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Haut-Poitou wines receive AOC status

Haut-Poitou wines receive AOC status

The 2011 vendange saw the first harvest of Haut-Poitou wines which have been awarded the much-sought after AOC label. We found out what this means to the winegrowers of the region…

grapes

There is one very happy man in the heart of the Vienne countryside. Jacques Baudon runs the Domaine de la Rotisserie, a 27-hectare estate on which he grows six grape varieties including Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc and produces seven Haut-Poitou wines. Together with his son Michaël, Jacques has just completed their vendange for a wine which is destined to become an Haut-Poitou AOC – for the very first time. Jacques, who is the fourth generation of vintners at la Rotisserie, is delighted that he is amongst the 13 Haut-Poitou wine producers who have been awarded the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée label. ‘For us, it will be a huge boost and it is a just reward for decades of hard work,’ he says. ‘I hope the AOC label will give us an advantage. It should draw the attention of customers in the shops and give them the confidence to try a Haut-Poitou wine.’

According to Jacques, the Haut-Poitou wine industry has been in the doldrums for some time now. ‘Our wines don't have the name of say, a Bordeaux or even a Bergerac. In fact, it can be hard to find them in supermarkets outside of our region. I'm optimistic for the future though, optimistic that now our reputation will grow. The AOC should be good for all wine producers in the region – AOC or not.'

The Haut-Poitou AOC area covers a fairly small area of 186 hectares of vineyards to the north of Poitiers in the Vienne – this is less than 20 percent of the total wine-producing area.At the beginning,13 Haut-Poitou vineyards can carry the AOC label with another 12 vineyards planning to join. The rest of the 100 or so vine growersl continue to take their grapes to the cooperative ‘cave du Haut-Poitou’ in Neuville-de-Poitou. The vignoble enjoys a lot of sunshine – an average of 1,900 hours per year - and has relatively low rainfall – 640mm annually - which, together with a predominantly clay and limestone soil, make the area well-suited to growing vines.

Jacques and Michael Baudon

Wine in the region

Wine has been produced in the region since Roman times but successive wars left their mark with vineyards being repeatedly destroyed by invaders including the Visigoths and the Vikings over the centuries. However, from the early medieval times, the region had four centuries of steady wine-growing during which the wines became a favourite with the English. They were introduced to it when Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was also the countess of Poitiers, married Henry II in 1152. For a while, England was the Haut-Poitou's biggest customer and for a few centuries the industry thrived. But then it was all but wiped out by the wars of religion in the 16th century when almost all the vineyards were left irreparably damaged. After being resurrected in the 17th century, though, the vignoble grew and grew; at its height, in the early nineteenth century, it boasted over 40,000 hectares of vines and the wine was exported far and wide.

So what happened? It appears all the vines were destroyed by phylloxera (an insect which attacks all parts of the grapevine) that came to the region in 1882, completely wiping out the vineyards within just a few years. Re-establishing the vineyards took such a long time that many vineyard owners abandoned their damaged vines and went off to find work elsewhere. The arrival of more resistant plants, together with a lot of hard work and perseverance, led to a gradual increase in the wine's quality, but there has yet to be a similar recovery in the wine’s previously high status - until perhaps now.

Jacques Baudon

AOC accreditation

Knowing the illustrious history of the Haut-Poitou wines, it becomes clear that the significance of the vignoble being awarded AOC label cannot be overestimated. The wines were given the VDQS (Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure ) status 40 years ago and some of those wines - including Jacques and Michaël Baudon's Pinot Noir 2010 and Rouge Assemblage 2010 - have even won awards. However, by and large, the Haut-Poitou wines have been largely ignored for decades. ‘It has been a long, hard road to reach this point,’ admits the Syndicat des Vins du Haut-Poitou president, François Rat. ‘Finally being awarded AOC status brings all our hard work to fruition and is testament to the co-operation, determination and sheer tenacity of our winemakers - something I hope we can build on in partnership with them in the future.’

At the Domaine de la Rotisserie, Jacques and Michaël are optimistic about the future. ‘Despite the drought, and later the terrible thunderstorms, our vines have stayed intact. The harvest has gone well,’ says Jacques. ‘Very well indeed. With the AOC label now in place we are looking forward to a bright future.’ It may be some time yet before being presented with an Haut-Poitou wine is seen in the same way as, say, a Saint -Emillion or a Bourgogne, but the vintners of the region together with the Syndicat des Vins du Haut-Poitou are working hard to get their wines noticed - and there is no doubt that the new AOC label cannot fail but to help them in their quest.

Domaine de la Rotisserie, 86 380 Marigny Brizay; tel 05 49 52 09 02; www.domaine-rotisserie.com

A complete list of AOC wine producers can be found on the Haut-Poitou AOC website: www.vinsduhautpoitou.com

If you can’t find a suitable Haut-Poitou wine in your local supermarket, then why not buy direct from a domaine? Take a tour and sample the wine before you buy. Buying direct can often work out cheaper than buying in a supermarket too.

 

Wine notes

The Syndicat des Vins du Haut- Poitou describe the wines as ‘fresh and light’ – and that goes for the reds as well as the whites and rosés. Follow this guide to match local wine with regional dishes to create a perfect meal...

THE WHITES: made either with Sauvignon Blanc or Sauvignon Gris grapes, these wines are pale straw in colour with a delicate aroma and dry without being harsh. They go beautifully with seafood, in particular oysters, grilled sardines and moules mouclades. Also recommended with a tasty goats’ cheese such as the chabichou du Poitou.

THE REDS: made from a blend of Cabernet Franc and either Gamay, Pinot noir or Merlot, the red wines are light and fruity with an aroma of summer fruits. They are best drunk young but if you leave them for several years, you’ll taste a more liquorice fl avour. Serve with roasted meats such as lamb, venison, beef or stuffed goose. Also goes well with medium soft cheeses such as camembert, saint nectaire or brie.

THE ROSÉS: these combine the Gamay, Pinot noir and Cabernet Franc varieties to produce light and fragrant wines with a slightly spicy aroma. Drink them on their own as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to salads, grilled meats, charcuterie or with the traditional tourteau fromager.