Wednesday, 10 June 2015

A Perfect Day in Panzoult

Recently I had the pleasure of helping three National Trust wardens from the Ebworth Estate in the Cotswolds, who were on a study trip to France. I'll write more about their project later, but I thought I would first write an overview of how we spent our day on Friday 6 June.

 Red Helleborine Cephalanthera rubra.
After picking them up at Les Limornieres, the local gite I had recommended they stay in, we set off for le Grand Pressigny. Yohann Sionneau, the river technician based in Preuilly, had let me know that he and his team would be surveying fish in the Claise that morning, so we went along to observe.

 Yohann and his gang electric fishing in the Claise at le Grand Pressigny.
Then we drove over to Panzoult and visited a site where the Red Helleborine Cephalanthera rubra grows. This is a rare orchid in the Touraine, and even rarer in Britain. David, Richard and Tim are part of a team working on saving the species in Britain, so they wanted to see it in places where it thrives. After a nice mooch around the limestone slope spotting orchids and other rare plants, taking lots of photos and notes about the habitat, we repaired for lunch in the village.

 Richard admiring a patch of Peach-leaved Bellflower Campanula persicifolia
These are uncommon in the wild now, although widely planted as garden cultivars.
The restaurant, called La Sybille, looks distinctly ordinary from the exterior, and the impression is not improved on first glance inside. However, the €14.50 menu ouvriers (workmen's lunch) was excellent -- buffet starter which included avocado, fish, salads and charcuterie, three choices of main (steak, lamb kebabs or fish baked in foil) served with chips, rice, pasta or green beans, followed by cheese and classic desserts, all washed down with Chinon red or rosé. It was a particularly hot day (30+ degrees), so we opted for rosé and eschewed the cheese and coffee.

 Tim photographing a Red Helleborine.
Then back out onto the limestone slopes for more botanising and ecological studies. It was just lovely to be out with people who really get it.

 An Asp Viper Viperus aspis, about half grown, on a limestone slope. 
The Touraine Loire Valley's only venomous snake, this was my highlight for the day.
Once we'd seen all we could of the Red Helleborine habitat it was still a bit early to return home. All work and no play makes very dull botanists and ecologists, so we decided to visit a winery. The south facing slopes along the Vienne at Cravant les Coteaux and Panzoult produce some of the most highly regarded of the Chinon appellation wines. The Red Helleborine site is sandwiched between the Cave Touristique and Domaine de la Mariniere. We decided the Cave Touristique would give us the chance to taste wines from different winemakers, plus they wouldn't mind that we didn't have an appointment.

 Green Tiger Beetle Cicindela campestris on a limestone slope. 
A ferocious predator and difficult to photograph as they are very skittish.
It turned out to be an excellent choice. Our guide did a super job of taking us through the Panzoult winemakers association's cave, which is an underground events venue for wine fairs and corporate entertaining. Inside she related the story of Rabelais' third book of Pantagruel, which is partly set in Panzoult and illustrated by sculptures around the walls of the cave. When we came out she confessed that it was the first time she had ever done the tour in English. We gave her the benefit of a short tutorial on how to pronounce 'cheat' (which as Anglo French speakers will have guessed, she was pronouncing 'shit'...) but apart from that she did brilliantly.

 Large Venus's Looking-glass Legousia speculum-veneris
an uncommon 'arable weed'.
We then proceeded into the visitor centre for a tasting session -- a white, a rosé and two reds. None of us liked the white (Chinon makers have a tendency to not leave any residual sugar in their chenin blanc and it doesn't do this grape variety any favours) but we loved the rosé and all bought some. Both reds were good and I bought a couple of 2009 vintage (a very good year here). 

 Richard, David and Tim entering the Panzoult winemakers' cave with our guide.
When we came out a thunderstorm was rumbling to the east and we went up to the viewing platform to look out over the valley. Then it was on the road for home and a very welcome apéro with Simon.

5 comments:

  1. Eeee, Gromit... that t'were a grand day out!!
    Fancy a bit of Wensleydale?

    We were drinking a Chinon Blanc last night...
    nice, very dry and crisp with a long, young, sweet grapey finish...
    very nice indeedy... SARL Raffault, Savigny-en-Véron 2013...


    Just love the Large Venus's Looking-glass


    And I would have thought she would have pronounced it "Sheet" as in bed linen??

    Tim

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    1. Oh... and they finished the day with four LARGE eels, up by the bridge...
      ooos and ahhs from the crowd on the bridge [about forty people... a lot for "eclectic" fishing]
      I don't think the shock even really stunned those eels... there was frantic juggling of the net contents each time... and Johann was bucket-monitor at that point...
      he had his work cut out keeping the biggest in the dustbin!!

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    2. A lot of Chinon makers do this very old fashioned acidic chenin blanc like we had, but some are realising that it is nicer if you leave a bit of sugar. The Raffault family are generally admired for their wines, but I've never had a white by them.

      Good to hear about the eels. That's the aim of the game. They had another fish in the ID tent that was a determined escape artist. The woman in charge of sorting dealt with it by lowering the tide and removing its bubbler.

      The Panzoult guide was shortening the vowel and in the context of the story it certainly sounded like 'shit'. So much so that we all assumed she was being extremely colloquial the first time and let it go.

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    3. Something I took a special photograph of was the confluence of the two rivers...
      the Claise was clear and the Aigronne very cloudy still... and it showed!
      And look out for tomorrow's post from A.V.W... I think you will be very interested!!

      We will certainly be buying some more Raffault white... and by the sounds of it, should get some red, too...

      And, when you think about it... perhaps the Panzoult guide was more accurate in the misspronounced version??!

      We had a welcome 11mm of rain here today... the potager was crying out for it...
      I'll bet yours was as well.
      Tim

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  2. A little bird tells me that your National Trust visitors had a great time and were well impressed!
    We had a winetasting picnic/ vineyard visit at Domaine de la Mariniere last month, plus a visit to the quarry where sarcophagi were manufactured centuries ago. We also had a great time and were well impressed!

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