08 December 2008

The hokey side of Vouvray-Montlouis

The two wine villages of Vouvray and Montlouis, facing each other on opposite sides of the Loire River near Tours, do have a hokey side. Tourism is the reason. Both villages live off their Chenin Blanc wines, still and sparkling, dry and sweet, all white. And they cater to tourists more than most Loire Valley towns.

Outside a tasting room on the main road in Vouvray

"Hokey" is a slang term used to describe something that is "contrived"or "artificial." A synonym is "corny." By the way, the pictures in this post are all 7 or 8 years old and were taken with an earlier-generation digital camera. Image quality has improved, but Vouvray and Montlouis haven't changed much at all.

A corny sculpture of grapes in Montlouis.
That's our friend Cheryl from California.
Today is her birthday! Bon anniversaire !

In an earlier post, I started describing the bio-dynamics principles adopted by a couple of major Vouvray-Montlouis wine houses, François Chidaine and Domaine Huet (the final T of Huet is pronounced, BTW). It would be easy to include such methods in the hokey category, the way they are described by the people at Domaine Huet, even though bio-dynamics has its very serious and rational side as well.

An old wine press at the Château de Moncontour in Vouvray

In bio-dynamics, two products, cow-manure compost and "horn manure" (see previous topics), must be "dynamised" or "enlivened" by being stirred in water in specific directions for a specified amount of time. They are then applied to the ground in the vineyards after 3 p.m. GMT, according to the brochures and this web site.

Manure compost brings life to the earth. That makes sense. "Horn manure" is made from filling a cow horn with compost and burying it in the ground to over-winter, and it "makes the cosmic and planetary forces present in the soil thanks to the [application of] manure compost, rise in the sap" of the grape plant. So far so good.

The next bio-dynamic step is to apply "horn silica," which is prepared by putting finely ground silica in a cow's horn and burying it in the ground over the summer. There, it is "exposed to the vital forces of the sun."

La Maison du Vouvray, a sales and tasting room on the main road

Horn silica "acts on the atmosphere so that the forces of light will reach the plant," Huet says. "It encourages the leaves to assimilate the trace minerals contained in the homeopathic state within the atmosphere." Whew!

The fact is, application of these natural products, however hokey the description, instead of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, encourages insects, spider mites, and micro-organisms to live in equilibrium with the grape plants and the grape-growers. It prevents contamination of the wine — and the region's water table, la nappe phréatique. That's all good.

Yet another tasting room with its hokey signs

Here in Saint-Aignan — in nearby Mareuil-sur-Cher, more precisely — there is at least one winery that practices bio-dynamics in its vineyards. It's Clos Roche Blanche, and the wines are excellent. Some were on sale in François Chidaine's shop in Montlouis. A couple of years ago, I found some of Clos Roche Blanche's wines in a shop in Urbana, Illinois, and enjoyed them with friends there.

When I say Vouvray and Montlouis have their hokey side, don't misunderstand. Walt and I would not now be living here in Saint-Aignan if we had not decided in early 2000 to come spend a vacation in a gite rural in Vouvray. The area, including Montlouis, Amboise, and Montrichard, was a revelation to us. We didn't find Saint-Aignan and leave California until a few years later... but here we are.

We go to Vouvray to buy wine at the Aubert winery at least a couple of times a year. Aubert doesn't practice bio-dynamics, but the wine is great. A couple of weeks ago we tasted it alongside comparable but much more expensive wines from Chidaine and Huet, and we found Aubert's sparkling Vouvrays to be as good if not better.


  1. I got a chuckle with you mentioned that hokey stuff attracts tourism in Tours;-) I think you can also use the adjective cheesy for such. I love this sort of thing.

    The organic wine and manure story is interesting. It seems like manure wine is mixed up à la Martha Stewart and it must get good resuts.

    The part with the horns and time table sounds like voodoo (originated in France-didn't know that until I read "Mountains Beyond Mountains", Paul Farmer's book about Haiti).

    Did you see any cow horns when you visited the Huet Cave?

  2. I love the corny stuff. There are sculptures all over the world dedicated to the fruit, vegetable or animal that fires the local economy. In Georgia there are giant peaches. In Wisconsin, giant fish. It provides for wonderful photo ops.

    I'm enjoying your road trip very much.

    - Suzanne, the Farmer's Wife

  3. dude, this grape sculpture and the fantastic hush puppy recipe have just about made my week. what a wonderful world!


What's on your mind? Qu'avez-vous à me dire ?