I guess that vistors dropping without warning to taste a few wines are the curse of the hard-working vigneron, especially when the last vintage we're supposed to taste has brought much smaller volumes like in this oart of the Loire. But that's what we did so blatantly and unashamedly the other day. All right, we're not just like any visitors and it had been a while since we spent some time in the cellar, so this was an excuse good enough for us cellar rats to get treated with holy drops...
The troublesome weather in 2012 didn't necessarily turn out to be a problem for the end wines, as a tasting through the region made us learn. The volumes were low but the grapes were healthy and with a good potential.
The familiar sign was there on the right hand when you took the narrow road leading to the house up there on the hill, but there was something unusual on the left, the mailbox didn't fit my radar perception, it was brightly colored and a closer watch showed a nice painting of stylized bottles on one side, and another one featuring a glass of red on top. I learnt later that this was the artwork of Claire, Catherine's multi-talented daughter (pictured here by Jim Budd). Where's the wine, you would ask ? It's on the side, on top, particularly for the latter under the shape of a glass of wine and the words "Mieux vaut boire du rouge que broyer du noir", which means somthing like "better to drink red wine than to be black mooded" (see pic at the bottom).
This spring is for sure unusually cold and wet, and the good side is that there are plenty of wild flowers around the vineyards farmed without herbicides. Here on Clos Roche Blanche vineyards, I could gauge the scope of the rain that fell in the last weeks by the thickness and health of the weeds. Didier was not that stressed about it. The temperature in may (in 2013) has been unusually low, 6 ° C lower than the average of the last 30 years, it certainly plays a role in the slowness of the foliage growth. There's a lot of humidity and growers are anxious because for example last weekend (may 19-20)the rainfall around here reached between 30mm and 65 mm, and in Anjou they had in place up to 90 mm (a grower from there called him to tell about it). Just to have an idea, the average rainfall here is 600 mm a year, so this is really a lot of rain for just 2 days. Otherwise there's no didease because the didease needs higher temperatures. They will have to watch and be careful two weeks from nown because with the rising temperatures it will be more tricky on this front.
It's almost a month late in terms of growth for the vines and the foliage compared to the precocious years in the recent past, so this delay must be relativized, as since the years 1985/1986 the growth and ripeness tended to be early. before that time, the harvest never began before early october in the region. Then with the warming trend the harvest tended to happen in september or even like in 2003 in late august. Didier remembers that the worst he experienced was 1977, in that year they began to harvest october 17 and it was not ripe yet. In 2013 he thinks it could be a year with a harvest in october, even maybe in mid october if the low temperatures that have been forecasted materialize.
This parcel which was planted in 1991 has always been organic, it is used often for the Sauvignon N°2 but sometimes for the N°5, depends of the year. There's no disease like Esca on this parcel. This is also the only parcel on an acidic soil, and on certain vintages it yields very interesting wines that they try to put forward. He always vinifies the parcel separately and checks how it shows.
This parcel by the way is dubbed Catherine's parcel because this is the one she like to work on. Bad-mouthed people say that it's because it's the closest one from the house and I added a layer of calomny by suggesting that she liked this parcel because it was sitting next to the woods where she finds her favorite mushrooms (see this story)...
We spoke also about the difficult weather and vintage in 2012, Didier Barrouillet says that it was a long list of negative accidents, a bit of frost first, then lots of disease, mildew, but no hail damage, and the harvest volume was down 65 % compared to a normal year. the good side was that there was no rot on the grapes. Speaking of sprayings Didier says that he doesn't like to spray (even the organic-sanctionned ones) and he sprayed even a bit less than the minimum for these kind of conditions. He still made 7 sprayings while elsewhere the organic vineyards that got a better result in term of harvested volume went through 14 sprayings. They had also some losses but much less than the ones at Clos Roche Blance. THe problem is that these sprayings are not neutral and that he himself prefers to keep the copper sprayings at a minimum.
The volumes of 2012 are indeed much smaller than normal but 2011 was a good year in terms of volume here and they still have some of this wine to sell, so they're not too worried, it helps satisfy the customers. 2010 was also a good vintage in this regard.
__ Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon N°5 2012, poured from a small tronconic vat in the depth of the cave cellar. Vivid, very lively. Mineral wine. There wasn't any N°2 made in 2012 because of the low volumes. The whole Sauvignon of 2012 fills only two 13-hectoliter tronconic vats. On a normal year they make 4 or 5 times this volume, in 2011 for example they made 160 hectoliters of Sauvignon, compared to 25 in 2012. Catherine says that in addition to the frost and the mildew, there was the bad blossoming and also the drought in the middle of summer.
__ Clos Roche Blanche Gamay 2012. Bottled not long ago. The color is relatively dark. Aromas of black cherries, liquorice. Allocations will be sparse because of low volumes. Catherine says that yesterday they had a bottle of Gamay 2011 and after one year élevage in the bottle the gamay tastes very nicely.
__ Clos Roche Blanche, L'Arpent Rouge 2010. A red pineau d'aunis, bottled recently; it needs to recover, Catherine says. Familiar pepper notes on the nose, and in the mouth the tannins are still forward. Pineau d'Aunis is the only variety here where they didn't have any mildew occurences, even the leaves were neat, Didier says. This local variety is more resistant, Catherine says, adding that it's a shame that in spite of its local heritage, the variety is in the process to be banned from the Touraine Rouge appellation. We're speaking about the issue of Vin de France (table wine) labelling versus Appellation labelling and Catherine says that on the former they can't even put Clos Roche Blanche in the fine print, as the appellation administration considers that the word "Clos" is too qualitative for a table-wine labelling it wants to keep as vulgar and derogative as possible. An inspiring hint giving an insight into the particular mindset of the French appellation bodies...
__ Clos Roche Blanche cuvée Pif 2012, bottled a week before. I'm not making this up but Pif, the old dog joined us right when we were tasting his namesake cuvée, as if it had felt the vibes... This good dog is quite old now (14) and he doesn't see or hear well, and it probably realized suddenly that his masters weren't around the house so he looked for them in the cellar... Pif in French slang means as well nose (red nose, possibly) as cheap, easy-drinking wine, we say, like, une bouteille de pif or Beaujol'pif (for Beaujolais).
The juice is relatively dark too, the juice being concentrated in 2012 because of the drought. Vinified in stainless-steel vats. 28 hectoliters in total for this wine. Pif is a blend of Côt & Cab Franc.
__ Clos Roche Blanche cuvée Pif 2011 (from a bottle). They still have lots of this wine. It begins to taste well now, says Didier, as time passes, the tannins being round now. the wine wasn't filtered, just sedimented through cold temperature.
__ Clos Roche Blanche Sauvignon No 2 2011. Back to a white. From a bottle. Very tasty, very good balance, with vividness and richness.
__ Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Côt 2009. Tasted very good, but II didn't take notes.