Last Wednesday we held a rare vertical of the AC Touraine wines of the Clos Roche Blanche. Rare in several ways as it is very unusual to give straight Touraine wines this sort of respect and probably unusual to be able to assemble such a range of wines from a single Touraine property with the expectation that you won’t be dealing with just a collection of faded ghosts.
Antoine Gerbelle and Bertrand Celce
There are, of course, a few other Touraine producers who could put this on but not many. Anyway Catherine Roussel and Didier Barrouillet of the Clos Roche Blanche and I had talked for a year or so of putting on a vertical of their wines. Finally last Wednesday we got it together and around 15 of us including Antoine Gerbelle (Revue du Vin de France) and Bertrand Celce (Wine Terroirs) tasted some 42 wines.
I first met Didier Barrouillet back in September 1989 on one my earliest press trips to the Loire. Soon after I met Catherine and I have bought wine from them pretty regularly since then. Although their wines were already impressive – Gamays, for instance, with character and concentration, they were farming conventionally using weed killers etc. In 1992 they changed and moved to organic cultivation and dropped the use of chemical additives, with the exception of sulphur, in their winemaking.
For a time they moved to full biodynamics but later abandoned this because of the amount of work involved – in those days they had around 40 hectares of vines. Over the last ten years or so Catherine and Didier have slimmed down their holding till they now have nine hectares as they prepare for retirement.
Wild flowers beside the vines
But really labels are irrelevant here. For a walk in the Clos Roche Blanche vineyards is close to taking a walk in a garden with a considerable array of wild flowers. There are also Didier’s wild leeks planted by vines that are suffering from esca and, which Didier, believes can help a plant to survive this disease that kills each year around 4% of the Sauvignon Blanc vines. He believes that the wild leek helps to repair the delicate micro-biological balance that surround the vines’ roots that may well have been damaged by the sustained use of weed killers.
It is interesting to note that there are an increasing number of producers in this part of the Cher Valley around La Tesnière on the border of Pouillé and Mareuil-sur-Cher. It is notable that Thierry Delaunay, the energetic director of the 27-ha Domaine Joël Delaunay, which is not organic, has taken on an additional five hectares of vines that are already organically cultivated. Thierry has undertaken to continue to farm this parcel organically. Doubtless Catherine and Didier’s approach has been inspirational locally.
There is, however, one glaring exception just a short walk from the exuberant bio-diversity of the Clos Roche Blanche vines. Here there is a parcel so blitzed with weed killer that little life remains apart from the vines and patches of rather sinister, thin patches of moss. Although the vines are only on a slight slope, the inevitable erosion is obvious both in the centre of the row but also at the end.
Close up on erosion
Just a quick glance here is enough to tell you that this approach is not sensible or sustainable. Sadly the vines belong to a well-known Touraine producer who in his time had had a pioneering role in building the reputation of the wines of AC Touraine.
Also erosion around the base of the vine
Where you might wonder are my notes on the wines we tasted – some have already been posted on Jim’s Loire and also there is a detailed report on Bertrand Celce’s wine terroirs. It is also what is happening in the vineyards is more important long term than what is in the bottle.