Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Clos Cristal: Growing grapes on the wall

The last winery we visited in the Loire Valley was Clos Cristal. This stunning property in the Saumur area grows primarily cabernet franc with some chenin blanc mixed in. One of the things that makes Clos Cristal unique is how they grow some of their grapes.

Guided by Marc, we walked out into the vineyards. The land slopes up slightly to the forest at the top of the hill and the views are spectacular. But you'll notice something odd as you look over the vineyards, there are walls built in them and there are grapes growing on them.

The founder of Clos Cristal, Antoine Cristal, decided to try something new when he was building out his vineyard. Using walls that run east-west, he planted vines on the north side of the wall and pushed the main trunk up through the wall. The leaves and grapes grow on the south side of the wall. What does this do exactly? The roots stay cooler due to their northern exposure, while the grapes get the most sun. The wall retains the heat of the day, causing the grapes to be exposed to higher temperatures than regular vines. This causes the fruit to mature faster. The winemaker allows the grapes to begin to whither on the vine - they dry out to the point of looking very raisin-like and are still able to be harvested a few weeks before traditional vines.

This on-the-vine concentration of the grapes produces incredibly robust cabernet franc wines. Only xxx cases are produced a year and "Le Murs" was a pleasure to taste. Of course I bought a couple of bottles which I will horde in my cellar for as long as possible! The traditionally grown cabernet francs at Clos Cristal are also superb and their Chenin Blanc was a pleasant surprise. They don't grow much of the Chenin Blanc, so if you can find it, I encourage you to buy it.

Something else I learned: you'll notice their sign says "Hospices de Saumur". I was fascinated by this concept in France. The founder died without children and left his vineyards to the hospital. The hospitals use the vineyards as a way to generate income to run the hospitals. I am guessing this brilliant idea helps provide good medical care for everyone in France, though from the American viewpoint I can see some teetotalers arguing that the hospitals sell wine which ensures they have patients in the future. Whatever belief you hold on this subject, I encourage you to visit Clos Cristal for the lovely scenery and the beautiful wines.

For a video tour of the vineyards, check this out:

-- Happy Travels!

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