Let's pretend that you're in Paris; you decide to leave the hustle and bustle of the big city for an afternoon in the country and where better to go then the Loire Valley??
You drive for about an hour or so due south and hit the metropolis of Orleans; famed for it's rich cuisine, crisp wines and beautiful women. Try, if you can, to stay in your car and follow the motorway east... the road follows the Loire river as it meanders east, quickly dipping it's way south. Soon you're heading due south and could easily cross the river for a bite to eat in Sancerre.
But let's say that today you decide not to cross the river. Just a kilometer off of the motorway, within a few hundred feet of the river, is the hamlet of Tracy-sur-Loire and it is here that we find the winery Domaine A. Cailbourdin ( www.domaine-cailbourdin.com ). A nicer place for a picnic you would be hard-pressed to find.
The hillside rolls gently down, covered with a rich canopy of grapevines, interspersed with small thickets of forest. Pear trees are hanging heavy with fruit and the perfume of the cherry trees invites one to an afternoon of idolentry; some fresh bread and cured meats, a little block of chevre and a chilled bottle of local Sauvignon Blanc. For that indeed is what varietal is going into the wines of Puilly-Fume, and that is where you have found yourself.
And it was only a few decades ago that Alain Cailbourdin found himself in this same spot, looking at the same vines, deciding that it was here that he would build a future. Thus the inception of Domaine Cailbourdin, with some truly vielles vignes or "aged vines" of 50+ years, and the more recently planting going back to 1980.
Alain built this winery on solid principles; one of the greatest being a respect for the land. In his own words "The art of the winemaking profession consists of giving the grapes every possible opportunity to reveal their qualities."
Of course, this isn't the first time that I've heard a winemaker say these words. But, in the Loire Valley and in Pouilly-Fume, these words take on a high degree of clarity.
Some of you reading this will already know that the Fume part of the name for this region comes from the smokey nuances given to the wines here from the high levels of Silex in the soil. This region produces 100% Sauvignon Blanc, almost 100% of which is fermented and matured in stainless steel. Why is this important? Because this, too, goes to demonstrate the regions strict adherence to allow the land to express itself fully through the varietal.
But let's return to Alain's words and consider them carefully. Firstly he uses the word "art" most particularly. That could be a point of contention for many people as winemaking can be as much of a craft as an art and, to be brutally honest, we've all had examples that were terribly shy on craft. So then why use the word "art" for a $20 bottle of wine?
I think that it must be because of the high level of skill used in Alain's vineyards every day to reach the point where the grapes can start to tell their story. One could say that it starts with the trellising (which came first, the trellis or the grape?). Alain has restored a traditional, yet rarely used, method known as Le Cordon de Royat which is more labor intensive than Guyot simple, yet allows the vine more room for the grapes to expose themselves to sunlight. This allows for greater ripeness, and also reduces the risk of mildew issues.
|Sauvignon Blanc grapes|
And should mildew become an issue, how do Alain and his son Loic deal with them? For a winery not certified as organic, the two spend a great deal of time talking about the natural rhythms and patterns of their vineyards; they speak of the care and attention paid to bud-growth in Spring, planting grasses betwixt the rows of vines, of careful canopy management in Spring and Summer... they speak like organic winemakers. They speak with bio-dynamic principles at work in their fields. And why such ardour?
"because our vineyard constitutes not only our livelihood but our way of life from day to day; it is the heritage we hope to leave our children" says Alain.
And well how does this families' effort translate into action? As always, the proof is in the glass:
$32+ CAD (BC)
*previous vintages have scored gold medals at the Concours D'Angers and the Concours Generale Agricole de Paris
*this winery has ranked in the top 150 producers of Sauvignon Blanc in the world (www.WineSpectator.com)
- visual: clear; pale straw core with light gold and green highlights
- nose: clean; medium intense youthful aromas thick with minerality, warm straw, baked apple... very fresh, crisp, clean and precise with the trademark smokey, almost peppery, finish
- palate: clean; dry, fully intense (yellow grapefruit) acid, moderate- ABV (13%), medium- body, medium+ intense and youthful flavors mimicking the nose with more emphasis on citrus; lemons, limes, grapefruit, even tangerine are felt. The minerality is tight but opening delightfully. Very good balance, good structure and medium+ length
- conclusion: whilst already showing well, this still has room to develop. Drink 2012-2015 for best results
- FOOD PAIRINGS: Sauv blanc is, of course, a natural for fish. Consider a somewhat fatty fish like trout, Artic Char, salmon and the preparation can be as simple as pan-frying with butter! When using a leaner fish and a lean wine like this, consider finishing a hint of cream, such as baked Great Northern Pike with butter-braised leeks, steamed new potatoes and grilled sweet peppers
But now I've painted myself into a corner as-it-were! Here I was talking about technical matters to support a claim for artistry. Perhaps, then, that is where the art is found; in the technical routines that encapsulate this ancient craft. It is art: in calling each of Alain's four plots of land by it's own name (Boisfleury, Les Cris, Les Cornets, Triptyque), so that we can come to sense the differences in soil composition, in aspect and slope, but most of all in place. For it is Alain's wish and, as eonophiles, it is ours as well, that we will come to appreciate as much as he does the place that he calls home.
As always, I welcome your comments and questions.
CINCIN~!!! SLAINTE~!!! CHEERS~!!!