Loire

Fri 08 Sep 2017

How Green is Your (Loire) Valley?

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One of the big surprises for me, when I visited the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers with buyer Jo Locke MW earlier in the year, was just how many organic and biodynamic producers were there. There was even a separate exhibition alongside the main wine fair purely for producers who farm in this way.

I wrote about our trip in our Travels in Wine feature on the website, if you’ like to read more about that.

Joanna Locke MW with producer Denis Jamain

 

Some of the producers we follow were in the Levée de la Loire – the organic/biodynamic hall, even though they don’t particularly make a big song and dance about their farming methods. Others chose to be in the main Salon, despite having organic or sometimes biodynamic certification. So I was interested in finding out why this might be, as well as in exploring the prominence of organics.

That 20% of the 250-odd exhibitors in the main hall were certified as organic and that the Levée had a total of 150 organic Loire producers and 70 biodynamic producers, came as a surprise to me, though I can’t think why. After all, the Loire has spawned some of France’s most vociferous advocates of biodynamics – Didier Dagueneau in Pouilly-Fumé and Nicolas Joly in the tiny Savennières appellation, for example. And then there’s star of Vouvray, Domaine Huet, who quietly went about converting to biodynamic viticulture, way before it could have been called trendy!

I had just assumed that grape-growing in this relatively northerly region and comparatively damp climate might present challenges to growers. So, I thought that it wouldn’t be possible to take the risk of farming organically or biodynamically and possibly lose one’s crop to the caprices of Mother Nature.

Chatting to winemakers, wine experts and importers during the fair, I tried to find out what the thinking is these days about organic/biodynamic production in the Loire. It’s fair to say that I heard quite a few different theories during our visit here, which I thought might be of interest to members.

One rather cynical school of thought attributes the popularity of ‘organics’ to the region’s proximity to Paris. ‘It’s partly down to the pressure from French journalists who can easily get here!.

A more generous explanation I heard was that, compared to other parts of France, land here is relatively cheap and therefore within the reach of young winemakers just starting out. They are far more likely to be predisposed to embrace organic and biodynamic principles from the start.

This was from a young French horticultural engineer who happened to be seated alongside us at one of our tastings. Interestingly, he also told me that the Loire Valley is a prime site for the cultivation of plants for seed production. The mild climate is ideal, apparently, and the germination rate of the seeds that come from here is higher than anywhere else in France. Perhaps that’s another reason the Loire Valley also goes by the name of ‘the Garden of France’.

Denis Jamain of Domaine de Reuilly, who produces a number of cuvées (including biodynamically), and who chose to exhibit in the main exhibition hall rather than the one specifically for organic/biodynamic producers, had a more prosaic explanation: ‘There’s more and more demand for organic and biodynamic wines from importers in North America and Scandinavia, particularly where there are state-controlled monopolies on buying wine – they’re much more interested in ethical concerns I have noticed.’ That’s not to diminish his own commitment – he is far from being the type to jump onto any kind of band-wagon for marketing purposes, I can assure you!

And, talking of commitment, this is something that Evelyne de Pontbriand of Savennières estate Domaine du Closel, highlighted to us in a talk about her wines and converting from sustainable farming to biodynamics. She wishes her neighbours in Savennières would do the same too: ‘Around 60-70% of growers are organic and we would love the whole appellation to convert. It is not that people are against it as such, it’s more a question of economics. Farming this way is bound to reduce your yields; some say your vineyards suffer more disease and it’s harder on a bigger scale. Organic farming doesn’t make you rich!’

Importer and Loire expert, Chris Hardy spends a great deal of time in the region. I was interested in his thoughts on the subject:

‘Yes, as we are more northerly, vineyard management methods need to be adapted to keep the grapes healthy as they ripen, though with coherent management, rot isn’t a major problem.’ He told me.

He went on to tell me about the growers he works with, most of whom work sustainably, many certified under the Terra Vitis organisation, ‘but most just using their brains – treating their vineyards as little as possible and preferably only in a preventative way. When needed they will spray, but will use the least damaging and most eco-friendly preparations – some non-organic sprays are more friendly than organic ones!’

