Monday 15 January 2018

Harvest 2017: François Blanchard | Le Grand Cléré

The first time we spoke with François Blanchard was when he invited us to make a grand fête which sounded like a great idea except driving there 45 minutes south somewhere wasn’t such a great idea because we didn’t know where ‘there’ was except there was a château and also because we were drunk because this was Dive or at least afterwards so we didn’t go.

We met again in October. When we finally arrived at Chateau du Perron in Lémere in the Touraine in the Loire it was dark and I say ‘finally’ because we were driving from Amsterdam and the drive — all parts but especially the last part — always takes longer than you think it will and even longer when it’s me driving which it was so like I said, when we finally arrived it was dark and it was also very late. François came out of the chai howling and whooping and got us glasses and poured us wine and it was cold and good. It was a skin-contacted Sauvignon from 2012 and there was also paté and homemade pizza and it was 01:00 which I know because I went to the car to get a sweater.

François had been drinking with a friend who looks like Hemingway whose name is Gerard Blanchard but they are not related — François and Gerard I mean. Gerard is an accordion player and he played for us and said I looked like an American actress by which I am sure he means an American actress in the old days when there was a certain American actress look which I don’t have. Later he showed us a book that made no sense because it was in French and because he had illustrated it on acid and later still François played on the guitar and started howling and everyone joined in and started banging things. I say howling and not singing but it was more like throat singing which I guess is still singing and we were still banging things. It was about 04:00 and by then we were drinking a Cabernet Franc from 1995.

The next day we woke up sneezing and still dressed shoes socks and all. Our bed was clean but the room was dusty and there were sheets over the things in the corner and our bed was a mattress on the floor and we were very very thirsty. François lives in 3/4 of a château with his family and, I quote myself, the other 1/4 is full of rooms full of mattresses, dodgy to no electricity and bidets in unlikely places. This is the 1/4 we woke up in and it was sunny. Later we went on a tour.

François took over the family’s château in 1999 he said and channelled his energy of which I can attest he has huge amounts into wakening the vines. His grandfather and I think but am not sure his father made wine to be sold in bulk to négociants and in the chai which is very large and you can see the big vats they used for storage. After this, or perhaps after his father, the vines were ignored and are now revived and strong. François started making wine in 2003 and always according to organic principles and with much care and attention paid to bugs and other critters and fruit trees grown everywhere in-between. He works with horses and Olivier Cousin helped him with these. 

Soon it was time to make the fête but first it was time to prepare. I should explain before I tell you that we picked raspberries and tomatoes and made a big pot of sauce for everyone who arrived that night to eat at long tables by the fire with bread and pasta that François was, but really still is, a jazz player but that when it was his profession he played jazz in Tours. For him, and like I wrote for The Morning Claret, the harvest is all about good energy and making the fête and the more musical you are, the more valuable you are, I think, to the whole operation. ‘Making a fête’ by the way translates to making a party and is how they say it in French.

The harvest began on Saturday at 11:00 which was the next day. We were told it would be sunny, that it was always sunny for the harvest even though it was grey at the time we were told this but indeed it became very brightly sunny and I was hot in my turtleneck when it was even though it was also windy. We were there to pick the Sauvignon situated a little ways down the rolling, wheat-lined road on a hillside on the highest plateau in the area which like I already said is Touraine at an altitude of approximately 110 metres. His vineyard is called Le Grand Cléré and is about 3 hectares with the total divided between Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. They would pick the Cabernet next week and there would be another fête we were told with some Japanese, two Belgians and an Italian from Rome. All of them, we were told, were musical.

The picking was very relaxed and everyone which is to say neighbours and old people and young people and very young people which supposedly have better energy and a lady with curly hair who comes every year from Brittany and a café philosopher who did more philosophising and smoking than picking came to help but mostly, I think, for lunch. Harvest lunch is always the best lunch and François’ wife made the best fromage du tête I have ever had and this coming from a vegetarian who is not a vegetarian when she knows the animal or is in France which is among the worst sorts of vegetarian she knows. There were three tables laden low with lentils and hardboiled eggs and cheese and bread and boudin noir and paté and rillet and herring and apples and countless more things but these are the things I ate. We sat on our buckets and drank small glasses of beer and a little wine and then it was time for coffee and then to pick more grapes.

We finished at 7 and the next day it rained and we made the wine and the café philosopher smoked. First we de-stemmed the grapes by pushing them around and around and around a big basket that worked like a sieve in which the stems and stalks get stuck and out of which the skins and juice and ladybugs fall. Underneath was a plastic bin. Next we would check the bin for ladybugs and snails and breakaway stems and then it was time to crush this with our feet. This is a lot of fun and very satisfying and everyone wants to do it but is also tiring and cold work and it makes you thirsty and appreciative. We stood stomping in our buckets gushing and crushing while another group continued de-stemming and others just were talking. You crush until what you are crushing is juice and then someone adds more grapes and you crush some more all the while upping and downing and drinking cold little glasses and no longer noticing everything is sticky and smells like grape and thinking how great a thing is wine. There is, I think, something to be said about energy. And reggae.

(p.s. Today I received an invitation to the next fête. See you there, François!)

September 2017

François Blanchard (Le Grand Clére)

Lémere, Touraine, Loire

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