Quarts de Chaume : Land of great sweets
The historic name of the Quarts de Chaume grand cru alone evokes the notion of selection. In the past, Quarts de Chaume wines were made from the best grapes grown in the cru's historic territory.
"In the 15th century, the lords of La Guerche, tenants of the Chaume tenement, paid the nuns of the Ronceray Abbey in Angers with the best quarters of the harvest hanging on the reverse of the south-facing side," recalls Pascal Cellier, head of INAO Val de Loire.
At the time, the Quarts de Chaume area covered just 5 hectares, compared with 50 today. "This was the Les Quarts parcel, the land closest to the Layon, which was particularly well-ventilated and had thin soils.
During the 20th century, the vineyard grew to around 20 hectares in the 1930s. Then 43 hectares in 1956 when the appellation was created, encompassing the southern and eastern parts of the vineyard. These plots of land are always very close to the Layon river, sheltered from humid westerly and northerly winds.
The Quarts de Chaume vineyard is located on a convex slope overlooking a meander of the Layon on its right bank. Facing south and southeast, it ranges in altitude from 25 to 75 meters, and is bounded on the west and east by two talwegs that descend to the river.
The proximity of the Layon is essential, as it causes the formation of morning fog in autumn, which, coupled with good sun exposure during the rest of the day, favors the development of Botrytis cinerea on the grapes. This fungus, which causes noble rot, is responsible for the over-ripening of the grapes that makes Grand Cru wines so distinctive.
"The appellations producing sweet white wines correspond to early-ripening vineyards with steep slopes, thin, draining soils that are not very to moderately rich, rather stony and predominantly light loamy in texture. Water supply is a major constraint.
Over-ripening of the grapes, essential for the production of sweet white wine, is largely favored by the high earliness and low vegetative development of the vines, which avoids the development of gray rot in favor of noble rot," explains an INRA team in a study devoted to the vineyards of Anjou.
The scientists also note that while the historic cru was perfectly homogeneous, today's grand cru includes more variable soils and altitudes.
"The locality known as "Les Quarts" has essentially Brioverian Metagrauwacke soils. It is the lowest in altitude and the closest to the Layon river, and therefore benefits from excellent over-ripening conditions. The extension of the AOC in the 1950s to areas with Carboniferous soils has increased the variability of the territory."
WAITING FOR NOBLE ROT
Beyond the physical descriptions of the cru, it is the behavior of the vines and grapes during ripening that marks the identity of the territory. "The Grand Cru is, of course, a geographical entity, but observation is the basis for classification.
"Of course, there is variability in the characteristics of the plots, but in these the type of over-ripening of the grapes specific to the grand cru occurs. For example, the schist soils in the lower part of the appellation are draining and precocious, but the low altitude means that grape ventilation is relatively poor. The higher you go, the deeper and moister the soils, but the greater the ventilation.
As a result, grape typicity is comparable between these two zones. When I speak of typicity, I'm not referring to a list of aromas, but to the perception of these aromas and the minerality of the wine,
For example, the Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru corresponds to an area where grapes botrytize early and slowly, without being washed by rain. This is where the fungus settles most easily on the berries and expresses itself most nobly, between minerality and overripe aromas. "
the geographical position of the spur, exposure to wind, sunlight and heat, and proximity to water all play a part in the over-ripening of the berries, linked to the slow action of botrytis, a guarantee of the quality of noble rot.
In the nearby Premier Cru Chaume area, passerillage (over-ripening of the grapes by drying out, without the action of botrytis) is greater, and botrytization, when it occurs, is faster. The Premier Cru receives more wind and dew than the Grand Cru, so the end of over-ripening is different.
Beyond questions of borders, a cru exists through man's know-how. the highs and lows of the appellation. "The great Quarts de Chaume wines date back to the 20s and 30s. From the 1960s to the mid-80s, the wines were of the highest quality.