Frost has been a vicious foe of vignerons across the Loire Valley in recent years. But arguably no AOC and no vintage have borne the brunt more than Jasnières in April 2019. This northernmost appellation is colder than much of the region and its relatively small Loir—no “e”—River doesn’t have as much of a temperature-moderating effect as the Loire River to the south does. Pascal Janvier, who routinely crafts exquisite Chenin Blancs in Jasnières (JAH-nee-air), was able to salvage very little Chenin that year—the bitter cold wiped out almost all of his white-wine grapes. In order to survive and make any blanc, he had to source grapes from nearby AOCs, such as Vouvray and Coteaux du Vendomois; hence, this cuvée bears the “Vin de France” label. Even though Pascal’s loss of his Chenin Blanc in Jasnières in 2019 was tragic, he nevertheless turned out a wonderful white wine. This bottling bears his trademark notes of green apple, citrus, and flint. Pascal’s pairing recommendation? “Charcuterie,” says the butcher-turned-vigneron.
Pascal Janvier never planned on becoming a vigneron. Though his parents had vineyard land of their own, they did not make their own wine. He went to school to learn butchery, but made a sudden about-face at the age of thirty and decided to study winegrowing. His decision was anything but a whim. Starting slowly, he has mastered his craft with focus and passion, contributing to the revival of the small appellation of Jasnières, the most northerly (and coldest) of the greater Loire region. The once proud appellations of Jasnières and the Coteaux du Loir are now all but extinct, with less than one hundred and two hundred hectares still respectively under vine. Pascal is doing his part to remind everyone what Jasnières is capable of.
The defining feature of the Loire Valley, not surprisingly, is the Loire River. As the longest river in France, spanning more than 600 miles, this river connects seemingly disparate wine regions. Why else would Sancerre, with its Kimmeridgian limestone terroir be connected to Muscadet, an appellation that is 250 miles away?
Secondary in relevance to the historical, climatic, environmental, and cultural importance of the river are the wines and châteaux of the Jardin de la France. The kings and nobility of France built many hundreds of châteaux in the Loire but wine preceded the arrival of the noblesse and has since out-lived them as well.
Diversity abounds in the Loire. The aforementioned Kimmderidgian limestone of Sancerre is also found in Chablis. Chinon, Bourgueil, and Saumur boast the presence of tuffeau, a type of limestone unique to the Loire that has a yellowish tinge and a chalky texture. Savennières has schist, while Muscadet has volcanic, granite, and serpentinite based soils. In addition to geologic diversity, many, grape varieties are grown there too: Cabernet Franc, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Melon de Bourgogne are most prevalent, but (to name a few) Pinot Gris, Grolleau, Pinot Noir, Pineau d’Aunis, and Folle Blanche are also planted. These myriad of viticultural influences leads to the high quality production of every type of wine: red, white, rosé, sparkling, and dessert.
Like the Rhône and Provence, some of Kermit’s first imports came from the Loire, most notably the wines of Charles Joguet and Château d’Epiré—two producers who are featured in Kermit’s book Adventures on the Wine Route and with whom we still work today.
I want you to realize once and for all: Even the winemaker does not know what aging is going to do to a new vintage; Robert Parker does not know; I do not know. We all make educated (hopefully) guesses about what the future will bring, but guesses they are. And one of the pleasures of a wine cellar is the opportunity it provides for you to witness the evolution of your various selections. Living wines have ups and downs just as people do, periods of glory and dog days, too. If wine did not remind me of real life, I would not care about it so much.
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