Chris sees what work goes into bringing in a healthy crop, and I think that’s the crux of it. Whether you chose to follow organic or biodynamic principles or prefer to go the sustainable route, there just is no substitute for hard and intelligent work – these are the people we at The Society champion too.

Here, Chris gives some idea of what’s involved:

Basic steps, from the ground up:

  1. Grass through the vineyards: that means a little more competition for the grapes, potentially lowering yields, but it’s easier to ripen smaller crops. It also means that when it rains, the water first goes to the grass and not into the vines and grapes, which would then swell, burst and rot. If you go into the vineyards pre-harvest you can see that this a no-brainer: where there’s grass, it is long and vibrantly green and the grapes are healthy. Where there’s no grass, the grapes swell and start to burst, causing rot.

 

  1. Pruning: ideally starting with at la taille which begins around November and pruning long and then de-budding, rubbing out alternate buds so as to space the bunches, keeping them apart. Short pruning short packs the bunches close together, so if one starts to rot, they all do.
  2. Green harvest: if the grower didn’t prune that way, they can catch up later with either a green harvest (the earlier the better so as not to waste energy going to grapes that will be thrown away), reducing the yield and separating the bunches.
  3. De-leafing/leaf plucking around the bunches: this can be done by machine (fans sucking leaves away or with gas burners) or by hand. The idea is to clear the leaves from around the bunches, allowing better access to sun and wind. You can do this on one side or both. The risk in really hot summers it that you can lose some of your crop because the grapes shrivel without any shade.

The sun helps thicken the grapes’ skins, making them more resistant to disease and rot (and giving potentially more flavour) and the wind helps dry off any mist/rain from the grapes, again helping keep them free of rot. Leaf plucking early enough can give the grapes an extra week to ten days on the vines before picking. At a weekly gain of around 1° and a fall of around 1g acidity, that can make a BIG difference to the maturity of the harvest.

In a year when you can expect rain before harvest, to me, again, that’s a no-brainer.

  1. Raise leaf height (especially if you’ve de-leafed as you need to compensate for the grapes you have removed): leaves = photosynthesis = ripeness. Young leaves photosynthesise better than old leaves, so taking, say, 20cm of leaf away at the bottom of the vine and encouraging, say, 40cm at the top will really boost the ripeness of the grapes.

This really increases the chance of reaching phenolic maturity (ripe tannins), essential in the Loire as red wines by law are dry with a max 2 g/l residual sugar, so any under-ripeness can come across as bitterness.

You can see the ripeness arrive with the reds – the stalks start to turn red and the pips start to go from green (and bitter) to brown (and nutty).

We often get rain end September and in October, so the more work done early, the better. It’s not rocket science, but it is hard work and takes vigilance and strength of mind at times!’

It’s quite humbling to hear about just how much work goes into producing your glass of wine and spare a thought for those that didn’t produce any in 2016 because of frosts, which don’t discriminate between organic or non-organic vines.

 

So, while I’m not sure that I found out the real reason for the high numbers of organic and biodynamic Loire producers represented at the trade fair in Angers, I did learn an awful lot more about vineyard husbandry. It makes me appreciate the wine all the more.

>Enjoy buyer Joanna Locke MW’s pick of the 2016 vintage in our current offer

>Read more about our trip to the region in Travels in Wine

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Mon 17 Oct 2016

Harvest 2016: Muscadet – Chinks of Light

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One of the Loire regions hardest hit by frost this spring (the worst since 1991, with some growers cropping as little as 5-10 hl/ha, a fraction of an increasingly rare ‘normal’ crop) the Nantais concluded its harvest in fine conditions after a growing season full of challenges to stretch every grower.

