For 5 years running we have invited our distributors to go on a Tour de France to visit our producers from the Loire to the Rhône in January, when winemakers prune and watch the vines hibernate, wines sales quiet down across the world, and everyone has time. Unsurprisingly, touring cellars in January typically means suffering from the cold, but the 2019 Tour de France was different. No more frozen toes, we decided to make the trip in May. Leaves on vines! Finished fermentation! Long days full of tasting!
But with the May visit came a sobering état des lieux about frost damage, especially in the western Loire Valley. After a very mild winter, temperatures dipped below zero on April 4 and May 6. Touring the vineyards around Rablay-sur-Layon was a lesson in frost: the different types of frost, the hyperlocalization of frost, and its devastation.
Frost (mostly) spared producers outside of Anjou, however, and we had an opportunity to re-taste the finished or mostly-finished wines from our producers. In Champagne, at Ruppert Leroy, we were able to taste the finished 2018’s just before bottling, and saw the new chai that winemaker Manu is also building in his “spare” time. In addition to tending to the vines, managing a biodynamically certified cow farm, and making Champagne with Bénédicte, Manu Leroy isan accomplished carpenter.
Up in Le Mesnil, Stéphane Regnault named his single-parcel solera Champagnes after jazz modes; he found that each parcel reminds him of a different tonality in jazz music. Unsure what that really meant, we had Stéphane pair jazz songs to each Champagne over a lunch of pâté en croûte.
The 25-wine line up at Domaine Rougeot was a Burgundian highlight. Pierre-Henri also treated us to back vintage of his sans soufre Bourgogne Passetoutgrain; a perhaps unexpected treat in the heart of Meursault.
In the Beaujolais, our visit with Yann Bertrand was short and sweet as we tried not to bother him during the bottling of his Cuvée de Chaos and Morgon Dynamite cuvées.
At Pierre Cotton, Pierre presented a new, glou-glou Vin de France and shared the news that his girlfriend Marine, an agronomist specialized in vines, will join the domaine as a business partner.
As with every year, our visits taught us something new about the vines, the Domaine, or the winemaker themselves. Being able to do so while also enjoying the sunshine in the French countryside is just a bonus! We’ll keep writing about each domaine’s news and new vintages every month, in greater detail. One thing’s for sure: We can’t wait until the next edition of our Paris Wine trip, with cold toes or not.