The Louw Road to Sancerre

By Lafras Huguenet

During the crisp late-mornings of early summer, I sit at a café in the town of Sancerre reading the rugby papers and watching life go by, and thinking wine and, now and again, talking to Gaspard who runs the café I attend almost daily. Or used to, before the China bug sent me packing back to South Africa. The breeze racing from the Cathedral part of town becomes chilly, and out towards the Loire a hazy mist lingers even at noon, and the sun shines with slack, will-less lethargy.

Gaspard sniffs the air of ground coffee, growing vines and water, and shakes his head. “Sunlight,” he says, “if only we had more sunlight to lift the Sauvignon Blanc, to make it taste more alive than what our wines here in Sancerre tend to do.”

Sancerre in central France.

I’d sigh and return to my paper, not wanting to break the air of relaxed camaraderie by telling him how fortunate he is to be in France and in one of the world’s great wine towns and to have access to a centuries’ old culture of vignerons making truly astounding and classic wines from the Sauvignon Blanc grape.

When the Cathedral’s bell bangs 11.00, great brassy, doomsday sounds hanging about the town in layered lakes of noise, Gaspard brings a bottle of local wine, and we pour and smell and taste, and sometimes I do get what he’s on about – should I wish to pay credence to the Frenchman’s lament. The wine tastes of cold and rock, dark sub-surface canyons drawing the light and the sun and the joy out of the wine. Leaving the serious austere and chilly parts in the Sauvignon Blanc. Obviously not in all the years, such as 1998, 2003 and a 2011. But serious and austere can be beautiful, too.

Now I think of Sancerre and of Gaspard often, and I wonder if he is healthy in mind and in body. I’ll send him a post-card from the Cape. He likes to see the mountain and the sun and the blue sky, and maybe he will come and visit.

I think of Sancerre and of Gaspard when I open a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc delivered to me, because it is a wine from the land of sun and warmth, and from Diemersdal, a winery in love with this grape of Sancerre and whose winemaker Thys Louw has an obsession with the grape, and the home-town of Gaspard.

The wine is the Diemersdal The Journal Sauvignon Blanc, from the 2020 vintage. Gaspard would snort at its youth. But I’d have to remind him that, if he wants to drink wines from the countries of the sun, he needs to know them in their youth. That’s when they shine, restlessly and young and tantalising.

The Journal Sauvignon Blanc is Louw’s nod to Sancerre, the making of the 2020 vintage being for him an especially emotional one. Louw had planned an extensive visit to Sancerre in 2020, planned to bury himself in the region and the wines, and the people, and look what happened. Lockdown lament.

The Journal is made from a vineyard on Diemersdal comprising vines of between 28 and 38 years of age. Durbanville being maritime as compared to Sancerre’s continental position, I was curious to see how Louw would fare using an old-world style from this very different environment.

Besides the provenance of the fruit, the winemaking deployed for The Journal is attractive. The Sauvignon Blanc was matured for 11 months in barrel with a substantial new wood component. And, as Louw had borrowed with his eyes from Sancerre, the maturation occurred in a cool space, chilled to a bone-numbing 9°C. This slows down the maturation process, yes, but allows for more nuanced drawing of taste and texture from those dense, indecipherable living masses of lees. Because that is where the magic lies. No wine should be weak at the lees.

Poured, The Journal Sauvignon Blanc from Diemersdal drifts up from the glass like a beautiful butterfly that has been feasting on nectar from bright-coloured flowers. It hits the nose effortlessly, notes of arum-lily, fig-leaf and candied quince engaging with the olfactory space. The wine even smells sunny, yet it’s backed by an assured and mannered hint of cultured European civility.

Thys Louw

My god it is a gorgeous wine to taste. The Diemersdal The Journal 2019, the maiden release, was a slight tad showy, some tropical, sun-kissed sexiness coming through. The 2020, however, has this bookishness to it, a studied and accurate ticking-off of classically conventional white wine splendour. I taste steel and stone, so very French Sauvignon, meeting the forefront of the palate to confidently announce the regal presence which should command the respect it deserves, which it does. Warmed to the mid-palate, the Sauvignon Blanc holds the cold, classic line for a moment before unleashing Crusader warriors bearing woven baskets of white fruit: Normandy apple, pear and nectarine, all the flavours embracing a brisk and forceful ocean wind that has just the slightest unsettlingly exciting patch of kelp and oyster-shell.

The wine drinks wonderfully, a weighty presence on the palate, but never clogging the motion of a great wine that maintains pace and vigour for the entire journey.

Gaspard, here comes the sun.

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