Life in the Loire after lock-down. Weekly update. 23rd August 2020.

We’re off! Harvest has started in the Loire (and all around France) and the grapes are coming in. The Pinot Noirs for sparkling have been picked in Saumur and Touraine. The earliest harvest in living memory for many!

Grapes around us (Chenin in the Vouvray appellation) remain hanging for the moment. We’ve seen quite a bit of sunburn on the west side of rows planted north/south but otherwise they seem in pretty good condition. Volumes look moderate (which is maybe not a bad thing in the current climate – no pun intended).

The producers in Champagne negociated a historically low harvest with those that provide their grapes this year. An agreement to pick the equivalent of 100 million bottles less this so as not to saturate the market during difficult times and the lack of sales this year due to Covid.

Down the road at Chateau de Montdomaine, 2 more of their 17 caves have been restored and refitted to accommodate new tanks and increase storage space. The estate took on another 10 hectares of vines this year so volumes will be up and there are new grape varieties to look forward to. Pinot Noir, Grolleau, Sauvignon Blanc all join the portfolio in 2020.

Other growers are catching the last of the sun’s rays before coming back and rolling their sleeves up.

It won’t be quite the same this year. No cosy lunches in cramped caves. No linked arms and singing songs after the harvest is over. 2020 sees a new kind of harvest with everyone maintaining their distance.

The courgettes and tomatoes continue to make an appearance on our dinner table and we were still able to eat outside in the evenings although the weather is starting to turn chilly now when the sun has gone down.

Fish, chips and mushy peas with a twist graced the table on Monday night. A fillet of lieu noir (coley) wrapped in prosciutto roasted in the oven and served with a crushed pea and mint purée and skinny courgette fries.

The courgette fries are easy to do and completely addictive. I rather fancy them with some crushed sage in the mix too (for another time). A deep fat fryer is useful but not essential.

Chateau de Fesle’s Anjou Blanc was a good partner to that. An underrated domaine (probably because it’s more famous for sweet wine than dry), it’s a deliciously citric Chenin that has some oak influence but not too much.

Griddled chicken with roasted peppers was on the menu on Tuesday and on Wednesday I basically cleared out the fridge and everything went into a spicy Thai style noodle dish with ginger, onions, garlic, yellow courgettes and coconut milk.

Perhaps my favourite dish this week was the most simple. A slice of homemade toasted sourdough rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil and topped with the remains of a creamy burrata, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil from the garden. Really simple but everything ripe and full of flavour. The little tomatoes were sweet as can be and the burrata, silky and comforting.

I served the other half of the burrata with small slices of honey infused toasted sourdough, grilled peaches, winter savoury and olive oil as a dessert/cheese course when friends came round for dinner.

This weekend we went to see good friends Kim and Walter Eagleton of Artistic Gourmet Adventures. We met years ago through the business and they, like us, have had a hard time since Covid hit.

Normally Kim and Walter split their time between France (where they rent a lovely little house in Anjou) and Texas (where they return during the winter months to do private dinners). Walter is a chef and we love spending time together just talking food and wine, sharing recipes and catching up.

Walter made the most delicious crab soufflé for lunch on Saturday. Served with a glass of Saumur Chenin blanc it was the first of many delicious things that we enjoyed over the weekend. A treat to be cooked for and lovely to sit in the garden in the sunshine.

Fancy a crab and Cheddar cheese soufflé for lunch? Yes please!

Kim and Walter have been very inventive since the lockdown. Kim has a store on Etsy selling all sorts of typically French things (copper pans, antiques and vintage items) and Walter has been making cookery videos.

During the afternoon we made a video talking about wine. Kim behind the camera, Walter the interviewer. It was fun. Watch this space, it’ll be up on Walter’s You Tube channel any day soon.

We had a gentle start to Sunday and after a tip top breakfast (Walter makes a mean cooked breakfast – soft scrambed eggs with a tomato concassé, crispy bacon, spicy fried potatoes, toast, yum yum!) we had a wander around the village admiring the different styles of architecture, nosing in people’s gardens and chatting to their neighbours.

And then back home to Touraine. A simple supper in the garden eating up the leftovers, enjoying a glass or two of wine, a little light jazz on Spotify, an early night.

Happy days!