The excitement for Le Tour de France continues as Bauke Mollema takes his first ever Tour stage win! The race ended in Culoz, classified in the Ain department in France, a small village in the heart of the Bugey AOC where vines were first planted by the Romans, then the monks in the 16th century. This AOC sits at the southern end of the Jura mountain chain and has Jura/Burgundy to the north, Savoie to the east, Rhone to the south, and Beaujolais to the west. The Rhone river loops around the area, giving the region plenty of moisture. It was given VDQS status in 1958 and became an appellation in 2009. The vines in the area suffered greatly with the invasion of phylloxera in 1875, setting the region’s winemaking economy back quite a few decades. Historically, Bugey was a part of Burgundy and today is often confused as being part of Savoie or Jura. The designations in this 500 hectare AOC are numerous and are made up by 63 provinces within: AOC Bugey, AOC Bugey Manicle (100% Chard for white, 100% Pinot Noir for red), AOC Bugey Montagnieu (100% Mondeuse noir for red, 70% Altesse for sparkling since 2009), AOC Roussette de Bugey (100% Altesse), AOC Roussette de Bugey Montagnieu, AOC Roussette de Bugey Virieu-le-Grand, AOC Bugey Musseux ou Petillant, AOC Bugey Mousseux ou Petillant Cerdon, AOC Bugey Mousseux ou Petillant Montagnieu, and AOC Bugey Mousseux ou Petillant Blanc or Rose. The soils in the area are generally calcareous, with ammonites and other fossilized sea mollusks. There are sections of Jurassic clay limestone bedrock, too. The climate is semi-continental with hot, wet summers and cold winter. As a whole, the wines are elegant, aromatic, with high acid and low alcohol. There are a few exceptions, but whites generally must contain 50% Chardonnay with permitted accessory grapes being Aligote, Altesse, Jacquere, Pinot Gris, Mondeuse blanche. Roses must be 50% Gamay or Pinot Noir with accessory grapes Mondeuse Noir, Pinot Gris, and Poulsard. The reds must be made from Gamay, Pinot Noir, or Mondeuse Noir. The Sparkling wines must be 70% Chardonnay or Jacquere, with accessory grapes Mondeuse Blanche, Pinot Gris, Gamay, Pinot Noir, Mondeuse noir and Poulsard. For those seeking out interesting, elegant wines, this region is for you! For more information on our wine classes and tastings, visit us on our website to see our current listings of events!
A glorious day for Australian cyclist Michael Matthews! Being from Canberra, Michael knows wine! Near Australia’s capital of Canberra is a cluster of vineyards classified as being in the New South Wales territory. The vines in this area were planted in 1971 by research doctors John Kirk of Clonakilla and Edgar Riek of Lake George. John’s son pioneered Australia’s now famous Shiraz/Viognier blend modelled on the enormous wines of Cote-Rotie. In this Canberra District, some of… the higher vines can be quite cool and produce elegantly styled Pinot Noirs. Back to Le Tour de France! Today the cyclists made their way from Toulouse to Rodez, passing through the historic wine producing region, Gaillac. There is evidence proving Gaillac to be the first viticultural center of Gaul in the 1st century AD. The monks revived production in the 10th century and during this time the English were enthusiastic consumers of the wines from this region. The wine economy from Gaillac suffered as a result of enemy invasions, Christian crusades, religious wars, Bordeaux merchant restrictions, and the devastating phylloxera, which caused the region to plant other crops than vines. The region makes powerful wines from rich local varieties such as Mauzac, Lien de l’El, Muscadelle, Ondenc, Sauvignon Blanc, Duras, Fer, and Gamay. Wine lovers seek out Gaillac doux, Gaillac Molleux, Gaillac Liquoreux, and Method Gaillacoise from the region. The soils here are gravelly clay and limestone..
