Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Wine Journey along the Loire

Two weeks earlier than usual, our return journey took us from Nantes along the Loire and the Cher (a tributary of the Loire), where we were able to visit some of our wine-growers.

While driving through the Muscadet region, we noticed that the soil of the wine-growing areas which are farmed conventionally was not "naked," as it usually is, but that it was covered with reddish brown plants. Guy Bossard, a Demeter wine-grower, explained this to us: The large increase in the price of herbicides has caused those wine-growers who use conventional methods to spray the herbicides 3 to 4 weeks later than usual. This means it was not possible to prevent the first growth of grass and "weeds," and that these were not destroyed until they had grown 10 to 20 centimeters high. While the grass and weeds are dying off, they take on a reddish brown color. All in all, these wine-growers are trying to reduce the number of times they spray the herbicides each year in order to limit costs. We found the state of the wine-growing areas a disgrace for the entire Muscadet region, in which there are only two wine-growers who produce organic wine.

Guy Bossard, who had announced our arrival by telephone to Virginie Joly (Clos de la Coulée de Serrant), told us how it is possible to preserve the environment and to grow wine using organic methods. He knew that she had planted young vines along a stone wall and advised her to collect the snails which were hiding in the wall and which would emerge when it rained before they were able to eat the shoots of the young vines.

All of the wine-growers complained about the bad harvests in 2007 (constant rain and peronospora) and in 2008 (a heavy frost on April 7 which froze the young shoots), both of which threatened their existence. They are able to cope financially with one bad year, but 2 years is more than they can handle, and they are hoping that 2009 will be a good year.

We had actually intended to visit a "new" wine-growing estate in the Appellation Vovray, but it wasn't important enough for us to want to walk through the vineyards in the pouring rain without rubber boots.

Catherine Roussel and Didier Barouillet at the Clos Roche Blanche have already rented out half of their vineyards (9 hectares) and are planning to retire within the next few years, if they are able to find a successor. The Dauny family in Sancerre has no worries in this respect, since their oldest son is presently assuming responsibility for their wine estate.

To sum up our trip: It's a good feeling to be working with wine-growers who are quality-oriented and environmentally aware and who provide us with high-quality, pure wines with strong characters. These are organic wines which we like to drink ourselves and which we can offer to our customers with a clear conscience.

Erich Hartl

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