Monday 3 September 2012

Sorting Out the Vines

On a recent visit with clients to la Domaine de la Chaise in Saint-Georges-sur-Cher the owner and winemaker Christophe Davault gave us an impromptu primer on how to tell grape varieties apart in the field.

Grape varieties are notoriously difficult to tell apart, but people like Christophe, who have worked with them all their lives, can do so at a glance. He says you need to look at the leaves and the wood. By wood he means the annual growth above the graft. Below the graft is the rootstock and will look much the same for all the varieties. He has planted examples of 5 varieties along a barn wall in his farmyard, and he explained the differences to us as follows:

Cot - known as Malbec outside of the Loire Valley. This is the original red grape grown in the Touraine in pre-phylloxera days. Cot leaves have 3 shallow lobes, pointed teeth and an open V shaped petiolar sinus (where the stem arrives). The leaves are rough, with dark veins. The wood is brown.

Chenin blanc.
Chenin Blanc - sometimes called Pineau de la Loire in the Touraine, it is one of the most iconic of the Loire Valley varieties, believed to have been brought from Hungary in the 4th century by Saint Martin. The new buds have a pinkish tinge and young leaves are downy and bronzed. Chenin blanc leaves are 3 or 5 shallow lobed with rounded teeth and a lyre shaped just overlapping petiolar sinus. The leaves are smooth, with pinkish veins. The wood is green.

Cabernet franc.
Cabernet Franc - the leaves have a tooth, referred to as a 'tongue' (langue) in French, in the lateral sinuses (the deep indentations between lobes). They are large leaves, with fine veins. In the spring the young shoot tips are bronze and the undersides of the leaves downy. There are 5 deep lobes with slightly jagged wavy edges.

Sauvignon blanc.
Sauvignon Blanc - the leaves are small and fairly smooth with rounded teeth and 5 fairly deep lobes and a closed lyre shaped petiolar sinus. The wood is green and the leaf veins quite fine and pale green.

Gamay - the leaves are 3 shallow lobed, with a V shaped petiolar sinus and rounded teeth. The surface of the leaves is a bit rough, with quite fine green veins. The wood is brown.

These are the main varieties Christophe grows, in the Touraine and now the new Touraine-Chenonceaux appellations. He also grows some Pineau d'Aunis and Grolleau, both used in rosé.


Apologies to Christophe if I've got any of this wrong.


Anonymous said...

Great stuff, now I'll know what I'm painting!

Pollygarter said...

Really great stuff... now we can all [after learning this] sound like real wine buffs!
I also now know why I like Cot so much... I like Malbec!
Now do posts on what each of the varieties taste like, please.
[The NON-subtle notes... ]
Tim [on PGs 'puter]

GaynorB said...

Perhaps we could organise a blogers wine tasting trip to some good producers - but only when we are there to join in!

Susan said...

Gaynor: 'We'? Tim doesn't drink wine!? I'm happy to organise something to visit one or two of 'our' wineries. Maybe other bloggers have favourites and we should create a list to work from. I'm not a fan of visiting more than 2 wineries in a day though. I think it needs to be an 'occasional series' focusing on one Appellation at a time.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Thanks, Susan. I'll be testing this out in our back-yard vineyard starting this afternoon.

Ken Broadhurst said...

A lot of the vines I examined had leaves of several different shapes and forms on the same plant. Sigh...

Susan said...

Ken: I know - it's a nightmare. What Christophe did was to pick off a whole shoot and talk about the new growth at one end and the mature leaves at the other. You can't ever ID a vine from a single leaf. Wood colour helps eliminate half your options too. I can see at a glance when two rows of vines are different, but actually quantifying that with leaves in hand can be tricky. It just takes practice though. The trouble is you need feedback from someone who knows what they are talking about, so you know what the parameters of variability for each character is, and which ones are key diagnostics eg the tooth in the lateral sinus is key for cab franc, but not all leaves will have it. If no leaves have it you know it is not a cab franc.

Aussie in France said...

Very interesting. I remember doing that in Alsace where they have 8 or 9 varieties, I think it is. And thanks to your post, I've now successfully identified the grape vine we inherited when we bought our house in Blois - it's gamay!
May I quote a paragraph from this post in my Wednesday's bloggers' roundup?

Susan said...

Fraussie: by all means link to us with a paragraph in your roundup. I'm glad to have been of help.

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