Bishop reports from the Loire - a château a day and horses in
We were finally off! After months of planning
Lily and her faithful travelling companion Dromara happily climbed into
their electric mint green horse box in Wiltshire to begin our epic
journey around France.
With Ben Attlee at the wheel
and Ros Stace following close behind we arrived in Portsmouth for an
easy sunny crossing with P&O – a true blessing as horses don’t
recover from seasickness as quickly as humans.
our first night's stop near Beauvais where the stable mascots – the
goat and donkey - were the only ones awake to watch the horses clamber
down on to French soil under a full moon we trundled on south to
Pouilly and Sancerre.
Didier Dagueneau and his team
had done some sterling work in researching where we could go by horse
and had liaised with all the best local vignerons.
Saturday morning saw us trotting across to Château
Tracy in the bright spring sunshine. The horses were so eager to get
going – they had left England seriously fit but not knowing what on
earth they had been prepared for!
received us at Ch Tracy where we were joined by Didier and his friend
Guy (of local charcuterie fame) on their Ducattis. The horses having
had a good leg stretch obligingly hopped back into the box while we
went in to taste Ch Tracy’s Pouilly Fumé from tank samples through to
the finished product dating back to 1996. The silex and gunflint
characters give the wine tremendous expression. What a great place to
Then the bikes revved up and the horses were
mounted and we all headed over the hill back to Didier’s home for
lunch. Pure Sang 1988 shone out of the glass as Guy’s charcuterie
started to make its way round...
After tasting Elyse
1997 Zinfandel with an impressive cheese board we squeezed in one
morsel of homemade cake slathered with Didier’s own jam and climbed
back on board our trusty steeds.
We rode a loop around the
vineyards to come back to St Andelain at a lower level to visit
Didier’s cousin Serge where we tasted not only their Clos de Chadoux
2000 but a red from the Coteaux Charitais – light in colour but with
good fruit – not dissimilar to a Sancerre Rouge with a hint of cherry
stones on the finish.
The next morning we rode to
Sancerre where we were met by Alphonse Mellot in the main square. As
the French flowed out after mass it was not only Alphonse’s eyes that
were opened as the two horses marched into the square bristling with
energy after a couple of steep vineyard climbs. Despite their
enthusiasm for more they happily hopped into the box again and settled
down with a haynet whilst Alphonse took us around his vineyards and
most impressive cellars. There we tasted three different barrel samples
of La Moussière, followed by Generation XIX 1999 and then Edmond 1999.
After the flinty Pouilly Fumés these carefully more rounded Sancerres
with barrel ageing reflected a fascinating change from one side of the
river to the other.
After a delicious Sunday lunch
with Alphonse we moved on to Bourgeois in Chavignol where we saw their
new state-of-the-art cellars with amazing views out over the church
spire and vineyards around Chavignol. There we tasted an impressive
collection of wines including their Sancerre Jadis 1999 from vines of a
minimum of 50 years old before moving on to their Sancerre d'Antan 1998
and culminating in a tasting of their première
cuvée: Etienne Henri 1986. My tasting note reads: 'a great
mild gold colour with a complex nose of dried fruits and nuts ...while
it pours outside and Lily rubs her teeth along the inside of the box.'
The latter has developed into her theme tune: keen for the off!
We climbed out of the cellar and and started out for
the stables at Moussard. Three hours later just after 8.30pm on that
sunny Sunday evening we clopped back into the yard after traversing
several vineyards, coaxing the horses across a bridge with grating that
must have contained every ghost and ghoul in Sancerre – and finally a
railway crossing. Brave to the end, they snorted and trotted on
...knowing there was dinner and a warm bed at the finish.
We met Didier bright and early on Monday as we went
to feed the horses before packing up for Château de Fesles and
Bonnezeaux and told him of our escapade. Even his eyes twinkled as we
relayed the tales of crossing the bridge not to mention the 40
leather-clad bikers from the French touring club we encountered on the
edge of a roundabout in the middle of Sancerre – he laughed -
les anglais! But as a keen horseman his admiration
went out to Lily and Dromara – the real stars.
our base at Madame Tenaillon’s charming gîte at
l'Etang opposite Château de Fesles in Bonnezeaux we have explored
Saumur and the National Riding School, the tufa caves housing thousands
of bottles of wine, and tasted wonderful crottin and
viande seche from the local market.
A château a day and horses in May ...you can't visit
the region without taking in one of the stunning châteaux – and
Villandry was my first choice. Their gardens are just amazing – rows of
neat vegetables form one part of a huge complex and highly colourful
web. From there we checked our map with a local
écurie and took off along the Loire on horseback
before visiting Pierre-Jacques Druet at Le Pied Fourrier in Benais
where we tasted his Bourgueils with Charles and Philippa Sydney.
Saumur Champigny seems to be the team’s favourite
red wine of the region. The most impressive ones were Château du
Hureau's with Philippe Vatan just outside Saumur, and Domaine de Roches
Neuves's Marginale 1999 at the Relais de Bonnezeaux after our
three-hour ride exploring the local area last night.
Château de Fesles have been most helpful, taking in
our delivery of horse feed from England and giving us an excellent
array of wines some of which have been enjoyed already and the
remainder to be auctioned for the charities when we get home. Their
Savennières remains the number one wine of the appellation.
We have also been west to St Aubin de Luigne where
Madame Branchereau had mapped out a great tour for the horses and a
superb tasting for us from their hillside domaine. From zingy Cepage
Sauvignon 2001 we tasted our way around their property culminating in
the spectacular Sélection de Grain Nobles Coteaux de Layon 1996.
Tomorrow we will take the horses out of their field
for the last time and head south... Bordeaux here we come!