Today was yet another happy day for the French as their fellow countryman Warren Barguil took stage 13, on a short but intense section of Le Tour de France in the Pyrenees, the most south western corner of France. Happy Bastille Day, indeed! Their route took them a mere hop and skip away from a historically famous wine producing region of France: Cabardes. The Cabardes AOC, classified since 1999, is an off the beaten path appellation north of Carcassonne. The best reds from this area achieve elegant fruit with a style reminiscent of Bordeaux, somewhat unusual for this southern region of France. The grape varietals most commonly found in the area are Cabs Franc and Sauvignon, Merlot, Cot, Fer Servadou and to a lesser extent, Syrah, Grenache, and Cinsaut. The soils vary in the region from wet, deep soils to hot, shallow soils. Like sections of the Rhone, the region has constant wind circulation, allowing farmers the luxury of avoiding the use of chemicals to control vineyard pests. Wine writer, Jancis Robinson, wrote of the region, “The small, pretty and distinctive wine region…Cabardès just north of Carcassonne.” The city of Carcassonne is a UNESCO world heritage site in the form of a walled medieval city. In 3500 BC, Neolithic settlements were in the Carcassonne region. In 6th century BC, the Celts settled the area, with ceramics and other objects found on site. 118 BC the Romans colonized the area and Carcassonne becomes the capital of “Colonia Julia Carcaso.” At the beginning of the 5th century, the Visigoths invade and capture the area, followed by the Saracens who settled briefly before King Pepin le Bref regained control. That’s a lot of history for such a little area!
Today the riders in Le Tour de France finished close to the Spanish border, in Peyragudes with young Frenchman Romain Bardet taking the glory for the stage. Across the French-Spanish border, Rioja rests not too far from the boundary line. This well-recognized wine region is divided into three sections, Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Alta, and Rioja Baja. It was colonized by the wine drinking Romans and historical evidence shows vine maintenance was part of their lives in the northern s…ection of La Rioja. When the Moors were dominant here, winemaking maintained a part of the economic system, but it was under the Christian rule at the end of the 15th century when winemaking regained major popularity and strength. As vine loving monks settled the northern section of Spain, they built monasteries to serve pilgrims along the route of Santiago de Compostela, and this geographical expansion helped the wine region grow and flourish. In fact, wine was such a large part of life, the first wine laws of Rioja date back to this period. The isolated physical placement of Rioja kept the wines from gaining international traction, but this all changed in the 17th century when methods of communication improved and Bilbao became a more valued trading center. The winemaking aspect of the region finally organized with the establishment of the first commercial Bodega in 1850, created in response to the demand for wines in Spanish colonies located in what is now South America, Central America, and North America. The true popularity of wines from Rioja came as a result of difficult periods for winemakers in France due to powdery mildew and phylloxera. In response to their viticultural crisis, the Bordeaux wine merchants crossed the Pyrenees to source wine from Rioja, creating a boom in the industry which lasted through to 1901. At this time, Rioja suffered a crippling hit from their own invasion of phylloxera. The wine economy recovered from this invasion in stages, reaching full momentum only in the 1960s. The red grape of choice, Tempranillo, is known to respond well to the clay and limestone soils. Other varietals of note are Garnacha, Mazuelo, Graciano, as well as Malvasia and Viura for the whites. The classification system used is four tier: joven for young wines meant for early consumption, crianza for wines with two years ageing, reserva for wines with three years ageing, and gran reserve for wines with five years of age before release. The river in Rioja is the Ebro, the longest river in Spain with more than 200 tributaries. This water source winds between the Sierra Cantabrica and Sierra Demanda, with its tributaries facilitating the growth of vineyards in the region.
Marcel Kittel takes another stage in the 11th day of racing. Cyclists are making their way through the Le Tour de France with the half way point nearing! South west France is where they are today, bouncing between Bergerac, Bordeaux, and Cahors. On their way down to the finish line, they passed by the famous region of Monbazillac, seeing along the way some of the most famous noble rot (Botrytis cinerea) producing vines in the world, after Sauternes. The region of Monbazillac …is known for sweet wines made from Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle. The AOC was created in 1936 and consists of 2000 hectares of vines with around 200 growers/producers. This number was diminished greatly after the destructive invasion of phylloxera. Sauternes AOC, only 60 miles away, holds the reputation as being king of the noble rot, but the wines of Monbazillac come a close second. Both Sauternes and Monbazillac are labor intensive wine producing regions, as is with any area handling noble rot grapes. The process requires multiple pickings over a two week window to ensure the selection of the best grapes and in Monbazillac, all the harvests are done by hand, as mechanical harvesting was banned in the mid 1990s. The oceanic influences in Sauternes are funneled along the river valley, providing high levels of humidity in form of mist or dew. While the mist rests, the humidity increases the chance of noble rot in the grape bunches. It lingers until it is burned off in the afternoon sun. In Monbazillac, the positioning of the land traps the humidity along the river and stays longer, giving even more chance for the noble rot to develop. The increased humidity creates less concentrated wines than those of Sauternes, but what the wines lack in concentration, they make up with incredible aromatics of exotic fruits and nuts. The soils in Monbazillac are deep clay, molasse clay, and limestone, soils first tilled with vines by Monks from the Loire Valley in the 11th century. By 1550, the area was a flourishing wine producing region making money by selling their wines to the Dutch and Germans since the Bordeaux merchants refused to allow the “inferior” wines of Monbazillac to be sent through to England. We support the wines from this small region and hope you will, too.
