Toni and Mark’s 2019 Odyssey: Week 4: Food and Drink for Thought. Keeping the pH balance in Sancerre, Bats, Pinot Noir Barrels and Kayaking through ancient Roman ruins.

Waitrose Sancerre “Apud” by Domaine Philippe Raimbault

Week four of our learning journey continues as we head north from The Dordogne crossing the pilgrimage paths of Limogues and Perigueux. We pass wandering pelligrino’s near the Cathedral city of Bourges having sadly not, ourselves, being able to get to the pilgrimage centres and staging posts of Avallon and Valencay. We arrive at our destination, a small campsite next to the River Loire in sweltering heat and find a moment to get over yet another long drive. The Monday was set to be 38 degrees and we had made the unwittingly odd decision to kayak 25 kilometres downstream from La Charitie-sur-Loire, to the east to St.Satur (Saturday related I’m sure) along the River Loire.  The recent heat waves in France had put pay to a conventional kayaking journey like we’ve done before, the shorter route from Pouilly-sur-Loire on the left bank of the river half way between our current route.


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“Apud” awaiting the label and cap.

For those of you not hardcore wine buffs this is the area of France where the Sauvignon Blanc grape found it’s roots and later day fame. The Kiwi’s, Aussie’s, South African’s, American’s, both north and south, have made huge commercial enterprises from bringing this humble grape to the forefront of our vinous appetites. This is where the legend of the Sauvignon Blanc wine grape was born and continues to set the traditional standard of sunlight and water capturing the essence of the “terrior” and create a thing of liquid beauty.

Price comparison of Apud and other vinous offerings at Philippe and Lynne’s.


The outward bound adventure team, conveniently positioned just outside the campsite, took us with kayak to the start point. We were advised to move very carefully from the get go. We thought the river, being very low, would be an issue and memories of grounding on previous trips made us initially cautious but to our surprise the guide pointed out several black stumps pointing out of the river. These were the wooden supports of a Roman bridge long disused and normally hidden by the water level. This was the first of three to traverse on our 4 hour journey. Arriving back at St. Satur we paddled through third ancient bridge and then under the current bridge, a vastly mored modern one, through the rapids and back to base. The 4 hour journey had been testing, Toni behind me navigating the shallows and rapids and the sun beating down. Thirsty doesn’t even come close but we made it and ticked off the bucket list.

Kayak awaiting the journey from La Charitie-sur-Loire

The theme of week 4 determined itself. We started our wine journey in New Zealand, not when we lived there but after a bottle of pioneering, gooseberry cum blackcurrant leaf note driven Savvie in the UK in the mid 90’s. We visited Martinborough, to the east of Wellington and Hawkes Bay but never Blenheim. Ironically we ended up living there for 5 years for professional reasons and ever since our wine knowledge has grown but also our opinions and behaviours towards it. A lot of what we feel about it now stems from the environmental and ecological debates that rage regarding use of herbicides and pesticides locally and their toxicity not only to humans but also the good earth. It’s sustainability seems in question when talking with exponents and detractors of modern winemaking. Will the Marlborough plains of the Awatere, Wairau and Whaihope be destined to be a toxic waste land long-term? It’s a concern that has partially influenced our decision to move westward to Nelson.

Les Godons, Sury-en-Vaux.


Back to France and the heat the first night in St. Satur. We decided to call our local friends Lynne and Philippe, 12 kilometres from our riverside base to see if we could stay there and cope with the climate better.  We were welcomed with the big wide open loving arms of the Raimbault’s of Sury-en-Vaux. The village name literally translates to the “Sound of the Moo”. Generations of Philippe’s family have tended the land and vines, his father, born in September 1940, was celebrated not only by his family but the occupying local German Army. Their cave in Sancerre, during the same war, was a safe haven for downed allied aircrew and special operation executive members. The rich vein of cultural winemaking heritage runs deeply in many families and communities of the region.


Raimbault Family Provenance

The Cave and tanks.


