The Wine Experience!

There’s no doubt that wines are a big part of the experience in France. The harvest happened about a month early this year thanks to the dry and hot spring. Early word is that it will be a good quality harvest (at least in Sancerre where we do our main visits).
(Click on the photos to enlarge)

It’s always fun to be able to see the grapes being brought in. The vineyards are crawling with the pickers, the tiny roads are full of tractors pulling trailers laden with grapes bursting with juice…and the winery is in full swing. Amazing that the harvest takes such a short time – normally 2-3 weeks and then the process of wine-making begins in earnest.

The winery that we visit for our tour and tasting is Domaine Henri Bourgeois. They are one of the top producers of Sancerre wines and do a fantastic tour and tasting. Ten generations have gone into making this the winery what it is today. They have an unusual set-up using only gravity to move the grapes, juice, and finally wines into the bottles.

The sauvignon blanc grape is particularly sensitive to handling so by using gravity they are able to maximize the qualities of the grapes. They pick only by hand too – back-breaking work! The best vines are on a hill known as Le Mont Damné. Full southern exposure and a steep incline — too steep for any machinery at all — this is where the original vines were planted, believed to be as early as Roman times…. The Bourgeois family has vines on this hill that are about 70-80 years old.

Total area of the apellation of Sancerre is about 2000 hectares (about 4000 acres). The family has about 70 hectares throughout Sancerre on each of the three soil types: Kimmerigian Marl which is full of little sea-creature fossils, flinty soil and chalky clay. Each soil type imparts a special quality and taste to the wine. Many wine-makers blend grapes from the soils but Henri Bourgeois has always kept them separate to be able to produce many different wines under the appellation of Sancerre.
Two types of grape only can be used to make a wine that can be called Sancerre — sauvignon blanc for the white and pinot noir for the reds and rosés.

About 80% of wine production in Sancerre is white and 20% red and rosé . The Bourgeois family does make a late harvest wine if conditions are good — apparently this year it will be! Delicious, syrupy and golden it’s fantastic with foie gras, blue cheese (think Roquefort) and desserts….
Ever wondered what happens to the skins and junk that is left? By law, the wineries must GIVE 20% to alcohol makers. That can be in the pharmaceutical industry, cognac making industry or it can used to make a distillate called Marc. Amazing stuff, Marc — makes grappa seem wimpy!!! 46% proof — not for the faint-hearted…. the rest of the left-over junk is generally used as fertilizer.

Ten generations would create some history you would imagine! You’d be right — in the historical part of the winery is a collection of old bottles of wine dating from as early as 1934!!! I’ve been lucky enough to taste wine as old as 1984 — it was delicious. Many people don’t realize that some white wines can actually age for quite a long time and the Sancerre wines are one of those.

Another more recent piece of history is some special oak barrels that were made from an oak tree that was, sadly, hit by lightening. It was found to be 435 years old and was auctioned off. The Bourgeois family won the tree and had barrels made and produced three vintages of red and white wines made from their best vines. Fabulous wines. They are known as Chene St Etienne……..

Of course we have many other wines on board other than Sancerre wines but this is such a great winery I thought I’d share it with you.
I’ll save the other wines until another blog…….


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