Another day, another stage in Le Tour de France with Marcel Kittel taking the glory for the day as he crossed the finish line in Bergerac in the Dordogne departement. Bergerac is located in south west France and, until recently, was regarded as the backwards neighbor to the sophisticated Bordeaux region. Being not too far apart, Bordeaux and Bergerac share many of the same grapes, Cabs, Merlot, Semillon, and Sauvignon Blanc. The Bergerac region holds strength in red wines, pr…edominately Merlot and Cabs. Within the Bergerac zone are more specific sub-zones, each identified with a style of wine they work well with, such as Montravel for red, dry, and sweet wines, Monbazillac for sweet wines from vineyards that also produce Bergerac, Pécharmant for reds only, and Saussignac for sweet wines. The region was targeted by Romans as a wine making region, and before the Romans, monks made wine on the hills of Bergerac in the Middle Ages. Wines made in cooperatives from Bergerac can be acidic with enormous tannin, but since the small-producers embraced hand harvesting instead of machine harvesting along with good quality oak barrels, wines from vignerons acquire balance. The Bordelais may never think their neighbor is producing good wine, but we think otherwise.’
Yesterday, the Stage 9 of Le Tour de France in the Alps of France, specifically the Jura region, brought a lot of excitement to the riders. The Stage condensed three haute category climbs in the Jura route: Mont du Chat, Col de la Biche, and Grand Colombier. The climbs weren’t the only difficult part of the race. The descents proved to be as intense, with two major accidents occurring. The first crash had Englishman, Geraint Thomas, breaking his collarbone and the second victim was Australian, Richie Porte, who was propelled head first into a stone wall. The drama didn’t end until the riders crossed the finish line with the pronounced winner, Rigoberto Urán, taking the lead on a bike with only two working gears. It was not a fun day. What else is not fun? Harvesting grapes on the steep slopes of the French Alps, ‘steep’ being from 60 percent inclines and up. Cultivating and harvesting grapes on these types of hillsides is an elaborate, expensive, and dangerous process. Due to the technical terrain, machines and tractors typically used in winemaking to cut, spray, and harvest cannot stay level at such a gradient. The manual labor required for one hectare of vineyards on slopes this steep can require up to 1500 hours of labor. To give contrast, on flat lands, such as Virginia, with the use of tractors and automated harvesting vehicles, the manual labor hours may be only 180 for one hectare. The workers for steep slopes need to not only know how to harvest, but need to be incredibly physically fit as the techniques used are akin to that of rock climbing. So, if making wine on such steep slopes is so costly, why do it? The grapes produced on steep slopes are of great quality! After all, some of the best vineyards are in mountainous areas, for example: the Mosel, Rheingau, Rhone, Cote d’Or, Alto Adige, Piedmont, Tuscany, Duoro, and Mendoza. Nationally, mountain or hill vineyard sites are highly sought after, from Shenandoah to Napa, everyone wants a little elevation for their vines. There are a couple of reasons why: there is less top soil due to millions of years of erosion forcing the vines to dig deep into the ground in search of water, while searching for water the vines pick up extra nutrients from organisms in the soils, the steep slopes offer great drainage meaning the grapes are not saturated or lose concentration, the altitude is more moderate and offers a slow ripening period lending the benefit of longer hang time on the vine which creates greater opportunity for the accumulation of acids and flavor, the fewer nutrients in the soils cause the vineyards to struggle and produce fewer bunches on the vine creating fewer berries and smaller individual berries, grapes produced are smaller in size so the volume of juice within the berry is more intense, and grapes have a high skin to juice ratio due to this smaller size offering firm structure and complexity. Definitely seek out wines from hilly regions of the world to experience wine produced with a lot of hard work and love.
