From vine to wine
Wine production is the fruit of the vineyard work. Pruning, wine making and then the harvest, vines gradually rise to Loire Valley wines.
VINEYARD MANAGEMENT IN THE LOIRE VALLEY
A number of different systems are used to train the Loire Valley vines. The chief of these are the single Guyot, modified double Guyot (2x4), Cordon de Royat and Courson (aligned goblet) systems.
HARVESTS IN THE LOIRE VALLEY
Because of the range of grape varieties grown in the Loire Valley and the many different types of wine they make, harvesting can be a long, drawn-out affair, lasting from the beginning of September until mid-November.
Harvesting generally begins in the first few days of September for earlier varietals such as Melon de Bourgogne and Folle Blanche. These are followed by the Chardonnays, Sauvignons, Gamays, Pinots Noirs and Chenins used for making sparkling wines, and finally the Cabernets and Chenins for dry wines, demi-secs and sweet wines.
Harvesting is performed manually or by machine, depending on appellation requirements or vineyard topography. If vines are planted on very steep slopes, notably in Coteaux du Layon or Coteaux de la Loire, only manual harvesting is possible. Manual harvests may also be requested by the producer.
Given the lower cost and the quality achieved if it is performed well, machine harvesting is widespread, especially for dry white wines.
Sweet wines, however, are made from grapes picked in successive passes (tries); in this case, harvesting can only be performed manually.
Given the diversity of climate in the Loire Valley vineyards, it should be emphasised that the year’s weather conditions have a greater influence on harvest quality here than in any other winegrowing region.
WINEMAKING INTHE LOIRE VALLEY
THE RANGE OF LOIRE VALLEY WHITE WINES includes dry whites, demi-secs, sweet whites and sparkling wines
- Dry white wines are made in the traditional way: pressed, then fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel or enamel vats. The “Sur Lie” method is used particularly around Nantes (for Muscadet and Gros-Plant du pays Nantais). The wines are generally aged in tanks, then bottles. Length of aging depends on appellation and type of wine. To preserve freshness, most Loire Valley whites do not undergo malolactic fermentation.
Sweet white wines are made from the Chenin grape. The richness of the Chenin musts means fermentation takes significantly longer; it is also performed under controlled temperature conditions. Aging – in barrels or vats – is also of longer duration.
- Sparkling wines are made by the méthode traditionnelle, by adding a liqueur de tirage - yeast and a small amount of sugar - to the base wine to encourage secondary fermentation in the bottle. These wines are then generally aged for several months before disgorging, corking and sale.
ROSÉ WINES are also made in the traditional way. Two methods are widely used:
- Direct pressing, giving very delicately coloured wines ;
- Saignée (or bleeding), where the de-stemmed grapes are macerated for a short time. This gives a denser colour and a more intense range of flavours.
- Fermentation takes place in temperature-controlled tanks or large barrels;
- Length of fermentation can vary greatly, depending on appellation rules, the quality of the harvest and the style of wine being sought.
- Red wines systematically undergo malolactic fermentation to add a supple roundness, and also to ensure microbiological stability
- Aging time can vary. Wines are aged first in tanks and subsequently in bottles. Barrels and casks are not widely used. In the Touraine and Anjou-Gamay, appellations, a proportion of the harvest is made into the traditional young wine, using a process of semi-carbonic maceration.
- Loire red wines are as diverse as the grapes grown to make them – their differences are inherent in the variety of the region’s soils and climates: light, fruity wines which are at their best when very young grow alongside appellations whose wines are full, concentrated and show excellent keeping potential.