We are just returning from a week in the Loire Valley in France. I am literally on the plane while I write this, as I want to share my thoughts while my memory is fresh. It was our first time in the area. We wanted to learn more about the 3rd most important wine region in this beautifully wine-centric country. Everyone knows Bordeaux wines are historic. Burgundy is currently some of the most expensive wine in the world. But how many of us are well acquainted with Chinon, Borgeuil, Vouvrey and Sancerre from the Loire? The best way to learn about an unfamiliar wine region is to visit, taste the wine and speak with the people who actually make it. They are the ones who are truly passionate about their product and can best represent a region’s offerings.
So we went to the Loire Valley for our spring break and stayed near Chinon. Our daughter, Chelsea, and her husband Sam joined us although Sam had to return to work early in the week. On our first night there we visited Cave Voltaire where we were greeted by an English speaking Loire Valley wine connoisseur who introduced us to several fine representations of the Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc and Sauvingon Blanc grapes. We talked about the area and some of his favorite producers. He is the one who suggested that we visit Bernard Baudry who makes Chinon.
This was such an amazing tasting. I have tasted a lot of wine and talked with a lot of wine makers but this was by far one of my favorite tastings – ever. All it takes is a little curiosity and interest in a person, a place and the literal fruits of his labor.
Visiting wineries in the Loire is not like tasting in California where they are set up for visitors. In the Loire, the winery may say they are “Ouvert” (Open) but when you walk in and ring the bell, it’s quite possible that no one will show up. These are mostly small operations where the winemaker is also the one who tends the vines, picks the grapes, bottles the juice and sells it. So we didn’t know what to expect when we drove up to the modest tasting room at Bernard Baudry.
We walked into the office near the end of the day to find 2 older men enjoying a glass of rosé and chatting with each other. They were obviously long time friends. My French is not fluent but I try my best so I asked in French if it was too late for a tasting. They had a quick laugh and the friend, who was also quite charming, wound up leaving the winemaker to his clients. Our host was the winemaker, Bernard Baudry himself. He is the third generation of winemakers in his family and his son works with him. Bernard led our tasting and we were the only guests.
It helps to speak the same language but it's most important to be curious, appreciative and interested. We tasted several of his wines, each from different soils. They were extremely different from one another, depending on the terroir. His tasting room was decorated with interesting pictures from the past and unique art. We asked about these, as well as the wine. It turns out that Bernard is friends with another wine maker we visited earlier in the day, whose art was decorating the walls! This is an intimate place where everyone knows each other and their families.
We clearly were enjoying Bernard’s wine and his engaging personality. When we reached what we thought was the end of our tasting, he invited us into the cave where he keeps his barrels. We got to have a barrel tasting of his 2016 Chinon. This was such an honor. This particular wine is thick with tannins and too young to drink now but as he told us, you can see the future when you taste the wine. It will be delicious when it is bottled and available to the public, and even better if you lay it down for a few years.
We were enjoying ourselves immensely when he asked what year Chelsea was born. He laughed and said to me in French “notice that I did not ask what year you were born.” He went into a different part of the cave and pulled out a dusty bottle from 1992. We went into the tasting room and he opened the bottle with drama and a mixture of pride and humility. He said 1992 was not a good year. But the cork was still perfect and the wine was delicious, having changed with age and maturity, just as we all do.
Bernard talked about what makes a wine his favorite and it is not the price of the bottle or the prestige of the label – it is the history of the family, the work of the season, the memory of the year and the sharing with family and friends that makes a bottle meaningful. His wines will always be memorable to me because of this experience, his generosity and his influence on my understanding of the area. Being curious, and appreciative of his wines made this one of the best tasting experiences I’ve ever had. As with most visits in this region, there was no charge for the tasting. It is polite to buy a bottle or two, but after tasting the wine you are happy to do so because it is so good. It is also very reasonably priced compared to other regions in France!
Remember, if you or someone you know would like help planning your own trip to the Loire Valley or anywhere in France, Italy, Ireland or the rest of Europe, I would love to talk with you! You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to help you make your travel dreams to Europe come true!