Bernard Chéreau overseeing matters at Chéreau-Carré

Bernard Chéreau overseeing matters at Chéreau-Carré

Chéreau-Carré

A wet spring and extended cold, damp flowering period compounded the in-some-cases gloomy start to the season. Heat and drought ensued in a summer that even challenged holiday makers with more than one period of exceptionally high temperatures. The only good news in this, other than sun tans all round, was that earlier disease pressure in the vineyards was stopped in its tracks, and there will not be much need to chaptalise this year either.

Smiling faces at Domaine du Grand Mouton

Smiling faces at Domaine du Grand Mouton

Domaine du Grand Mouton

A fine late season, with a little rain at just the right time to revive the vines and restart maturation, and dry, sunny, often windy days and chilly nights allowed growers to bring in a healthy, if often cruelly small crop.

Domaine du Grand Mouton

On my recent visit at the tail end of the harvest I saw – and tasted – healthy fruit, talked with sanguine (mighty relieved) growers and heard some pretty tragic stories that may see more Muscadet vignerons throwing in the towel.

On the last day of the harvest at Vinet

On the last day of the harvest at Vinet

And the wines? There will not be a consistent picture (it was a particularly tricky year for organic producers for example), but the best results will produce a richer style of Muscadet, perhaps somewhere between 2015 and 2003 in style.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Tue 04 Oct 2016

Staff Choice: Drinking Pink in October?

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As the mercury lowers and the nights draw in, October’s Staff Choice is naturally… a rosé.

rose-danjou-bougrier-2015

Hats off to Cellar Showroom manager Lisa Fletcher for reminding us, quite rightly, that drinking pink needn’t be confined to the summer months; and this well-priced off-dry wine from the exceptionally reliable Bougrier family is as versatile with weather as it is with food. Take a look at Lisa’s recommendation below…

You can find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here.

Rosé d’Anjou, Famille Bougrier 2015

lisa-fletcherSummer is not the only time for rosé!

I enjoy this delicious wine all year round. Light, refreshing and only 11% alcohol, it has bags of character for the price with delicious sweet (but never sickly) fruit flavours. Its off-dry palate and lovely delicate flavour makes it all-too-easy to enjoy on its own, but it’s also a surprisingly versatile food wine.

Recently it proved a big hit with salmon and some cold cuts; it goes brilliantly with chicken and even a mild Saturday night curry.

Another reason I always keep some of this in my wine rack is because it’s my ‘mother-in-law wine’: she enjoys off-dry rosés, and this always hits the spot!

Lisa Fletcher
Showroom Manager

£6.50 – Bottle
£78 – Case of 12
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Categories : France, Loire
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Wine Society members cordially invited to attend a night of jazz and bubbles at Sparkling Saumur producer Gratien & Meyer’s headquarters in Saumur on Saturday 2nd July, 2016.

In the March edition of Societynews, Olivier Dupré, CEO of Gratien & Meyer in Saumur and Champagne Alfred Gratien in Epernay, mentioned in our interview with him that the company puts on a programme of summer events every year which are proving very popular.

Olivier generously offered to waive the entrance fee of 8€ for Wine Society members (take along a copy of Societynews or your List as proof of membership), in recognition of the long-standing relationship that exists between our two companies.

Gratien & Meyer

What more of a pleasant way to start your summer than with a glass of sparkling Saumur sipped slowly on Gratien & Meyer’s balcony overlooking the Saumur river, listening to some jazzy melodies from the exciting live acts set to perform?

The evening starts at 4pm and goes on until 9pm and this year’s programme looks as though it will be just as popular as previous years, with artists like the Rachel Ratsizafy Quartet, Three for Swing and the Patricia Ouvrard Quartet playing during the course of the evening.

The bands:
Rachel Ratsizafy is French of Madagascan heritage and her music is heavily influenced by the traditional Madagascan songs or ‘Kalo fahiny’ of her youth. She is supported by a talented backing band and guest vocalist Marc Thomas.

Three for Swing are well-known among jazz lovers and were formed to revive the swing music made famous by the Nat King Cole trio. In order to do justice to such a jazz legend requires musicians with immense talent and personality, not to mention a singer with a voice like liquid gold!

