Life in the Loire after lock-down. 20th May. Day 10 of déconfinement.

Wow! Vines in the Loire valley are in flower. The Cabernet Franc at Domaine de la Noblaie in the Chinon appellation is off and raring to go.

We say that there are 100 days from flowering to harvest so based upon that we’re looking to harvest on the 28th August!!

Cabernet Franc can take a few more days, but whichever way you look at it, it’s remarkable. It just keeps on getting earlier and earlier.

And weather conditions look to be fine and sunny over the next week or so which is good news. We hope for fine weather with a gentle breeze rather than damp cold rainy days. This gives even pollination and also sets the vines up for next year (as the buds for the 2021 harvest are already forming).

I bumped into winemaker friend Claude this morning. We had a brief masked conversation. She and Philippe have just bottled their 2019 Gamay and we’re on the list to take a few bottles (they only made 800). Such a contrast between us at the moment. They’re rushed off their feet, bottling, grafting vines, working their own vineyards, Philippe working everybody elses’s vineyards.

I’m sat around blogging, cooking, eating, scratching my head to find ways to keep our heads above water but with nothing to do.

Returning home, I got back to what I seem to do best at the moment – cooking. I picked some rhubarb from the Potager, added a little sugar and cooked it in the oven for about 20 minutes at 180°C. This is the best way to retain the lovely bright pink colour but the last twice I’ve overdone it and it has turned to fibrous mush. Delicious fibrous mush but not beautiful to the eye. This morning I was more careful. I lowered the oven temperature and kept having a peek to make sure I didn’t overdo it. It paid off. I have lovely pink rhubarb in neat little batons that will go on top of the herb custards that I made earlier.

For the custards I took inspiration from Alain Passard. I picked a variety of fresh herbs from the garden (mint, verveine, thyme and lemon balm) and made an infusion with 500ml fresh milk (put the herbs in the milk, brought it to the boil and then let it sit). I beat 5 eggs yolks with 80g of caster sugar until pale and then strained the herby milk onto the egg yolk/sugar mixture, mixing briefly.

After pouring the mixture into 6 glasses I placed them in a roasting tin, poured the contents of a recently boiled kettle around them, covered them with foil and baked them in the oven for 30 minutes at 165°C. That’s dessert tonight covered.

Herb custards with poached rhubarb

Lunch was egg mayonnaise on sourdough.

Just as I am about to serve up, in comes Pesto with a baby bird. The poor little thing is still alive. Nigel (being an animal lover and much braver then me), will not allow animals to suffer so bops it with a stick. And then he says “Oh no”.

“Oh no what?” I ask.

“I can’t find the head”.

Rapidly going off my sandwich now. “You can’t find the head?”.

“No” And so we spend the next 10 minutes on hands and knees looking for it. Where on earth can it be? I have awful visions of it appearing in my custards that are cooling on the work top. Eventually we find it behind the storage heater and manage to remove it. Panic over, appetite diminished.

Monza, the tom cat from two doors down, who lives next door and likes to hang out at our house suddenly appears through the gate. He and Pesto have a word and then collapse together on the decking under the table. We’re wondering if it was he that brought the bird, as a present for Pesto. That’s love for you eh?

More pictures of vines in flower appearing on social media today. Antoine Sanzay’s Cab Franc has joined in the party. Talking of which, did you know how beautiful the scent of the vine flower is? It really is a delight. It’s a gorgeous scent, so delicate. You need to be really close to smell it but it’s truly lovely.

6km through the vineyards this evening. I walked with a girlfriend and we left it until late because it’s been so hot today. The Chenin is starting to flower too. Harvest in Vouvray is limbering up for early September.

Growers will be wondering how to organise their holidays this year. Normally they go away right at the end of August. It’s the one time when they can be sure there’s nothing to do at home. Treating the vines stops a few weeks before harvest so it’s just a waiting game until the grapes come in.

If harvest is as early as expected it could skupper a few plans. There’s much to do just before harvest. Cleaning, sorting, bottling, planning. Everything has to be juggled to provide enough space for the incoming grapes. Many wines from the previous vintage will only be bottled just before the next vintage’s juice comes off the press.

Apero this evening was inside to escapte the heat and then we enjoyed a relaxed dinner outside in the garden when the sun had gone down. Roasted cod with new potatoes, cherry tomatoes and rosemary followed by the little herb custards topped with rhubarb.

Jean-François Merieau’s Coeur de Roche was the partner this evening. Lovely grassy Sauvignon pairing beautifully with the cod and tomatoes.