In focus: Vouvray

In collaboration with the drinks business, Rebecca Gibb MW recently gave a masterclass about Vouvray, its history, the types of wines available, and how producers are coping with the changing climate.

Aurélie Gigandet and Astrid Boutet-Saulnier

On 1 October, at London’s Asia House, Rebecca Gibb MW hosted a masterclass on Chenin Blanc in Vouvray, in association with Vins de Vouvray and the drinks business.

During her talk, Gibb explored the history of Vouvray and its association with the grape variety Chenin Blanc, as well as discussing key facts about the region and current trends.

Originally from central Europe, Chenin was detected in the Loire as early as the fourth century. The wines became popular in the 10th century, and a reference to the variety, also known as Pineau de la Loire, was made by French writer and humanist François Rabelais in the 16th century.

Vouvray was one of the first official appellations in France, becoming an AOC in 1936, just after the INAO was founded. Based in Touraine, and consisting of 2,200 hectares, the region’s wines are produced from a single grape variety, Chenin Blanc, with a maximum yield of 52hl/ha (still wine) and 65hl/ha (sparkling wine).

Made in four styles – sparkling (fines bulles), sec, demi-sec and moelleux, Gibb stressed the versatility of Chenin throughout her masterclass.

Twelve wines were tasted during the event, two of which were sparkling, while the remaining 10 were Vouvray sec. Gibb revealed that 60% of wines produced in Vouvray are sparkling, but only one in 20 bottles makes it out of France. This is in contrast with the still wine production, with two out of three bottles being sold overseas.

In Gibb’s words “sec sells”, as for every bottle of Vouvray moelleux sold, producers sell 20 bottles of their dry wines. Before conducting a tasting of the wines, Gibb explored a number of trends in the region, including the effect that climate change is having.

Rebecca Gibb MW presented the masterclass

From 1960 to 2010, the average growing temperature in Vouvray has risen by 0.92ºC, with most change occurring since the 1980s. As a result, harvest now takes place from mid- September through to October.

Gibb also mentioned that she felt that producers have been “a bit late to the party” in terms of producing organic wine. She also highlighted how winemakers were returning to using old wood, and experimenting with the reduced use of SO2. Vignobles Alain Robert, for example, last year released its first sulphur-free wine.

Masterclass attendees were invited to compare two sparkling wines: a 2009 fizz made by small producer Domaine de la Rouletière, 20% of which was aged in oak barrels, and co-op Cave des Producteurs de Vouvray’s De Chanceny Excellence 2016, which works with 40 winemakers.

Variety of styles

Gibb then talked guests through the remaining still whites, starting with the drier, more austere styles, and ending with an unusual example from Domaine Champalou that had been aged in 500-litre oak barrels.

The still wines included in the tasting were: Domaine d’Orfeuilles Silex d’Orfeuilles 2016; Vignoble Alain Robert Empreinte 2017; Domaine de la Galinière Terroir 2017; Domaine des Lauriers Laurent Kraft 2017; Domaine Sébastien Brunet Les Pentes de la Folie 2016; Domaine Vincent Carême 2018; Domaine Boutet Saulnier 2017; Domaine du Viking Vouvray Sec 2017; Domaine Sylvain Gaudron 2017; and Domaine Champalou Le Portail 2016.

Marmoutier Abbey and vines in Vouvray

Gibb was joined by Domaine Boutet Saulnier’s Astrid Boutet-Saulnier, who works alongside her husband, Christophe, who took over the family business in 1997. The estate makes a range of wines with different degrees of residual sugar, as well as sparklers, from vineyards located close to Tours – the largest city in the Loire Valley.

Domaine du Viking’s Aurélie Gigandet also presented her family’s wines. Asked how the company acquired such an unusual name, she said that it was because her father “looked like a Viking”. The domaine, which is not represented in the UK, has been owned by the family since 1935, with the oldest vines dating from 1932. All of its still wines are put into old oak barrels for various lengths of time. The producer has 17ha under vine, planted at a density of 6,000 vines per hectare (the minimum required density in Vouvray PDO).

Speaking about the change in winemaking over the years, Gauthier-Gigandet said: “I believe we have much better balance in terms of sweetness and acidity now, but it’s getting harder to make dry styles because of global warming.”

Gibb praised the work of both producers, concluding that while boasting just 150 wine growers, Vouvray produces a wide range of styles. She also highlighted the differences that exist in the sec category, with fresh flinty styles through to wines with more residual sugar and tropical fruit.

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