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Vouvray - Tradition makes perfection

Last week we spent several days touring vineyards in the Appellation Origine Controlee (AOC) of Vouvray, Touraine's largest white wine region.  Here, Chenin Blanc is the grape of choice, in fact there is no choice.  This is because in Vouvray, like so many AOCs in France, the practice of growing grapes and making wine is more tightly controlled than perhaps anywhere else in the world.  Centuries of tradition have been codified into a lengthy list of rules that must be followed exactly for a winemaker to place "Vouvray AOC" on a wine's label.

There are over 190 individual family run wineries that grow grapes in the 5,100 acres of vineyards.  Do the math, and the average vineyard has around 25 acres under cultivation.  This is hard to fathom when you see seemingly endless vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see.  It was not until our guide, Myriam Fouasse-Robert of Rendez-Vous dans les Vignes, and the wife of winemaker Alain Robert, helped us navigate through an immense vineyard to locate the five rows they own.  Yes, you heard me right, individual rows within a vineyard are owned, farmed, and harvested by different winemakers.



The picture at the right shows the carefully color delineated five rows managed by Alain Robert.  This vineyard within a vineyard is made possible because the viticultural requirements are so stringent, that the only possible result is precision and uniformity.  Rows of grapes must be planted 1 meter, 60 centimeters apart, and individual vine stalks 90 centimeters apart.  Even the percentage of diseased or dead vines is controlled to insure that vineyard yields are limited to 65 hectoliters (1,700 gallons) per hectare for sparkling wine and 52 hectoliters (1,374 gallons) for still wine.  The harvest date is determined after the annual "Visit des vignes" - when a group of winemakers and viticultural professionals visit several vineyards and determine the date after which harvest can begin.  Only with special application and approval can grapes be harvested prior to this date.


If you look at a map of the AOC of Vouvray it will typically show a contiguous area of eight communes to the north, east, and west of the village of Vouvray.  In actuality, the AOC consists of only specifically designated vineyards within this area.  As you drive through acres of vineyards, you may see a small plot of land with little more than weeds and hay.  When we asked Myriam why grapes were not planted, the response was simply, "that plot is not designated as part of the AOC".  Plots of land that, based on soil conditions, exposure and other elements of terroir, do not meet AOC requirements remain uncultivated.

All this rigor however, pays off, when you taste the range of amazing wines from Vouvray.  The majority (65%) of Vouvray wines are sparkling wines,



however still wines are produced in a range of sweetness levels - dry (sec), or slightly dry (sec-tendre) with less than 0.4% residual sugar; medium dry (demi-sec) with residual sugar up to 1.2% noticeable to most wine drinkers; sweet (Moelleux) 1.2% - 4.5%; and the sweetest style, Doux, with more than 4.5% residual sugar.  Vouvray wines however, often have higher acidity levels that mask the sweetness.  Being a fan of dryer wines, we pretty much limited our tastings (degustation) to sec and sec-tendre; however a couple of sparkling wines did sneak into the tasting lineup.  Our hands down favorites were three sec wine from Domaine Huet:  Le Haut-Lieu Sec 2012, Le Mont Sec 2013, and Clos du Bourg Sec 2012.  Several bottles were squirrelled away in our suitcase however with a little sleuthing, you can find Domaine Huet products in the United States.

Vouvray is one of the many beautiful wine regions of the Loire Valley.  As you walk through the vineyards you cannot help but feel as if you are surrounded by centuries of history, but the tradition is still evolving.

Cheers!

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