This year Loire buyer Jo Locke MW tries out a new wine fair in Angers and gives us the low-down as well as reporting back on the thrilling quality of the 2017 vintage.
Grenier St Jean, Angers – a wine fair open to the public
Lovely surroundings for the Salon St Jean tasting in Angers
My annual February trip began with an event I have heard about many times but never visited. The comments 'a crush' and 'too many punters' had never been very encouraging, yet I know several people (buyers and producers)who swear by this tasting which focuses on organically and biodynamically produced wines. I did a double take one year in Angers when I bumped into Isabelle Meyer, of Josmeyer in Alsace, who was there for this event, and she and her sister Céline were there again this year.
As the Grenier St Jean also showcases wines from outside the Loire, it is particularly popular with Loire residents and those looking for a one-stop-shop. My old friend Alain Simon, who runs a wine bar and shop in St Nazaire (DiVin, Cave du Sommelier) takes his team every year, though I did notice his van leave a little early this year, as this event falls notoriously within the Six Nations championship, and rugby sees off wine even in a former sommelier's heart!
You do have to pay to get in but the event is well (and democratically) organised and is in a stunning location a short walk from the centre of Angers. Some of the wines were a bit too 'funky' for me but there are many great names here as well as some I will explore further. And it is open to private enthusiasts as well as professionals, so well worth a visit if you happen to be in the Loire in usually chilly February.
Salon des Vins de Loire, Angers – a fair for the trade only
Angers in winter is a pretty chilly place but beautiful nonetheless
This regular event is for professionals only and whilst it has shrunk somewhat over the years and gone through the same navel gazing that all major wine fairs seem to have faced of late, it remains an essential part of my buying calendar.
Focusing almost exclusively on Loire wines it offers an unparalleled opportunity to meet a wide range of producers and to taste a range of vintages, most importantly the fruits of the latest harvest. And what a harvest! Despite shortages, the quality is outstanding, and I don't remember ever returning from a trip to the Loire feeling so enthusiastic about the wines already in bottle and those yet to come.
A stunning vintage – a great introduction to the region for Tim Schwilk
All good news for my new colleague and companion for the latter part of the trip, Tim Schwilk, our new manager of Tastings & Events, whose Aussie background had not treated him to much experience of chenin blanc, and especially not cabernet franc.
He listened patiently to stories of frost, drought, low yields (ask the same questions wherever you go and you build up a solid picture of the vintage) and even admitted to quite liking Loire reds by the end of our visit!
And for me, I was not only able to taste the new vintages from existing suppliers which will come on stream over the course of the year, but also to shortlist new wines for our offer of Loire wines later in the summer as well as get a heads up on where the real stars of the vintage could be found for inclusion in this year's Wine Championship tastings – with some success!
Loire firsts and old favourites
As well as visiting a number of regular suppliers, it is great to make time in a visit programme to follow up new opportunities. There were two this year, one introduced to us by long-term supplier Richard Kelley MW: Château de Bois-Brinçon in Anjou, the other the result of a 'cold call': Château du Petit Thouars. Both are stunning properties, both with a wide and impressive range of wines, both worthy of attention, so this was time well spent.
A new find and stunning property – Château de Bois-Brinçon in Anjou
View of Château du Petit Thouars, another impressive new find for us
This year's visits to Domaine Huet in Vouvray, Domaine de la Renaudie in Touraine, and Domaine du Salvard in Cheverny were as special as ever. At Huet we were received by their Private Sales manager, Johan, who gave us a fantastic tour and tasting ('where have you been hiding him?' was my feedback to Sarah Hwang).
Emmanuel Delaille and his huge winery hound. It was only when we arrived that we learned they were hosting a party that day for their daughter's 18th!
At Renaudie, where they had been severely hit by frost but helped through this challenging year by local friends, we learned that daughter Charlotte was doing the harvest in South Africa, and in April I was able to meet up with her there. Such is the generosity of our long-term suppliers that they are kind enough to receive us on a Saturday when necessary. This was the case at Renaudie, and also chez Delaille in Cheverny. It was only when we arrived on that bright, wintery morning that we learned that they were hosting a party that day for Emmanuel's daughter's eighteenth birthday. Above and beyond, as ever!
More on these visits in the articles which follow which my colleague Tim Shwilk has written up for us, giving a fresh perspective on wines which, by his own admission, he is not so familiar with!
Where to go next?
> An Australian in the Loire
> Return to trip overview