Guide to the Loire regions

Saint-Pourçain

Grower Profiles


François Ray                           

François Ray
It was Antoine-Camille Ray who first started making wine in the commune of Saulcet in 1929. François represents the third generation, after taking over from his father in 1983, after returning form his viticulture and oenology studies in Beaune. Until then, viticulture played a minor part in the family business, being more concerned with growing cereals. It was Jean and Paulette, the parents of François who, in 1969, first starting to bottle their wine. Today, it is François and his wife Guylaine and their son, Philippe, who run the domaine.

Since 1983, the Ray’s vineyard holding have more than doubled, from seven to 15.5 hectares, although they also maintain 37ha of mixed crops, including sugar beet, which François jokes is a natural part of the Saint-Pourçain terroir, since the sugar produced is used to chaptalise the wines in the more challenging years.  The vineyards are spread over eight different parcels in the communes of Saulcet, Louchy-Montfand and Verneuil-en-Bourbonnais. The 9,25 hectares of Gamay tends to be planted on the clay-granite soils between Saulcet and Verneuil, whilst the 2.7 hectares of Pinot Noir are on clay and limestone towards Louchy-Montfand. The white varieties are made up of 1.8ha of Chardonnay, 1ha Tressallier and 45 ares of Sauvignon.

The wines are fermented and raised in a combination of cement, fibre-glass and stainless steel tanks, with the token oak aged wine at the end. The white wine range starts with the Blanc Tradition which is a fairly classic (if illegal) blend of 50% Chardonnay complimented by 25% Tressalier and 25% Sauvignon. Chopine, which can be found on the restaurant tables around the region is sold in 50cl bottles and roughly corresponds to the Tradition blend. Both are clean, light and faintly aromatic. The next two whites are anything but classic: Le Coquillard is 80% Chardonnay and 20% Tressallier and is only marketed by Ray when he thinks it is mature (in early 2010 the current release was the 2006 vintage). Le Grand Jardin is the polar opposite with 80% Tressallier and 20% Chardonnay and is also released late. It’s not unlike a minor Chablis or an Auxerrois out of Alsace. There is a brace of rosés. The Rosé Tradition is vinified using half pressurage direct and half gris with a short contact on the Gamay skins. It is dry, mineral and taut. The Rai de Soleil is a gris produced from a very light pressing. Although vinous and well made but doesn’t appear to be particularly durable and needs to be consumed within a few months of bottling to conserve the freshness.  

The Rouge Tradition is from 90% Gamay and 10% Pinot Noir, derived from vines on clay and limestone soils. It receives a short, six day cuvaison and is light and a little rustic. La Font Gervin has been produced since the 1993 vintage and takes its name from a lieu-dit at the top of the commune of Saulcet. The wine is based on 70% Pinot Noir and 30 Gamay. It receives a two week cuvaison and then passes through oak for three months. As a result, the wines appear to have been stripped of their fruit a little and are distinctly sous-bois in character. The Cuvée des Gaumes is 75% Gamay and 25% Pinot Noir with the former coming from the clay and granite soils of Verneuil and the Pinot Noir originating from 3 hectares in Saulcet and Louchy-Montfand. This too receives a long cuvaison, but appears to hold its fruit better than the above.

In addition to the ‘proper’ wines, Ray has developed a secondary income by creating some wine (or grape juice) based beverages. They are worthy of mention. The Coquillon Vendanges d’Eté is Chardonnay juice mixed with about 20% honey. This mead-like ‘wine’ is fortified to 14.5% alcohol and is recommended by François to be served as an aperitif and as a starter with foie gras, or blue cheese. Orang’Ray is a maceration of wine from Gamay with bitter oranges and vanilla, and Nois’Ray is wine macerated with walnuts and raised in barriques. There is also some balsamic style vinegar made from Gamay and a bottle fermented fizz produced from Tressallier and Chardonnay. 

François Ray is quietly spoken, considering everything before offering an answer. He comes across as serious, but also broadminded and happy to offer an opinion and certainly one of the lucid grower in the appellation. The notable thing about his wines is that they are generally released much later than those of his fellow vignerons. The whites particularly present a goûte spécifique that some tasters might dismiss as oxidation. The reds are also released quite late, which is in some ways more detremental than the whites, as these do appear to shed their fruit early on and become lighter and more tertiary. I’d still put Ray’s wines within my top flight of producers, even if the wines won’t necessarily suit everyone’s taste.

Cave François Ray
8 Rue Louis Neillot
Venteuil
Saulcet
T : + 33 4 70 45 35 46
F : + 33 4 70 45 64 96
ray.francois@akeonet.com
www.vins-saintpourcain-caveray.fr

 

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