Frenchman, Lilian Calmejane, swept through the finish line of Le Tour de France in Stage 8 with more than 30 seconds against the closest rider behind him. Yet again, another wonderful reason to celebrate the Tour with a selection of French wines featured during our weekend tastings! The Stage today ran parallel to the Jura region of France, a winemaking region well known among seasoned wine lovers and at times approached with trepidation by others. The Jura is a picturesque wine producing region somewhat shrunken in size as a result of Phylloxera and mildew invasions at the end of the 19th century. What the region lost in viticultural plantings, today they make up with unique, globally recognized wines. The region is best known for two styles of wines, vin de paille and vin jaune. The region also makes a small amount of noteworthy Cremant du Jura, a traditional method sparkling wine. What does traditional method mean? Find the answer below! Back to the Jura! The primary grape in the region is Savignin, a grape that produces fresh, light table wines when given the opportunity. Savignin from Jura, however, typically will hold a somewhat oxidative essence, due to, most times, being blended with excess vin jaune. Vin jaune is not to be confused with Orange Wine, as they are two different styles. Vin Jaune is made from well ripened grapes that are left in Burgundy barrels for excess of 6 years to ferment naturally with the yeast flor. The vin de paille is sweet wine made from Savignin, Chardonnay, and/or Poulsard grapes, picked early and dried until raisin like. The raisin grapes are then crushed to ferment for two or three years before achieving the result of a sweet wine ready to age for decades. Needless to say, the wines from this region are unique and worth exploring!
Now, to traditional method! After harvesting, the grapes undergo fermentation as used with still wines. The separate tanks are then blended. The blended wine is put into bottles with liqueur de tirage, a mixture of sugar and yeast, necessary to start the secondary fermentation. The bottle is stored horizontally in the cellar during the secondary fermentation, when the carbon dioxide in the bottle creates the effervescence in the wine. After the fermentation process is complete, the wine sits on the lees for as long as the winemaker deems appropriate, or in some areas, for as long as the region deems acceptable for the classification of the wine. When the wines are finished ageing, they go through the riddling process that gently pushes the lees towards the neck of the bottle. Once at the neck, the wines will be disgorged, this is when the top inch of the bottle is frozen, and the plug of ice, containing the lees, is removed. Immediately after, the bottle is topped with liqueur d’expedition, a mixture of base wine and sugar. The sugar is added to balance the high acidity of the wine, reaching the desired level of the wine! And there you go, you’re now an expert on traditional method sparkling wine! Congratulations!
What an exciting finish for the 7th Stage of the Le Tour de France today! In the last sprint of the race, Marcel Kittel dropped in behind Edvald Boasson Hagen. Kittel and Hagen came together for a photo finish after Kittel gave a final push. After a surprisingly brief debate, the jury called Kittel as the winner! This stage finish will certainly go down as a famous event of this year’s tour, but not nearly as famous as the wines of the region in which they completed the stage: Nuits St George, a region known for premier class Pinot Noirs within Burgundy. The region of Burgundy is a highly prized province in France made up of several distinct wine producing regions, including the Cote d’Or. The Cote d’Or is regarded by some as being the richest and most important region, outranking Cote de Beaune, Cote de Nuits, Chablis, Cote Chalonnaise, Maconnais, and Beaujolais. The vineyard plots in Burgundy are highly fragmented, a result of Napoleon dividing the large land holdings of the church, further complicated by French inheritance laws and hefty inheritance taxes that often cause families to sell vineyard plots. The owners of small allocations of vineyards may find themselves traveling from vineyard to vineyard to visit their small parcels of vines, sometimes not harvesting enough to bottle and selling grapes to cooperatives. The region as a whole in Cote d’Or holds a wine producing secret in the hill – a source for exceptional quality of grapes produced. Modern day geologists flock to the region to analyze the soils in hopes of discovering the key to the region’s success, the studies come up with little results. These curious scientists are not the only ones who have meticulously studied the region! The Cistercian and Benedictine monks were studying the Cote d’Or back in the 12th century, distinguishing one cru from another and exploring their potential in the process. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the incredible quality of the region was well recognized, enough so to benefit from investments from the the dukes of Burgundy, Valois, who encouraged the region to focus on producing quality wines, and since then, the region has benefited from an emphasis on supreme wines, attracting global attention for centuries. There are four crus in Cote d’Or: Grands Crus, Premieres Crus, Appellation Communale, and Bourgogne. The Grands Crus classification has 31 plots, the Premieres Crus has 635! Learn more through our weekend wine tastings and week day masterclasses.