Patricia Ouvrard is a singer with an extraordinary talent for improvisation; she’s also that rare thing amongst female vocalists, a scat-singer. Supported by her trio of equally talented musicians, she will treat the audience to some jazz standards given a sensitive rendition by the purity of her voice.

If you like the sound of an evening of jazz and sparkling Saumur wines enjoyed on the terrace of our longest-standing suppliers, Gratien & Meyer, and you will be in the region next month, take a look at the event website for more details.

Santé!

Event details:

Jazz_bulles_Gratien et Meyer_2016

Jazz-Bulles
Saturday 2nd July 2016 from 4.00pm to 9pm
Caves Gratien & Meyer à Saumur.

Tarif 8€ per person, or free for Wine Society members

Address
Gratien & Meyer
Route de Montsoreau
49400 Saumur
Tel. 02 41 83 13 32

Joanna Goodman
Communications Editor

Categories : France, Loire
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Fri 29 Apr 2016

Sauvignon Blanc… With a Twist

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I could have sworn I saw a swallow earlier this week; and with the onset of darkness now retreating to past 8 o’clock I feel I can dare to dream of more temperate times to come. Indeed, in The Cellar Showroom this week I have noticed a marked shift towards white wine purchases. Society members appear to share my optimism.

For me, no grape screams spring and summer like sauvignon blanc. Fresh, herbaceous, citric, tropical… the styles from around the world all seem to have an affinity to the time of year when hats and scarves can be mothballed.

Healthy sauvignon blanc grapes.

Healthy sauvignon blanc grapes.

Lovely as these wines are, though…

Recently I have been particularly taken with a number of sauvignon blanc blends.

Adding another grape or two to sauvignon blanc can temper the variety’s natural acidity and can complement sauvignon’s flavour profile with a splash of something different.

Four Sauvignons With a Twist

Domaine du Salvard's Cheverny employs a splash of chardonnay to add depth

Domaine du Salvard’s Cheverny employs a splash of chardonnay to add depth

• Member favourite Duo Des Mers, Sauvignon-Viognier Vin de France 2015 (£5.95) benefits from the fattening and softening influence of the viognier grape’s texture, whilst also bringing the characteristic apricot and peach aromas to the wine.

•Another popular French choice, Cheverny, Domaine du Salvard 2015 (£7.95), employs 10-15% chardonnay in the blend to give greater breadth and depth, but without masking the herbaceous scents of the sauvignon.

Bleasdale Langhorne Crossing Verdelho-Sauvignon 2015 (£6.95) combines sauvignon blanc with another spring-and-summer variety: the vibrant verdelho, which introduces pleasant pear-like notes and tropical tones to the blend.

• In Spain, moscatel can add its floral aromatics and bring a more table-grape dimension to the fruit character, as is the case in Saleta Moscatel-Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (£5.95). This wine has excellent balance, with the sauvignon blanc moderating any of moscatel’s sweetness with its crisp acidity and ensuring the wine remains dry.

I don’t want to tempt fate but I shall be putting all of the above in the chiller in anticipation of the appropriate weather.

If not, I may just have to turn the thermostat up.

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

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After a (ahem) dry January, our Staff Choice section returns for February, and will be updated every month with a new recommendation from our thirsty team!

You can find our Staff Choices on our website here.

February’s selection comes from our Marketing Team’s Gareth Park:

gareth-parkSaumur ‘Les Plantagenets’ 2014

I’ve been a fan of this wine for a long time, mainly due to its honesty. It’s not a showstopper or flashy in any way but instead is a good juicy red that, at less than £7 per bottle, comes in at a very reasonable price.

I particularly like the way that there isn’t anything confected or false about the wine. It tastes like product of soil, sun and man all in balance; as they should be. A lovely example of Loire cabernet franc from a cracking vintage.

