Friday, May 9, 2008

Winetasting Journeys: Chinon: Charles Joguet

After a stroll through the chateau at Azay-le-Rideau in the morning, we made a quick stop in the neighboring town of La Chapelle-St-Blaise to search for the street of winemaker Robert Denis, with whom we would have a visit later in the week. Figuring out in advance how to find our way to his winery turned out to be good planning, as timing was extremely tight on the day of our visit to him.

After checking in at the Hotel Diderot in Chinon and picking up picnic supplies, we headed south across the bridge and turned east on the D760 road towards Sazilly, well in advance of our 3 PM appointment at Joguet with M. Alain Delaunay. When we pulled into Sazilly at what appeared to be the main intersection (a war memorial), it was clear that our instructions about finding the place were going to be confusing. Luckily, we saw someone in their garden, and Melissa asked directions to the Joguet offices. Ah! We had gone one turn too far (the town has only three paved streets that turn off to the right). After that, our instructions made sense and we found the place right away.

Here's how to find Joguet: after passing the "Sazilly" town sign as you head eastward from the town of Chinon, take the FIRST paved street to your right (turning South and away from the river). If the street appears to dead end into a big old house but at the last minute splits in two, veering around the house to the right and left, you've found Joguet's home, and around back to the right is a parking lot and the winery offices. If the road goes relatively straight and no house seems to be in the way, stop; you've turned down the second street. If the road goes in then turns right and you see vineyards on the left, stop; you're on the third street. The third street passes the chai and the Clos de la Dioterie vines, with a large silo indicating the general location of Varennes du Grand Clos.

Once we knew where Joguet was, we headed to the nearby Vienne river (a splinter feeding into the Loire) for a picnic, where a local fisherman sitting on the bank saw our blanket and wished us "bon appetit." The river flowed quickly and quietly and our lunch was extremely peaceful. I like to relax before tastings if possible so we did a lot of these picnics. We arrived at the winery promptly at 3 PM and peered in the open office door where, to our surprise, winemaker Charles Joguet was sitting seriously at a desk doing paperwork. The man himself! He looked at me quizzically, and when we said we had an appointment with M. Delaunay, told us that he was with a client right now but would be with us shortly. He got back to his paperwork, and we looked around. In the adjacent work area a young man was running a bottling line, putting labels on case after case of 1996 Clos de la Cure.

We passed time in the parking lot looking at the various trees (chestnut and fig?) and winemaking artifacts that were scattered about, and after a while M. Joguet stepped out of the office, started up a little car, paused, stopped and got out of the car, disappeared into the winery, reappeared a few moments later with a bottle of his own wine in hand, slammed the car door and drove off. It was like a set piece in a play. We chuckled inwardly a bit, since what we had just seen was so clearly human, and Joguet is a man of almost mythical stature in Chinon.

Soon thereafter M. Delaunay appeared with some clients, and he proceeded to load up their automobile trunk and back seat with what must have been a dozen cases of wine or more. He made several trips with a hand truck. We silently admired the client's awesome ability to consume Joguet wine in mass quantities until we realized that this guy was probably a restauranteur or someone buying wine for a business. Eventually the client drove off, and the tall, bearish and jovial M. Delaunay breathlessly stepped over to meet us. The tasting was conducted in French.

There's always a rock hewn cellar nearby in the Loire! M. Delaunay led us behind the winery offices and into a relatively small, cool cave. We stood around a simple pine table on a dirt floor and tasted six wines, culminating with a newly opened magnum of 1985 Clos de la Dioterie. "I don't have any more regular bottles of this to open, so I have to open a magnum" he explained. He had a friendly demeanor and was quick to smile, and when I hauled out an area topo map to ask him to point out the vineyard sites, he looked at my wife and said to her "Il est équipé!" and offered to take us over to the winery and look at the vines. (Dioterie, Varenne and Cure vineyards are all on Serie Bleue map 1724E; Chene Vert is further north, on 1723E).

Dioterie and Varenne are adjacent to each other, and Dioterie abuts the winemaking building (which is two blocks from the winery offices). The limestone clay terroir of the two vineyards is identical, except for a strip of gravel running along the edge of the Varenne vineyard (the Varenne vines are also younger). Without that strip of gravel, Delaunay thinks the two wines would be more similar. Clos de la Cure has a gravel terroir. Forty-five percent of the Dioterie vines are ninety years old, but Delaunay thinks that good terroir is more important than old vines. He cited the "Chene Vert" vineyard as an example. The vines there were planted in 1976, but he feels the terroir is good, so the youngish vines there produce good juice. Standing in the Dioterie, he took us through a row of old vines to find a leftover clump of grape blossoms. He believes you can find their subtle scent in the wine. I couldn't smell anything in the clump of old blossoms, but can imagine a field full of fresh ones...

The soil here is so calcareous that a plot of forty-year-old vines on the upper slope of Dioterie has extremely yellow leaves due to the overabundance of calcium in the soil. Looks bad. Not a problem, we were told... the vines produce great fruit here when they're stressed like that. Hey, the evidence is in the wine .

The partly air-conditioned winemaking chai is just like any other; a barn, some big tanks, lots of hose and barrels. Top cuvees are aged here in four-year-old barrels recently purchased from Chateau Margaux. Some of the barrels are here at the chai, but for lack of space, the Dioterie is aged offsite in rented cave space. All grapes are totally destemmed before fermentation.

One thing is unique about the chai at Joguet; the steel fermenting tanks are square here rather than round, and (trying to remember this right) each contains a piston-like apparatus to push down the cap and pump over the must. They also have fluid jackets to keep the fermentation temp regulated. These tanks were, I think, designed by Joguet, and must have made an impression on other local winemakers. Both Baudry and Filliatreau spoke of Joguet with great respect and reminisced about the visits local winemakers made to see the square tanks when they were new and the discussions about fermentation they provoked.

We left the winery building somewhere around 5 PM, when M. Delauney looked at his watch and exclaimed that he was late for his 4:30 appointment. He asked us about New York City and life in the USA. It was an extremely informative, exhaustive visit, and looking around here really gives one a better feel for Loire reds, if you're not already familiar with them.

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