gamay vines are 20 to 30 years old. He suddenly stops as we walk down a row : taking a cluster in his hands, he shows me a couple of isolated purplish grapes : the veraison has started. Good news, he says, because when veraison starts, mildew attacks can't succeed. The soil in this plot is of the type called "bournais", a clayish soil with virtually no stones. The nearest environment is composed of woods, other crops and conventionally farmed vineyards.
The second plot we drive through (they all are a few hundred meters apart) is a 30-40-year-old Sauvignon block near a wood. The stems stand high above the vines, as if looking for more light. He cut it one but as he felt that the vines had this drive for raising to the light, he let it go and didn't cut again. This vineyard got a baguette pruning, meaning a shoot is tied horizontally, the grapes growing on it. The other type of pruning, the "poussier", is when grapes grow around the vine. Sauvignon gives more grape growth when the grapes are at some distance from the vine, that's why baguette pruning is better. Plus, in 2007, all the poussier-pruned vineyards yield a smaller grape volume. He says that when he took over this plot at the beginning, many vines were dying of Esca (a vine disease) or eutypiose. He decided to cut (not uproot) the 100 to 200 troubled vines, took the wood away to burn it elsewhere, and let the vineyard in place. He soon discovered that the vines had grown again after a while, and apparently healthy. Mildew is less invasive on Sauvignon, compared with Gamay. He says that he wants to leave the reins to the vineyard, spraying it sometimes, but leaving it alone sometimes even if there's still some signs of disease. Many vignerons panic in front of damaged leaves, but the vineyard can live with it, and so do the grapes, as long as it is reasonably under control. He likes to say that he wants to "accompany" his vineyard rather than holding it tight.
The 4th vineyard block is his Rossignoux Sauvignon, cornered along thick woods on the slopes to the Cher river. Christophe Foucher says that he really likes walking and checking his different vineyards, at whatever season. He regrets that too many vignerons never really come in contact with their vineyards, and sit most of the time in athmosphere-controlled tractors. For him, his different vineyards and varieties send him messages when he wals by, they are alive, and he likes that. On the lower part of the block, very big flint stones (silex) come out at the surface, showing an interesting soil vein. In all, he has a 3-hectare surface of Sauvignon, spread out in the different blocks.
Christophe works basically alone on his 5,5-hectare surface. It is a maximum and he considers downsizing a bit. He gets some help from his father-in-law occasionnaly, and hires short-term for certains tasks, and for the harvest of course. The vineyard being organicly grown, it needs some manual work and frequent checks.
In all, he makes usually 5 cuvées, plus a couple of blends, which makes an average of 7 cuvées. But he doesn't want people to expect finding the same cuvées every year : the weather conditions and the millesimes bring different wines, and he will not try to force the wine to compel to a frame. The press in a traditionnal press, not pneumatic. He harvests in boxes, with a premilinary sorting on the vine, and another one in the boxes before emptying in the press (for the whites). The juice flows by gravity into a vat beneath the press. The reds : whole-clustered Gamay anfd Cot are poured into vats, the Cabernet Franc being destemmed in general, because the stem has more of this greenish, herbaceous unwanted aromas. Asked about the cot which I thought was often too tannic also because of its stem, he says that if the grape and cluster are healthy and with the right marurity, these anstringency is not dominant. But he still avoids moving the clusters in the vats, because that's also a factor which brings negative aromas. He doesn't look for excessive extraction. No punching of the cap here, only a bit of pumping over, and light foot-crushing on the bottom of the vat when it is being emptied. His reds are rather light and not loaded in tannins and extraction
Christophe Foucher invites me to taste a few 2007 wines from the casks where they still live their life in one of the buildings of this former farm. After we pass the small door next to the press, we walk into a first cask room with a few vats. The room communicates with a second cask room through a very low opening that you must kneel down through. The outbuilding was probably the pig house a century ago.
