Sunday, 6 December 2009

12 More Things To Do in the Loire Valley Around Saumur

Back in August I started a series of "12 Tips for Things to do in the Loire Valley" around Saumur. It's now December the days are shorter, darker and colder but in between we get some beautiful blue sky days which provide a great opportunity to explore the local area which is so rich and varied in it's history and culture. So here are some ideas for day trips from La Grande Maison along with some places to visit a little closer to home.

1. Fontevraud Abbey is a must see especially the tombs of the Plantagenêts, Aliénor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart, Henri II and Isabelle d'Angoulême

2. The beautiful medieval city of Loches with it's imposing 11thC Dungeon built by Foulques Nerra. It's a long climb up and not for those with a fear of heights!

3. The 17thC (New Town) of Richelieu with it's stunning Baroque church and mathematical town planning. The chateau and gardens a worth a visit too.

4. The City of the Plantagents in Le Mans with it's glorious St Julien Cathedral

5. The light in the David d'Angers Sculpture Gallery in Angers is amazing and the Beaux Art gallery has a great permanent collection along with innovative exhibitions.

6. The old LU (Lieu Unique) biscuit factory in Nantes converted into a funky bar and has a great book store and theatre space.

7. It's worth getting up early enough to see the sunrise over the Loire

8. Take the Amarante boat along the river for a great view of Candes St Martin

9. See Joan of Arc ride her horse into Chinon or visit the house of Rabelais La Deviniere.

10. Brewing beer is becoming popular locally. Tastings can be arranged at Brasserie des Fontaines just across the vineyards from La Grande Maison.

11. Fine dining in the many of the local restaurants just ask us for a recommendation.

12. ...and certainly don't miss the wooden alterpiece (misericord) in the local church of Le Puy Notre Dame. The carved stall of the monk drinking out of the barrel has become the symbol for one of the latest wine appellations Saumur - Le Puy Notre Dame AOC !


Sunday, 8 November 2009

The Last Day of the 2009 Harvest at Chateau de Fosse Seche

6th November 2009 and a bright sunny morning for the final hand harvest of the botrytised Chenin Blanc grapes for Les Tris de la Chapelle Saumur Blanc A.O.C. with Guillaume Pire at Chateau de Fosse Seche.

Pourri plein (purple grapes) white chenin turned purple by botrytis produces only 10 hectolitres of wine per hectare for Les Tris de la Chapelle.

The last hand selection of botrytised grapes hits the trailer.

My final vendange bucket of the season on 6th November 2009

The noble rot grapes go straight to the winery where they are pressed and put in tank before filtration the following day.

The juice is then filtered using a Padovan filtration system and is then pumped back into a second tank for it's fermentation. Guillaume's Tri de la Chapelle is produced from grapes that have reached total noble rot (pourriture noble) and spends 12 months in oak. It is a wine to keep, rich, complex and very elegant.

Read more about Chateau de Fosse Seche on their website.

Read more about Botrytis with the Wine Doctor.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Review of 2009 Loire Wine Harvest around Saumur - Le Puy Notre Dame AOC

First of all a ton of apologies for not updating the blog for nearly a month! Thought it was time I had better get round to it but what with the harvest in full swing, running our Wine Tours, looking after guests at La Grande Maison and offering our Wine Sampling Suppers in the evenings we have not had a moment to ourselves. All this and now the additional marketing effort that is needed to keep the websites, the blog, our facebook fan page and twitter up to date! Who ever said running a Maison d’Hotes was for retired people?

Anyway as we start to wind down for the season it’s time to review the past year so I’ll start with the 2009 Harvest in this post. Which I might add is not over yet for the late harvest wines and we are waiting on a call any day now to go and help one of our local producers hand picking for the Coteaux de Saumur.

Golden Chenin Blanc Ripening in the Sun

We have had an incredibly dry summer with very little rain since the beginning of June so the vines have been free from mildews and disease. Because of the dry conditions there has been much less need for spraying chemical treatments and the bunches are very clean. With recent ‘little’ rain, morning mists followed by sun and warm temperatures the conditions have been ideal for the development of noble rot (botrytis cinerea) and consequently the production of sweet wines such as Coteaux du Layon.

Some of the bunches have dried out due to the lack of rain.

The dry conditions mean that the yields are likely to be lower as some of the Chenin Blanc dried out but the concentration has been very high and the juice full of fruit and very aromatic. Picking for the Cabernet Franc was held off for as long as possible to gain the benefit of an extra week of sunny ripening conditions before harvest.