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaign Manager

£6.95 – Bottle
£83.00 – Case of 12
View Wine Details

Categories : France, Loire
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Wed 13 Jan 2016

Cellar Surprises: 2003 Muscadet

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The downside of having a small cellar in another country is that it is generally only topped up once a year with Wine Society wines, and similarly audited, with the odd bottle passing its recommended drinking window.

This Christmas’ pleasant surprise was Bernard Chéreau‘s Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Le Clos du Château L’Oiselinière 2003.

Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Le Clos du Château L'OiselinièreWhen I joined The Society as a buyer in 2004, 2003 was the vintage I was confronted with. At the time I struggled to get to grips with it, especially in the Loire, where the ‘norm’ is something quite different.

There have been warm, ripe vintages since (notably 2005 and 2009) and I have come to think of 2003 as atypical, rather than the Hyde to the regular Dr Jekyll.

The biggest fear at the time was that the wines would have insufficient acidity to maintain freshness even over the short to medium term. Unusually, permission was granted to add acid but, with little or no experience of doing so, few growers did.

Thank goodness.

The best wines found their balance and I have enjoyed numerous examples over the last few years.

The Le Clos was still remarkably good AND fresh, and complemented a buttery and flavoursome chicken admirably.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

The 2009 vintage of Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Le Clos du Château L’Oiselinière is currently available for £10.95 per bottle.

Categories : Loire
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In water ones sees one’s own face; but in wine one holds the heart of another. – French Proverb

Far be it from me to hinder one’s hydration but the day for love approaches. Wine considerations feature highly on this day: my partner and I decided many moons ago not to venture out on Valentine’s to subject ourselves to the set menus but to instead stay home and try and create our own feast using the money saved to add to a food fund and also a wine reserve allowing us to choose and purchase four bottles of wine…

…half bottles that is.

Half bottles from The Wine SocietyI mentioned some time ago that these perfect proportions allow you to be more indulgent and match your wine to a particular course should you wish to, without feeling guilty or feeling you are hampering your health.

Commencing with something sparkling is a prerequisite for us. The Society’s Champagne Brut NV (£14.95 per half) will do nicely and would suit most canapés you could throw at it – even, I am told, hand-cooked crisps.

Our starter more often than not is seafood based and our halves selection offers everything from mussels-friendly The Society’s Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine sur Lie (£4.50 per half) or Riesling, Trimbach 2012 (£6.25), which is glorious with dover sole. If fish is not your thing the affinity Pouilly-Fume, Domaine Seguin 2013 (£7.50) has with goat’s cheese sets off a tart or salad starter brilliantly; or maybe mushroom risotto with Soave, Pieropan 2013 (£6.50).

For the mains, French trimmed lamb chops and the Bordeaux-esque spice of South Africa’s Rustenberg John X Merriman, Stellenbosch 2009 (£7.25), or maybe pan-fried duck breast with the full-flavoured Pinot Gris Tradition, Hugel 2012 (£6.95). A rich roasted vegetable ratatouille and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine du Vieux Lazaret 2011 (£9.50) also have a mutual attraction in my experience.

For dessert, whether it is cheese or something sweet, Samos Anthemis 2007 (£6.95) lends itself to both and permits a pleasurable ending to the evening.

Whether or not you celebrate Valentine’s day I hope this supplies food for thought.

Remember the bottle is not half empty, but half full!

Conrad Braganza
Cellar Showroom

Wed 14 Jan 2015

The Loire: What To Expect in 2015?

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Olivier Mouraud at Bougrier

Olivier Mouraud at Bougrier

A quick visit to start to assess the 2014 vintage in the Loire confirms we most certainly should make an offer of these wines in a few months’ time, and we can dare to hope for that rare thing: a really good red vintage too.

I tasted some gorgeous wines with Nicolas Paget, and the generous forward style of his reds this year hopefully means some will be bottled early enough for summer listings.

The line-up at Bougrier in Touraine was an impressive one, representing just a little of their production across their three vinification centres: Nantaise, Angevine & Tourangelle. Olivier Mouraud was particularly enthusiastic about their rosés this year and proved a dab hand at putting together one or two smart-looking Muscadet and Touraine sauvignon blends.

