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Three Soils of Sancerre – The Tour Part 2

It takes many forms of strength and style to compose a team, a roster of individuals with a variety of talents–the climbers, the sprinters, the time-trialists, and the star, but don’t forget the domestiques, who work for everyone else by throwing themselves into the fire.

This week, Stages 4-6, brought the riders out of the Valley of Loire, where they rode north and east, but still west of Sancerre, which is located near the center of France at the tail end of Loire.  Producing crisp whites with three distinct styles, Sancerre is home to terres blanchesles caillottes, and silex– the region’s three different soils.

Near the end of Stage 4, concluding with a climb up Mûr de-Bretagne, the sprinters were dropped, and only the best climbers were left.  Cadel Evans, of BMC, beat Contador and Vinokourov at the line, by just a few centimeters.  A victory determined by less than an inch is like a change in soil that can tip the world of a single varietal on its axis.

Pruning at Roger et Didier Raimbault

At Domaine Roger et Didier Raimbault (the result of a father/son merger in 1996), vine cultivation has been in the family for 400 years.  With vines planted on sharp slopes in the Verdigny district (at 40% they’re much steeper than the 5% up Mûr de-Bretagne!), the Raimbaults nurture the soils to avoid herbicide use. Like the difference in musculature between a sprinter and a climber, the terres blanches is a calcareous clay with Kimmeridgian limestone that yields powerful, full-bodied wines; while les caillottes is of limestone and gravel, and makes delicate and fruity well-balanced whites.

Stage 5 was one for the sprinters, a flat course, where Mark Cavendish of HTC-Highroad took the win by jumping and holding his pace, passing the ten world-class riders who were only in his way.  In no need of a teammate lead out to the line, Cavendish picked off the front of the peloton, like peeling back stratigrapic layers to reveal the complexities underground.

From the collection of Philippe Raimbault
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Just a short ride north of Verdigny, lies the village of Sury-en-Vaux, home to Philippe Raimbault, a fifth generation vintner.  With vines planted on steep slopes of les caillottes soil from the Jurassic period, Raimbault is an avid collector of fossils.  The producer of Sancerre “Apud Sariacum” and Sancerre “Apud Sariacum” Rosé, he named both after the ancient namesake of Sury-en-Vaux, because the vines encircle the village.

A cool and wet stage, like an early spring day in Sancerre’s continental climate, Stage 6 was a hilly route that led to a “maiden victory” for Edvald Boasson Hagen of Sky Procycling.  Maxing his guns to out sprint the pack, Hagen won the longest stage of the Tour and probably could have used a glass of Serge Laloue’s Sancerre “Cuvee Silex” at the finish.  Perfumed with notes of minerality and gunflint, “Cuvee Silex” is the result of sustainable agriculture, debudding, and heavy pruning.  With grass growing between the rows of vines to reduce erosion and vigor, the yields are low and grown in Silex.  Rich in flint, this third soil of Sancerre produces wines that are perfumed and longer living than the other two, unlike the four riders who didn’t make it to the start of Stage 6.

 Franck Laloue of Domaine Serge Laloue

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