The Cabernet Franc is looking extremely good and free from rot

The feedback we are getting from the local vignerons is that the 2009 is going to be as good as the 2003 / 2005 if not better so we will cross our fingers and wait on the ferments!

Fermenting whites be very careful one sniff with blow your head off at this stage!

We have been pretty active with the harvest this year both with running our Harvest Wine Tours which gives our an guests a opportunity to see and take part in the harvest and in helping some of the local wineries with their hand harvesting. Aymeric and Melanie have recently taken over some organic parcels of vines around Le Puy Notre Dame and we were pleased to help them out harvesting both the reds and the whites.

The Melaric crew hand harvesting the Chenin

We also got the chance to barrel taste their Chenin from 2008 and although not quite finished it is already tasting sublime! See the Melaric website here.

Aymeric giving us a barrel tasting of the Chenin Blanc from 2008

We also had a couple of rows of Chenin Blanc donated to us by a kindly neighbour vigneron this year. He is happy to let us run wild in the vines and do as we wish so that he can witness the results! So we have green harvested which meant removing excess bunches in July and leaf stripped in August and September in order to reduce shading of the bunches and improve airflow. Seems to have improved the quality of the grapes in those two rows which have produced approximately 50 litres of juice which is currently undergoing fermentation.

The La Grande Maison Crew with the able help of Sue, Jo & Kris

In addition to this we were able to hand harvest the vineyards around La Grande Maison once the machine harvester had been through and we make a non-commercial production of white and red wine for our own use.

The once a year appearance of the machine harvester outside La Grande Maison tipping the grapes from the hoppers into the awaiting trailer.

Each machine harvested row yields about a bucket of grapes still left on the vine so with potentially 1,000 rows to play with we can be very selective and produce a very small quantity.

Sue harvesting the Cabernet France by the bucket load.

The red Cabernet Franc is currently macerating on the skins and the white Chenin Blanc is happily fermenting away. To add to this we have just hand bottled the 2008’s which will go down into the caves for storage ready for tasting next year.

Micaela bottling the 2008 with the old hand corking machine.

Bon fermentation. Come back soon as our next post will feature guest reviews from this year.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Up on the roof high above the Loire River.

There are over 100 steps to climb to reach the top of Treves Tower that is after you have climbed the steep hill to the entrance and then negociated another 20 steps to the front door. So thank goodness it is only open one weekend a year!

Every September in France we have a weekend of "Patrimoine" call it a Heritage Weekend if you like. This involves many of the private properties opening their doors to display the cultural wealth hidden within their walls and grounds. We had been itching to see inside the Treves Tower for many years so this was our lucky chance.

The Tour de Treves was built by Foulques Nerra III Count of Anjou on a site that has been occupied since the gallo-roman period. The village of Treves being situated between Saumur and Angers on the south bank of the Loire River made it an important defence point and the height of the tower afforded excellent look outs both up and down stream.

Inside the tower was in a lot better condition than I had been anticipating. Each floor is made up of a beautifully vaulted chamber which were a lot smaller and cosier than expected due to the walls of the tower being around 4 metres thick!

The lower ground floor housed the 'ice room' where the wild boar would have been kept chilled, next floor up the old kitchens, then the dining chamber, bedrooms and then out on the roof. Surprisingly small really for such a tall tower. Somewhere in the midst of it all is the arms room from which the canon could be shot from all directions giving the tower excellent protection.

Once out on the roof top though the views are superb along both directions of the Loire River and of the village of Treves with it's old tuffeau houses with slate roofs. During Foulques Nerra's time the tower served as the dungeon to a Chateau that once stood on the site and a barage was run across the river to act as peage so that Foulque could collect taxes from boats passing up and down stream with their goods.

Looking upstream along Loire River towards Saumur you can see how sandy the riverbed is after the very dry summer. There are two quays in Treves which were used for the transportation of tuffeau and it is said that Dutch Mariners owned many of the houses. You can still see evidence of this today with the properties that had greniers (attics) high above the river so that goods could be kept dry.
A quick peak into one of the beautiful private gardens in Treves.

If you would like to stay in the beautiful village of Treves click here to see details of our Riverside Cottage for which rental options are available.

Come back to read details and see pictures of our visit to St Mace' the 11c Gallo-Roman Chapel that sits on the hill above Treves and houses frescos from the roman period.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Loire Valley Wines in London

If you love the wines of the Loire Valley and find them hard to track down in the UK then go no further than a lunch out at RSJ's in Coin Street. We popped in there during a recent visit to London. We chose a glass of Domaine de Nerleux Cremant de Loire as an aperitif which was spectacularly delicious, lemon, acacia and almonds. Sadly the Didier Dagueneau that we fearlessly chose from the wine list to go with our main course (at £56 ish a bottle) was out of stock so we chose a Huet Vouvray 2007 that when tremendously well with the Pan Fried Scallops.

