Every year in the spring following the harvest, Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams makes a pilgrimage to Gratien & Meyer’s cellars in Saumur to decide on the blend for The Society’s Celebration Crémant de Loire
Head winemaker Nicolas François and his team will have already sampled all the wines at their disposal before Marcel’s visit to pick out those he believes have most potential as base wines for our blend. Gratien & Meyer is one of the few sparkling wine producers in Saumur to own vineyards but it also buys in both the pressed grapes (must) and finished wines from a select group of growers. One of the advantages of the Crémant appellation is that the wines can come from within the Anjou-Saumur and Touraine districts, some 400 square kilometres of vineyard. Maintaining good relations with suppliers is crucial to ensure a constant supply of high-quality raw materials; this forms an important part of Nicolas’ job throughout the year, not just at harvest time.
Although regulations regarding the quality of Crémant de Loire (yield restrictions and maturation times) are stricter than those for sparkling Saumur for example, rules governing permitted grape varieties are more flexible. Unlike Saumur, which may only have a maximum of 20% chardonnay in the blend and 40% cabernet franc, in theory, Crémant can be made of any of the permitted grapes, and can even be 100% chardonnay if so desired.
As with most other good-quality sparkling wines, balance is the key when it comes to assembling the base wines. The proportion of each will vary from year to year depending on the vintage. The base wines are not easy to taste and certainly not much fun to drink, being naturally high in acidity and rather astringent before they have undergone secondary fermentation. Chenin blanc, grown on the region’s chalky tuffeau soil, is ideal for sparkling wine production and is key in giving the wines a sense of place. It may be blended with just about any of the Loire’s rich palette of grapes (excluding sauvignon blanc).
In practice, our own blend has been made up of chenin blanc, chardonnay and the Loire’s classic red grape, cabernet franc, for several years.
In 2006, Nicolas was particularly excited about a new source of Touraine pinot noir and was keen to present this for inclusion in the blend. Tasted alongside samples of cabernet franc, the extra finesse that the pinot had was self-evident and it made complete sense to include it instead of the cabernet franc. After tasting vats of still chardonnay, chenin blanc and pinot, the preferred wines were chosen to make up the blend.
Next, different blends were put together using varying percentages of each base wine until the optimum proportions were reached. The final blend for the 2006 Crémant de Loire is 70% chardonnay (for roundness and definition), 20% chenin blanc (for a hint of minerality as well as an attractive citrussy lift to the finish) and, for the first time, 10% pinot noir, which gives a subtle fruity undertone and added structure.
>> The Society’s Celebration Crémant de Loire
(March - 2009)