Life in the Loire after lock-down. Weekly update. 20 September.

Harvest continued this week at Domaine Carême and on Monday the pickers brought in the grapes for Fizzy Pink under blue, blue skies and hot temperatures.

Vouvray is an appellation for white wine only so you’ll not find a rosé or red wine bearing the name Vouvray on the label even if the grapes came from one of the permitted villages.

Many growers in the past planted a selection of black grape varieties to make a little rosé or red wine for themselves. The parcel where these grapes were picked is just across the road from the limestone hillside.

Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Côt and Grolleau co-planted in the same plot. The grapes were looking beautiful with no hint of disease. The Grolleau grapes were particularly impressive. Big, fat, juicy grapes bursting with juice. You can see why Grolleau is a popular choice for the production of Rosé d’Anjou, an hour or so west from here.

A few other parcels came in on Tuesday and Wednesday but for the most part, that was the end of picking for Domaine Carême. The work this week continued in the winery.

Each batch of Chenin Blanc grapes is pressed individually and transferred to a tank in the winery where it sits for a while in order for the solids to settle. As the domaine uses indigenous yeast, Vincent waits patiently for the fermentations to start and when he’s sure things are well on the way, he transfers them to wooden casks in the trogoldyte cellars where they glug glug away until the sugar in the grape juice is transformed into alcohol.

As you walk into the cellars, the sweet smell of fermentation invades your senses and you can hear the yeast gently fizzing and sizzling away. The carbon dioxide produces tiny bubbles that rise up and pop through the openings. Little rivulets of fermenting wine create patterns on the barrels. The magic of winemaking. So natural, so spontaneous. No interference, no additions, just nature doing its work.

Claire (who normally runs the tasting room) was away this week so I took charge of the tasting room in the afternoons. It was fairly quiet with a gentle stream of people popping in to say hello, buy a few bottles or discover the estate for the first time.

On Friday afternoon, one by one the pickers came to collect their salary. Vincent thanked everyone individually and each one went away with a bottle or two of wine from the estate. It was a great team. Everyone pulled together despite the long days and very hot weather.

Vincent thanking the team for their hard work in the vineyards these past two weeks

Harvest is such a special time. Charged with energy and anticipation, the results of all the hard work during the year coming together. In just a few weeks all will be calm again. With the grapes safely gathered in, the fermentations continue gently and little by little the results will start to show themselves.

On the whole growers seem happy with the vintage here in the Vouvray appellation. After three years with little rain and intense spikes of heat, the vines gave moderate yields this year but the quality seems good and despite the high temperatures, acidities are also in line with what they’d hope for. Wines from 2020 will be rich and full with good concentration and acidity.

On Saturday, it was the traditional ‘Berlot’ – the end of harvest party where everyone relaxes and has a few glasses of wine over a meal. Normally this would be held in the cellars and everyone on the team would be invited but this year, with the Covid restrictions, plans had to be put in place that enabled a safe, secure celebration without too many people.

And so we had a lovely picnic by the river Cisse. Just the core members of the domaine, their partners and children. Pierre and Louis Carême were in charge of the sausages, everyone brought a bottle of something interesting to try and fool the others and we enjoyed a lovely afternoon by the water, sipping, eating, laughing and chatting. A fine end to harvest 2020.

Here at Le Tasting Room we’ve been trying out a few new recipes. Nigel has been in the kitchen a lot this week as I’ve been out and about.

Simple salmon with minted peas and new potatoes, griddled steak with a tomato, ginger and spring onion salad, crispy mackerel with spicy chickpeas, squash and thyme stuffed peppers with Feta, chicken breast with a pea, preserved lemon and potato mash and finally roasted black figs stuffed with goat’s cheese and wrapped in pancetta.

We’ve enjoyed a few new wines this week too. L’Affreux Jojo, a spicy fruity Cabernet Franc from St Maure de Touraine, two lovely Pinot Noirs, one from the Auvergne and one from Pouilly Fumé. And last night, with our roasted guinea fowl we enjoyed a Cotes du Rhone Villages Seguret from Domaine de Thà. From much further south, it was rich and plummy with lovely acidity. We’d have liked a bit more oomph on the tannin side and it was high in alcohol at 15% but good value for money at 10.50€.

Just before signing off this week I wanted to mention that Vouvray winemaker Bernard Fouquet has been very poorly with Covid and although much improved, he remains in hospital in Tours. We wish him a full recovery and look forward to sharing a glass with him soon. We only saw Bernard about 6 weeks ago when he was on fine form. It seems he picked up the virus at a family celebration.

Keep safe and healthy. Until next week – cheers from the Loire!