European passport: Loire Valley

"MiniCat" rules the roost at Chateau de l'Oiseliniere in the Loire Valley, France

Muscadet Reboots

WINEMAKER LIONEL METAIREAU spends a lot of time alone at Caves de la Nantaise, the Famille Bougrier winery in Pays Nantais. It could be the time of year—just before bud break when the winery is still shak­ing off its winter cobwebs. And it could be the isolation that comes naturally when you’re at the edge of a sprawling wine region such as the Loire Valley, the third largest in France.

And sometimes, Metaireau thinks it’s because his far-flung kingdom has only one subject: the peculiarly light-bodied and in­tensely mineral Melon de Bourgogne vari­ety, better known as Muscadet.

“Muscadet is complicated right now; it is going through a difficult period,” he told us on our visit this spring, “There is a lot of quantity right now, and the quality is not always up to par.”

Muscadet feels the pain that a number of other easily dismissed wine regions do. Even a recent directive from the European Union has the feeling of a rebuke: It paid growers to grub their vines—a requirement to regulate production that some other re­gions have also seen. It resulted in about 3,000 hectares of lost vines. Producers like Georges Verdier of Chateau de l’Oiseliniere recognizes that such a setback will ulti­mately elevate the quality of the vineyard, but still notes, “The crisis of the Muscadet vineyard is not finished and is at its peak.”

But these, both men believe, are sim­ply transitioning pains that will pass with the help of winemakers who, undaunted, see great potential in their appellation. Full story in July issue of Sommelier News.[PDF download here]

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