Vincent Carême: A Champion for Chenin
Take a moment and think back to what you were doing when you were 14 years old. What were you passionate about? And, more importantly, are you still passionate about this?
For me, I was passionate about The Cure and keeping in style with the latest ginormous, horribly patterned sweaters and ill-fitting stirrup pants. Although I still get giddy when I hear Robert Smith’s whiny voice on Pandora, I haven’t purchased a Cure album in years. And I’ve thankfully moved past sweaters that hang to my knees and pants that loop over the bottom of my feet. In fact, I’d venture to say that the majority of people aren’t interested in the same things that they were when they were 14. Most of us take longer to find our passions in life. Vincent Carême is an exception to this rule.
At the age of 14, living in the heart of Vouvray in France’s Loire Valley, Vincent made his first bottle of wine with his incredibly proud grandfather. This marked the beginning of a lifelong passion for wine. After receiving a formal and hands-on education in winemaking and viticulture at Lycée Viticole d’Amboise, Vincent worked a number of harvests throughout well-known wine regions in France including Sancerre, Champagne and Alsace.
In 1997, he travelled to South Africa to gain winemaking experience in the New World. Over the course of four harvests, he was not only able to work in a completely different growing region with his beloved Chenin Blanc, but he also found something else beloved in South Africa – his wife Tania. Today, Vincent and Tania split their time between South Africa and their 42 acre estate in the Loire Valley.
Working day in and day out with my spouse sounds like a bit of a nightmare (sorry Hubs!) but Vincent and Tania have managed to do this successfully for years. Like any quality blend – they each make their own significant contribution to the final product: Tania’s background is in business and Vincent’s in winemaking. So between the two, they’re able to handle most aspects of Domaine Vincent Carême in the Loire and Terre Brûlée in South Africa. Sharing a passion for wine – they tend to put in long hours together, but I’ve heard through the grapevine (no pun intended) that they do plan to take more time off in the near future for some much deserved R&R.
Domaine Vincent Carême and Terre Brûlée are each dedicated primarily to Chenin Blanc. However, even though Vincent and Tania are working with the same grape variety in both the Loire and South Africa – there are many differences between these regions:
- Vine Cycle: Being in different hemispheres, harvest in the Loire Valley usually starts around the same time that budbreak is happening in South Africa, and vice versa.
- Climate: Vouvray is located in the middle of the Loire Valley – which is approximately 125 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. This area is characterized by a maritime climate with continental influences. In plain English – this means that the area experiences stormy weather and humidity due to its proximity to the Ocean, and also has significant seasonal temperature swings with colder winters and warmer summers. On the other hand (or other hemisphere as it may be), South Africa possesses a warm Mediterranean climate. Such climates generally have warm, dry, sunny summers and mostly mild, wet winters. Dry conditions during the growing season, as well as ocean breezes, cool the coastal vineyard sites and help prevent the development of vine canopy diseases such as powdery and downy mildew.
- Soils: Grapes sourced for Vincent and Tania’s Vouvray wines are grown primarily in soils of clay, flint and a porous limestone known as tuffeau – which is found only in this specific region. Tuffeau is a soft limestone noted for its ability to retain heat (which helps with ripening) and is well-draining (which helps prevent the vine roots from becoming water logged during rainy weather). Soils in their South African vineyards are predominantly shale and granite. Granitic soils often create healthy and deep roots. Additionally, the lack of water in this type of soil leads to lower yields and smaller, more-concentrated fruit.
- Viticultural Challenges: One of the primary challenges to growing grapes in the Loire Valley is prevention of mildew. This area’s damp and relatively humid environment is ideal for the growth of fungal diseases which can lead to rot on the vine. One of the best ways to prevent this from occurring is through proper vine canopy management so that air can circulate through the leaves and grapes. Domaine Vincent Carême is certified organic, so although many industrial fungicides cannot be used in the vineyards, limited use of copper sprays is permitted.
Down in South Africa, the main viticultural challenge recently has been dealing with a multiyear drought in the area. Vincent and Tania’s Chenin Blanc vines here average 40 years of age. These older vines have fared much better than younger ones during the drought because they have had years to establish root systems to access water located deep underground.
Despite these, and many other, differences – Vincent and Tania are succeeding with cultivating Chenin Blanc in both regions. I can attest to this as I was able to taste their wines myself! Many thanks to their distributor, Cape Classics, for providing me with the samples below – all tasting notes and opinions are my own.
Terre Brûlée ‘Le Rouge’ 2016 Swartland, South Africa. A blend of 60% Shiraz, 40% Cinsault. This wine was a bevy of aromas ranging from black cherries and raspberries to smoke and black pepper. These were echoed on the palate along with a meaty/savory component – which paired very nicely with our evening’s BBQ.
Terre Brûlee ‘Le Blanc’ 2017 Swartland, South Africa. 100% Chenin Blanc. Citrus (yellow apple and Meyer lemon) along with herbal notes and tons of minerality on the nose. This is trademark Chenin with its high acidity – which I LOVE. But if it’s a bit too much of an acid bomb for your palate, I’d recommend pairing with a light vinaigrette dressing to balance it out.
Domaine Vincent Carême 2016 ‘Cuvee T’ Vouvray, Loire Valley. Vincent’s sparkling Vouvray is made in the same method as Champagne with the second fermentation in the bottle and aged for a minimum of 12 months on its lees. ‘Cuvee T’ has tons of floral and fruity notes (dominated by apple and honeysuckle) with some lovely toasty vanilla cream flavors on the finish.
Domaine Vincent Carême 2017 ‘Spring’ Vouvray, Loire Valley. Grapes for ‘Spring’ are outsourced from growers who have worked with Vincent for years. This wine is a slightly riper expression of Chenin with apple and pear aromas along with hints of cheese and white mushrooms. The palate possesses a creamier texture than ‘Le Blanc’ and is a bit more complex overall.
Domaine Vincent Carême 2015 ‘Le Clos’ Vouvray, Loire Valley. Single vineyard wine produced from older vines (50-70 years old) and grown on tuffeau soil. Aromas of yellow apple, honeysuckle and a slightly nutty quality. Flavors are all over the board here with some tangerine, orange blossom, apricot and the beginnings of something marmalade-like. This wine is just delicious – I love that I could find something different on the nose or the palate every time I went back to it.