Food Lovers

In Conversation

Ten Generations of Wine Making

Jean Marie Bourgeois, heads the iconic wine house of Henri Bourgeois in Sancerre, Loire Valley, France. He talks to Food Lovers editor, Kripal Amanna about his wines and his passion for evangelizing wines of the Loire Valley.

Kripal Amanna: What brings you to India?
Jean Marie Bourgeois: I visit India and other countries on a regular basis. My clients should always be aware of the new activities of Henri Bourgeois. We have to convey the new releases/cuvees within our Domaine as well as conveying the evolution of our vineyard in New Zealand, Clos Henri. This year I had to inform my clients that we will dramatically reduce our allocation for Sancerre Les Baronnes and Pouilly Fume En Travertin (between 25% and 40%) due to the frost from last spring.
 
During each visit to India, I am very glad to show my passion for good wines and especially those from the Loire Valley. The other regions of France are also beautiful but the price (of wines from those regions) May not always be very accessible for consumers.
 

quote1(1) Our kings built their castles on the edge of the Loire river. They always thought that Loire embodied a relaxed rhythm of life and that it was ‘The Garden of France’. Loire valley has a microclimate which is perfectly suited for viticulture.  quote2(1)

This is your fifth visit to India. How have you seen the wine drinking/ appreciation space here evolve over time?
I do acknowledge that during my first visit, many Indians couldn’t differentiate grapes and appellations. I now notice that there is a category of people who show more and more interest towards wine and are getting to know and make the difference between an average wine and a very good wine.
 
Tell us more about the Henri Bourgeois wines available in India.
We currently export 3 cuvees to India. The first one is the Muscadet Sevres et Maine, stemming from the grape, Melon de Bourgogne, which shows some fizzy notes due to its fermentation on lees. It is an excellent aperitif wine. In the Loire Valley, we have it with oysters and shells and in India, I understand this wine matches perfectly with some spicy recipes.
 
The second wine is the Sancerre Blanc Les Baronnes that stems from a clay and limestone terroir, and offers very specific floral notes of Sauvignon Blanc, and a delicate fruit flavour of vine peach, which we find in our region, on the palate. This cuvee is certainly the perfect match for fish, white meat and some spicy dishes.
 
The third wine, Pouilly-Fumé En Travertin, is slightly smoky on the nose thanks to the flint which is a component of this terroir. On the palate, one can taste well-pronounced notes of lemon citrus. Pouilly-Fumé remains the most favourite wine of Indians. The wine behaves beautifully when tasted with mildly spiced Indian dishes; at home, we consume it mostly with a seafood platter.
 
What makes wines of the Loire valley unique?
Our kings built their castles on the edge of the Loire river. They always thought that Loire embodied a relaxed rhythm of life and that it was ‘The Garden of France’. Loire valley has a microclimate which is perfectly suited for viticulture.
 
The Loire valley is split into four regions of (wine) production. In the Centre, where Henri Bourgeois is, Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and other small appellations benefit from an exceptional terroir and climate for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir vines.
 
Closer to the estuary of the Loire river, is the region of Touraine that produces Sauvignon Blanc also but especially Chenin Blanc and Gamay. Then, you have the region of Anjou, where Chenin Blanc is also produced, but it is mostly a red grape, Cabernet Franc, growing region
 
Then at the estuary itself, you will find the vineyards of Muscadet that produce the so-called Muscadet Sevres et Maine made of Melon de Bourgogne grape and bottled on lees.
 
You carry samples of the Loire valley terroir across the world?
I like to be always connected to my terroirs hence I am carrying samples of my stones. I also want to convey to people the influence and the generosity of the terroirs on my wines.
 
You produce wines in the old world and also the new world, Marlborough. You make the Pouilly-Fumé in the Loire and a completely different expression of the same grape, Sauvignon Blanc, in New Zealand. How do you marry the two divergent wine cultures of Old World and New World?
When we started considering planting vines in New Zealand, we first studied climatology for a whole year, reporting temperatures on a daily/ weekly basis. We collected a hundred samples of the soils and subsoils, that we analysed to understand their composition.
 
After we gathered all this data, we started planting vines only where the soils were favourable to make good wine (less than 50% of the overall surface of our property). We also managed to define what would be best for Sauvignon and Pinot Noir.
 
We used our wine making experience of 10 generations to start planting in New Zealand. We were the first to plant vine lines in high density to reduce the production per vine stock and let the vine roots dig further in the subsoils with the aim of extracting the best minerals. It was not our intention to grow industrial vines as we are attached to our single plot production philosophy in accordance with each terroir. Without our Sancerre experience, we would not have been able to work this way.
 
Have you tasted wines in India? Any favourites?
I have not tasted many Indian wines but some from Sula. I believe that all grape (varietals) are not adapted to the kind of soils India has, but I really liked the Riesling and the Chenin Blanc. I thought that the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay were a bit weak in quality.
I must acknowledge that amongst all the grapes I have tasted, I preferred the reds. To me it seems that it is highly necessary to focus more on grapes that are able to adapt to the Indian climate and terroirs.
 
How important is India as a wine market in your scheme of things?
The Indian market remains a small market from a worldwide perspective. But I am interested in it because I can foresee a certain development in the future.
I would like to introduce other high-end cuvees for consumers here to be aware of the diversity of our terroirs.
 
A word of advice for the young wine drinker.
I think that wine amateurs must be careful. It is not the easy-to-drink wines, those with residual sugar, which will teach them how to progress in tasting wine. It is important to shape and educate one’s palate by way of comparative tasting with dry wines.
 

Posted: February 17, 2018
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