__Sauvignon 2007 (cask). Turbidity. Nice nose with some gaz. Mouth : light frame, this is 2007. Mouth : interesting alcohol/acidity balance. The advantage of 2007, where the Sauvignon reaches 12°-12,5° when in other years he can get 15°-16°. This wine is finishing its malolactic fermentation (takes its time...). For Christophe Foucher, letting the wine go through its malolactic fermentation is a guarantee for stability. It may take that much time because he doesn't use any industrial yeasts for both the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations. Also, he doesn't sulphur his wines during the fermentation process like many people do. The only sulphur involved here is the sulphur wick he uses one when the wine gets transferred into another container like the vat before bottling. And this sulphur wick, which is made of mineral sulphur, is very different in nature from the liquid sulphur that the enologists usually pour into the wine. He never uses this type of sulphur. At bottling, samely, no addition of any sort.
__Sauvignon 2007, other cask, a bigger cask : a "tonne",or 500-liter demi-muis from the Blanchard cooperage. This one is in its full-blown malolactic fermentation. Notes of caramel, fresh cream, which is typical of a wine in malolactic fermentation (the word "lactic" come from lait or milk). He is a litlle worried because his Sauvignons are late, which means that he has none of it to sale for yet a moment. The casks will not be ready for the soon-to-come 2008 wines but happily, he has other casks ready for that. The mouth is more generous and rich. It will be ready this autumn. It needs first to go through its malo, and sediment naturally, because Christophe Foucher desn't filter his wines.
He doesn't propose his wines at the agreement commissions for years, too much headache and trouble trying to get nodded by conventional fellow vintners who always look for stereotypes.
Speaking of his casks, he uses 4 to 5 year old casks. He takes seriously the quality of the wood for the casks he chooses. He tried to vinify in vats and in casks the same wine tocompare and it is really different, so he'll stick by the cask. More deepness and life in the wood.
__Menu Pineau 2007. Not finished yet. The other years, his fermentations are often finished at spring. the 2007 reds were more rapid than the whites. Ripe-orange aromas. Citrus. The Menu Pineau has a mouth ending on a bit of acidity and bitterness, but that will be noticeable when the wine will be ready, and this Menu Pineau will need even more time than the other : in spring 2009, says Christophe.
__Gamay Bouze Rosé 2007. Vivid red fruits aromas. Not turbid. A rosé on the dark side. Nice mouth. Thewine is ready, he says. He didn't check this cask for a while and it matured since the last time.
__We taste now a few bottles, and first, a Sauvignon "les Roussignoux" 2004, a wine that had veered oily at a stage, an accident that happens sometimes with natural wines : the wine gets very turbid and leaves greasy deposits on the inside of the bottle. Not dramatic in itself, it is annoying for the customers who wonder what is going on with their wine. That's why he kept this wine here, but it came back to normality after a while. Nose : some gaz, with some grapefruit aromas. A bit perly in the mouth, and a touch of acidity at the end. Christophe Foucher says that he leaves CO2 that comes out the fermentations in the wine, to protect it. This is the light perly feel here, but when the bottles are opened and the wine poured into the glasses, this gaz fades away fast and is not a problem. On the other side, it allowed the wine to avoid the sulphuring stage.
__Another red (bottle) : a Cabernet Franc (80%) Cot (20%) blend. A very light wine, with a morello cherry nose. Nice one. Ready to drink, he says. He harvested quite nothing in Cot in 2007 due to the difficult conditions. He picked the few surviving grapes one by one. 2007 is on the light side.
He says that every year at the harvest, he makes a yeast starter at the bottom of a vat, with the indigenous yeasts on the grapes' skin of course. He doesn't makes lab checks and trusts his feelings and intuition, learning every year.
__Last wine : a white, a Sauvignon 2005, bottled 3 days ago after a 3-year elevage. 3 casks of this wine. The grapes were nearly picked one by one, at 18°. Not really a late harvest, but the vinification was arduous. This wine worked on its sugar during three years. Nice oxydative wine. High alcohol, about 16 or 17°, he says. The cuvée has no name yet. A real Savagnin feel here, very nice, I like that. He says he didn't touch the wine during these nearly 3 years, except for the 6 months in a vat before bottling. Clear wine with a generous and warm mouth. It didn't get volatile in spite of very slow fermentations, he says. He ate the sugar during 3 years but kept the right balance. He says that in general, he intuitively feels right from the press stage if a problem may occur.
La Lunotte wines cost about 10 Euro at the estate, except this last Sauvignon cuvée which should cost more. He sells his wines to restaurants, a selection of wine shops, and exports to Japan .
Christophe Foucher and his wife raise two children in this beautiful house.