In Vouvray mostly sec and demi-sec styles along with petillant will be produced, all of which need a little longer in tank and cask before they can be assessed fully.

The new tasting room at Domaine Huet, Vouvray

The new tasting room at Domaine Huet, Vouvray

The stylish new tasting room at Domaine Huet provided the perfect opportunity to re-taste the 2013s after close to 9 months in bottle, as well as the new 2010 Petillant Brut, soon to be released, which is beautifully refined and delicate after the richly impressive 2009 (£19.50) which is all but sold out. Clos du Bourg Demi-Sec 2005 was divine, showing that it is now safe to start opening this excellent vintage, and whetting the hungry appetite for a great 2015 vintage!

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Categories : France, Loire
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Tue 19 Aug 2014

The Loire: My Voyage of Rediscovery

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When buying wine for drinking at home, I have become conscious of a feeling of guilt.

Not for the impending amount of alcoholic units that I’m about to stack up, nor even for the effect on my bank balance. No, my guilt comes from that creeping feeling that by choosing my select few I’m missing out on so many other great wines.

The agony of choice...

The agony of choice…

I would normally consider myself a decisive person but when this nagging feeling of missing out sets in I experience a type of paralysis. Am I wrong to have chosen my favourites again? Am I drinking myself into a rut, albeit a delicious one? Of what delights am I depriving my taste buds? Which regions have fallen off my wine radar just waiting to be rediscovered?

Jo Locke MW, The Society's buyer for the Loire.

Jo Locke MW, The Society’s buyer for the Loire.

Recently I’ve been lucky enough to have been working on a project involving the wines of the Loire Valley with buyer Jo Locke MW, a region which certainly hasn’t been on my wine radar for a very long time but after some exploration and education is set to refresh my list of usual suspects.

The odd thing is that, looking back, I always used to be a fan of these wines but at some point I simply stopped drinking them. Perhaps the tidal wave of good-value, refreshing whites from the Southern Hemisphere turned my head; or the start of my love affair with vinho verde and all things Portuguese cast a shadow over them. Whatever the reason, it has been some time since I seriously considered the Loire as a candidate for regular drinking.

But why should the wines of the Loire demand attention in a wine world where we have so many quality wines, wine regions and world class producers competing for our hard-earned cash? It seems as if not a week passes where the Chileans haven’t discovered a new valley perfect for one grape or another, for instance.

By contrast, the wines of the Loire don’t shout. They don’t scream of innovation or trends or of multinational branding. In most ways these wines are restrained – even understated.

That doesn’t mean they’re dull or out of date – far from it. I’d forgotten the staggering diversity available from the Loire. From bone-dry sauvignon blanc to great-value sparklers, fresh, fruity rosés (often with an appealing touch of sweetness) to full-blown luscious dessert wines, it covers a lot of ground, both metaphorically and physically (the Loire River runs for over 600 miles, after all).

Our new online Loire offering

Our new online Loire offering

Could be that this restraint is the Loire’s strong suit as well as its Achilles heel? When overwhelmed palates tire of overtly gooseberry-laden sauvignons or Fifty Shades of Citrus from the new world then the beautifully balanced flavours and precise purity of the wines from the Loire suddenly look very attractive.

I heard recently someone describe the Loire as producing ‘pretty much everything but monster reds.’ I’m quite thankful for this refreshing alternative, and whether looking for an energising white (think nicely chilled Muscadet) great-value sauvignon blanc (look to Touraine) or something classy and serious (top Vouvray and Sancerre), the Loire has most bases covered.

It’s just a shame that’s it taken me so long to remember!

Gareth Park

Marketing Campaign Manager

The Society’s current online offering, Discover the Loire, is now available, featuring a wide range of wines to explore and a wealth of useful information on the region, its grapes and winemakers. We hope you’ll take the plunge and discover, or rediscover, this special wine region.

Categories : France, Loire
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