A Brawl in the Loire: Vouvray Wine by Another Name
The word Vouvray will no longer appear on the labels of two of Vouvray’s leading winemakers—Jacky Blot, of Domaine de la Taille aux Loups, and François Chidaine. As of the 2013 vintage, the wines will be sold as Vin de France, thanks to a change in appellation laws the winemakers say they were blindsided by.
Both Blot and Chidaine grow their grapes in Vouvray vineyards but vinify their wines in Montlouis, just across the Loire river from Vouvray. “The cellars are 5 kilometers as a bird flies, 10 by car, from the vineyard,” Blot told Wine Spectator.
Not long after Blot bought Clos de Venise, a superb 2.5-acre monopole in Vouvray, in 1998, the former wine broker received permission from the French government to indefinitely produce his Vouvray in his Montlouis cellar. The Institut National de l'Origine et de la Qualité (INAO), the government agency that oversees appellations, authorized the exception—against the wishes of the local grapegrowers' and winemakers’ syndicate.
“This letter, which authorized me—without a time limit—to vinify in Montlouis, seemed like a total guarantee,” claimed Blot. He was wrong. “Little by little, the growing success of Montlouis-sur-Loire in general and the wines of François Chidaine and myself, [became] an irritation.” Blot increased his investment in Vouvray, buying the 10-acre monopole Clos de la Bretonnière. The cost of potentially having to build a new cellar never crossed his mind, he says.
Chidaine bought the famous Clos Baudoin in 2001 and now owns almost 25 acres in Vouvray. The cellars at Clos Baudoin were old, and to improve quality he moved production to a modern winery in Montlouis in 2013. He believed Blot’s exemption allowed him to also make wine there.
In January of this year, INAO officials inspected Chidaine’s cellars, and shortly thereafter informed both Chidaine and Blot that their 2014 wines could not be labeled Vouvray. The INAO had changed the appellation rules in 2009 and mandated that wines must be made inside Vouvray’s borders to qualify for the appellation. The rules went into full force after 2013.
Chidaine and Blot blame their neighbors. But the local syndicate says it was an INAO decision and their hands are tied. “We were asked to go back to the original specifications for the appellation,” said Jean-Michel Pieaux, the vigneron owner of Domaine du Margalleau and president of the Vouvray syndicate. “This erased all of the previous [exemptions].”
All except one, but it was not for Montlouis-sur-Loire wineries. Wineries in Nazelles-Négron, a small community that also abuts Vouvray, have the right to vinify Vouvray wines in their cellars, even though the commune lies in the larger Touraine appellation. Pieaux dismissed any suggestion that this is a double standard, telling Wine Spectator that the Nazelles-Négron growers have their vines planted on the slopes above the village, and those slopes are in Vouvray. Another reason for the change: Vouvray was made in Nazelles-Négron before 1970, when current boundaries were set.
Blot argues that his 1999 exemption shows exceptions can be made. Both he and Chidaine have hired lawyers. Blot plans to bottle his 2014 vintage as Vin de France while Chidaine has yet to decide, hoping a solution can be found.
Blot sent a letter to his clients around the world last summer, explaining why his wines were now labeled Vin de France and asking that they still pay the same price, roughly $17 wholesale. “We’re very lucky with our clients. Everyone agreed,” said Blot. “I even had one sommelier increase his usual order as a way of offering his support.”
Most Vin de France wine from the region is sold in bulk, for an average price of 50 to 70 cents a liter. Blot’s annual revenues of nearly $350,000 would have evaporated. “It would have been all over,” said Blot. “Maybe that was their intention.”
Pieaux denies any ill intent: “They have to assume responsibility for their actions. They knew the rules.”