Colin and Christopher’s Sancerre Trip (part one) Friday night and Saturday morning

by Charles Lea

Last Friday, Colin Patch and I set off on the Eurostar for the tiny village of Chavignol, located within the Appellation of Sancerre in the Loire Valley. We were to be the guests of the wonderful Delaporte family, whose delicious Sancerre wines have appeared on our wine list every year since Charles and Patrick first started the company back in 1988.

Jean-Yves took over the running of the estate from his father Vincent in the mid 1980鈥檚. Having studied alongside the likes of Didier Dagueneau, Jean-Yves is very much one of the grandiosos of the Loire Valley (although he wouldn鈥檛 like you to think that). His passion for wine and the continual improvements of his vineyards and cellar are paramount to him – not to mention his obsession for cleanliness!

Friday



Arriving into the tiny Cosne-Sur-Loire station we were greeted by the very friendly Nathalie Delaporte. A dinner party was all set for us at their house and we were introduced to Gilles, who is the assistant wine-maker, and his wife. We were treated to several vintages of Cuv茅e Maxime, red and white, as well as persuading Jean-Yves to pour a little glass of his ‘vendange-tardive’ with our dessert.

It was clear from our first meal with them that they were a young at heart family and definitely up for a laugh. Jean-Yves made sure that our glasses were always topped up and after the meal he was only too keen to show us how powerful his sound system was (nearly scaring that daylights out of Madame Delaporte at one point when he forgot the volume was on full). On that note, it is worth mentioning that Nathalie鈥檚 food was to die for, we were treated like kings!

We were then taken for a night-cap in Sancerre itself, and what a surreal experience that was! This dingy bar, no bigger than one our shops, was seemingly the hub of Sancerre’s night life, the warm up for the only two 鈥榖oites de nuit鈥 in the area. It was the sort of place where everybody knew everybody, so of course Colin and I stood out like sore thumbs. Fortunately, Jean-Yves seemed to be a local celebrity, so much to our relief we were soon part of the furniture.

Saturday Morning

After a hearty breakfast Jean-Yves drove us around some of his 24 hectares of vines located on the hillsides around Chavignol.

He was quick to point out that 80 percent of his vines are south facing. Of the 34 different parcels of land, 50 percent lie on flinty or 鈥楽ilex鈥 soils (this is considered the soil type to have in Sancerre) with the rest made up on good quality limestone. Silex can give the wine terrific minerality and a very subtle gun-smoke character whereas the limestone gives the wine substance and rich fruit.

Jean-Yves pointed out that he does not use any pesticides on the land and moreover tries to work with nature as much as he can. He explained the great problems that the Appellation is going through at the moment, that of 鈥淓sca鈥, a fungus which seems to have destroyed half the vines in some vineyards. 鈥淐atastrophe鈥 was a word he mentioned a lot whilst explaining this to us.

The Delaporte Cellar

We were then shown around his winery. Each of the parcels from Jean-Yves different vineyards are vinified separately using stainless-steel vats, he then blends these different wines into what he feels is a consistent Delaporte style. This blend is then bottled as his 鈥榟ouse鈥 Sancerre. The wines used for the Cuvee Maxime are from only the best Silex soils and are from very old, gnarled vines. He matures these wines in oak barrels to add complexity and depth. Jean-Yves has been working since the 1990鈥檚 to modernise his winery; and as he said proudly, 鈥渢his is all for Matthieu鈥. Matthieu is his oldest son and having done a short 鈥榮tage鈥 at Lea & Sandeman last summer is currently touring the wine-making world as part of his studies before he comes back to work alongside his father.

Alongside the inevitable tastings we were put to work trying out ‘batonnage’ in the barrels of white Cuv茅e Maxime’, which is barrel-fermented.