All the fun of the fair

Jo Goodman shadows The Society's buyer as she seeks out our growers and meets new ones at Angers' trade fair for Loire wines

Welcome to Angers! – the sun salutation in front of the main railway station gets us in the mood Welcome to Angers! – the sun salutation in front of the main railway station gets us in the mood

Trust the French to make even a trade fair sound exotic! Le Salon des Vins de Loire is an annual event held in the beautiful city of Angers to showcase the wines of the Loire Valley.

Our buyer Jo Locke MW tries to get to this fair most years, why? Well, particularly with a wine region as vast as the Loire, which stretches over 800km from the vineyards of Sancerre in central France to those of Muscadet on the west coast, not forgetting such southerly outposts as St. Pourçain and the Côte Roannaise, to get around to visit as many as you can in one place is of enormous benefit.

All the fun of the fair All the fun of the fair

Jo was keen to taste the new 2016 vintage and to talk to growers about just how dramatic the effect of the much-publicised frosts had been. It's all too easy to be taken in by sound-bite assessments of vintages, but in a region as diverse as this, it's impossible to generalise; we wanted to hear from the horse's mouth, as it were.

2016 – a complicated vintage but results are stunning

One of the really heartening results of this trip was to find out just how good the wines that made it through the 2016 vintage were. For many of our producers it was a really good year; sadly some made very little or even no wine because of the frost, but others were untouched by it.

The frosts in April came on the back of a very wet spring and then were followed by drought-like conditions in July and August. Many were despairing of getting a crop at all and then some reviving rains in September meant that growers were almost leaping about with joy, doubly so when the good weather continued into early autumn.

But how devastating for those growers affected to suffer yet another terrible frost attack in the spring of 2017. When we spoke to growers back in February, they were praying for a normal vintage this year. Once again Mother Nature has shown her might, and for some it may prove the final straw. We do hope not; Loire growers are made of stern stuff!

A buzzy atmosphere in the less formal Levée de la Loire organic exhibition hall A buzzy atmosphere in the less formal Levée de la Loire exhibition hall for organic wine

A big organic and biodynamic presence

The other big surprise, for me at least, was the number of organic and biodynamic producers present. There was even a separate hall dedicated to organic and biodynamic wines called La Levée de la Loire. Apparently 20% of exhibitors in the main exhibition were organic with 150 organic Loire producers and 70 French and international biodynamic growers represented at the Levée.

Jo had already spent a day at the fair on the Sunday, I took the train from London to meet her on Sunday night to spend a couple of days at the fair before visiting a number of key producers in the region. Jo had already visited Sancerre before coming to the fair.

Knowing how frantic trade fairs can be and how it can be problematic getting around to everyone you want to see, I thought I'd give Jo some space and signed myself up for a seminar. A talk on the impact of graphics on wine labels and their influence on young consumers had caught my eye, so I headed off to see what they had to say. I thought it would be a good way to get my ear tuned in to French again too.

Back to school – how are graphics interpreted by young consumers?

Presentation on wine labels - how shapes can have an affect on perceptions of taste Presentation on wine labels - how shapes can have an affect on perceptions of taste

The presentation turned out to be very theoretical; the results of a university research project. Angers is big university town and so it makes perfect sense that there are links between the region's principle industries and academia. The business school and psychology departments had got involved in a project to help with the presentation of wine.

France, even more so than the UK, is very concerned about the decline in numbers of young wine consumers. When the researchers interviewed subjects they found that the vast majority said that they preferred 'fruity' wines. They wanted to see if there was a way of communicating that a wine is 'fruity' visually. The main thrust of the research seemed to be around how different colours and shapes on labels altered the perceptions of the young people in the trial on how the wine tasted.

They said that the research was still very explorative at this stage, but had found that star shapes gave the impression that the wine would be dry, whereas round and square shapes were associated with more fruity flavours.

In terms of colour associations, blues and greens were thought to indicate dryness and orange and warm-toned colours, were perceived to be more fruity.

It does all seem rather rudimentary at this stage and the researchers said that there seemed to be quite a big difference between countries, so I feel that we are a long way off being able to package wine in a way that appeals to young consumers' and their perceptions yet. Still it was interesting and helped me to tune in to French, so I headed off to meet Jo at the stand of Domaine Serge Laloue - producer of our Exhibition Sancerre wine. Enough theory already!

Where to go next?

Wine fair round up >

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