Majestic Wines are stocking a few Loire wines these days and you can't go wrong with a Saumur Champigny from our friend Edouard Pisani Ferry at Chateau de Targe'. In fact they have a special offer across many of their wines at the moment that offers great savings if you buy two bottles. Majestic have also recently reduced the quantity you have to buy from 12 bottles to 6 per visit making it an even better bargain. Needless to say we came home with many more than that from all over the world!

Whilst still on the theme of Loire Wines we took the chance to visit the Gay Icons Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery sponsored by Rose d'Anjou Wines. The exhibition brings together ten selectors each of whom is a prominent gay figure in contemporary culture and society. Each selector named six persons that for them were inspirational or an icon for them The results are a fascinating insight into an iconic range of figures from the heroic, artistic, sporty, literary, political, famous and not so famous of our world.

We have been "drinking pink" this summer at La Grande Maison in celebration of the Gay Icons Exhibition, did I mention it was sponsored by Rosé d'Anjou? In honour of the event we still have cases of Rosé d'Anjou wine to give away to all our lucky guests. The first guests to arrive at La Grande Maison to produce their ticket stub from the exhibition will win a case of six bottles of this delicious pink packed with summer fruits. Subsequent guests will receive a free bottle of Rosé d'Anjou with every room booked (on production of their ticket stub or proof of visit on arrival).

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Fête du Patrimoine et Vin Aubigné sur Layon

It never ceases to amaze me how rich in culture and 'patrimoine' the area of the Loire Valley around the River Layon is. On the surface it remains un-commercial, drive through endless Layon villages and you won't see a soul. Until today that is. Today was one of our favourite events of the summer season The 16th FÊTE DU PATRIMOINE À AUBIGNÉ-SUR-LAYON. A day to celebrate art, food, wine, music and today blue blue skies.

The inaugaration ceremony commences at 11:00m with the pouring and serving of the previous years Coteaux du Layon wine from the Fountain of Aubigné. A beautiful copper font designed by Italian Claudio Parmiggiani serves this purpose. In previous years the wine was served by 'wine thief' from a stone trough but these days Jean-Paul prefers a more elegant approach.

Jean-Paul Cochard from Domaine de Mihoudy serving the Coteaux du Layon

Jean-Paul is a member of the 'confréries' so wears the traditional costume of his wine brotherhood. The confréries of Anjou-Saumur-Touraine are responsible for promoting the various Loire appellations and they are part of the Loire’s regional folklore having a role to play in its wine-related events and festivities, adding a colourful touch particularly with their initiation ceremonies.

Jean-Paul in traditional confréries dress red hat, robe and 'taste vin'.

These bacchant brotherhoods all have their own ceremonial costumes and symbols.
The groups are organized hierarchically, and each member has a title or rank, bestowed upon him after the initiation ritual conducted by the Grand Master. In spite of the solemn nature of the ceremonies and costumes, the festive aspect predominates and it certainly does in Aubigné.

The day is really centred around the celebaration of the Coteaux du Layon but here are some of the other great events that go on throughout the day.

Many of the beautiful houses in the village open up their gardens and there is a band in each playing jazz, blues, swing, funk, or classical music. Choose the musical style you prefer and in each garden you will find stalls selling anything from grilled Loire fish, to oysters, duck, grillades or savoury items along with plenty of Anjou Blanc or Rosé.

We choose Jazz & Oysters in the gardens of a beautiful 17c seigneurie.

Followed by a choral group from Corsica in the Chapel of Aubigne.

Sculpture was very much the theme for the art exhibits this year with this superb bronze of Ghandi. The rest of the village is closed off to cars and artists line the streets in every direction.

Ghandi by Martine Vaugel

Watercolourist at work.

Let's not forget we are in a wine growing region so vines are also for sale.

Along with plants....

...and a shot of my new apron. Sorry could'nt resist it!

Although I did rather fancy the black chef's top of the guy doing the cookery demo!

...and the amazing sculptures by Jacque Tempereau!

On reflection it was another superb event. The sun shone even though Jean-Paul is praying from another 30mm of rain before maturation. The music and wine was fab and we hope you will take the opportunity to come and join us again this time next year until then à bientôt......