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Loire project promises ‘thousands of possibilities’ for Sauvignon Blanc

Published:  09 June, 2017

A long-term research and development project undertaken by Central Loire Valley Wines (BIVC) aimed at improving both the quality and variety of Sauvignon Blanc is close to fruition.

At the heart of the initiative, which has focused on both viticulture and winemaking, has been the study of vines and rootstock, with some 1,000 vines studied, resulting in a selection of 267 differing Sauvignon Blanc plants isolated and planted on a 5ha plot in Coteaux de Giennois two years ago.

The aim is to provide high quality Sauvignon Blanc for grafting and the first plants will be ready early in 2018.

Speaking to Harpers, BIVC director Benoit Roumet explained: “We are completely changing the way we are looking at viticulture; 15 years ago we realised there were very few clones of Sauvignon Blanc planted in the region, and one disease could mean we lose 30% [of the crop] so we sent a letter to the winemakers of the region asking if they had vineyards planted before 1960, before those clones came in.”

Roumet, who founded the BIVC to represent both the classic and less well-known region of the central Loire some 23 years ago, has also driven a shift in approach for the marketing of the region, with communications now focused on promoting Central Loire, rather than individual appellations such as Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, Quincy and Reuilly.

“People know the grape variety but not the regions,” said Roumet.

With Sauvignon Blanc dominating production and sales from Central Loire, Roumet said that the new plant material will “allow thousands of possibilities”, with the appellations also collectively gearing up to better promote differences in styles, ranging from vines grown on soils including slate and limestone, with greater emphasis on terroir and single site expressions of the variety.

“We are not able to make low priced wines. But if we want to sell wines at €7, €9 or €12, we need more than nice wines, as you can find nice Sauvignon Blancs anywhere in the world,” explained Roumet.

“We need wines with character, they have to stand out,” he added. “We need to put our imprint on the wines and we can do that because we are small – Central Loire is a small percentage of French wine production, which means [it is] a very small percentage of world production.”

While there has been a 35% increase in production across the Central Loire appellations in the last 20 years, where 82% of wines are white, 11% red and 7% rosé, there is little opportunity for further expanding volume.

Roumet added: “The price of the new vines will be 50% more expensive, but if these vines live longer and produce better wines then it will work out better for winemakers. And the lesser know appellations, which are slightly more affordable, can play a part in delivering something new to discover.”