Sancerre sits south of the River Loire and covers approximately 3,000 hectares of vines with around 300 wine makers following the rigid Appelation Origine Controlle (AOC) guidelines that strictly determine the growing and production methods and processes of France at that quality level. Any deviation from that creed is closely scrutinized and punishment for even the smallest of misdemeanors can be severe. To that extent the art and craft of wine making and vine growing is culturally important and the has been so for many generations.

The “Good Earth”.

Philippe and Lynne are a unique, kind and affable couple. Lynne is a “hard case”, a “Legend”, to us, a kind and compassionate London lady who meet Philippe in a bar in Sancerre many moon’s ago and the rest, as they say, is history. Their vineyard is set in a little village on the fringes of Sancerre in a traditional small village called Sury-en-Vaux. Philippe’s vineyard spans the region from Sancerre to Pouilly sur Loire, with small parcels of land scattered throughout the region. We meet them some years ago when we stayed in Sancerre and keep in touch and meet up again from time to time.


As it says on the tin.

This time I took the opportunity, despite the hot weather, to follow Philippe on a work place journey at his cave just for an afternoon. Philippe and I just about understood each other in his version of my language and vice versa. We both drove off from their house several kilometres away to Domaine Philippe Raimbault, the Cave and his workplace. Once there I got the guided tour, from the desteming and depipping machines of harvest to the huge hectolitre chrome wine tanks and the cool cave where the Burgundian barrels are stored for the fermentation and maturation of his red Pinot Noir. A lot of care goes into all of his processes of wine making, this day the red wine seemed to require more attention as sulphur tablets were added to each barrel after samples were sent to the local laboratory for analysis. I questioned Philippe regarding this “addition”. His answer drew focus to the need to get to optimal levels of tannins and balance before bottling, the chemical also gives and antioxidant and antibacterial benefit to the wine and ultimately the wine lover.

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Philippe in action.


Red wine, more so than white wine (the skins are kept on during fermentation), has been proven to be beneficial to health in moderation, the flavonoids, of which there are 4 groups, catechins, flavonols, anthocyanins and tannins are the benefactors. Red wine also has 3 times the Riboflavin of white wine. Among the many benefits attributed to flavonoids are reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, dementia and stroke. More than 100 studies have shown that moderate alcohol consumption is linked to a 25-40% reduction in the risk of heart disease. They work by corralling cell-damaging free radicals and metallic ions. Resveratrol, another antioxidant, is found in the grape skins, is linked to fighting inflammation and blood clotting as well as reducing heart disease and cancer.

Officialdom and Strict Guidance

We continued the day and travelled to Les Godons, the nearest vines to the centre of operation. He is a man of quiet passion, aware and alert to the health not only of his maturing wines and bottling production line, you’ll find his white Sancerre, Apud in Waitrose, but also of the land. A keen observer of the holistic and near organic approach to his art, Philippe with friends, have designed and built wooden dwellings for the local bat population. Bats, far from being an additional menace have many useful functions, looking at their droppings allows science to demonstrate the health of individual bat and colonies, as well as their insect food sources. They are positioned in a variety of areas, against trees that abut the vines and on nearby buildings as well. He also has a bat radar that measures the type, number and time they’re active. They play an important role in reducing the insect numbers, especially those which affect the grapes themselves. Also in use are insect pheromones at the end of the row of each vine and a smelly organic odour spray is being tested soon too.

Home for bats

The whole theme continues with Philippe’s association with Terra Vitis, a growing organisation dedicated to promoting a whole approach to winemaking, not only is the health of the vine paramount but also the soil and, remarkably, the welfare of the staff too. Paperwork and compliance are other duties of the winemaker these days. Extra attention is also given to the choice of wooden barrels, not only the capacity, Bordeaux barrels store less the Burgundian, 225 liters to 228, but also the quality of the Oak. Philippe mindfully chooses them from specific areas of France where the porosity and permeability of the wood is less, allowing the wine to mature to its specified design and taste. This is used more so in red but also in white where the oaky, vanilla notes are desired. Corks are still in use too.

Bat radar and pheromones

We both discussed each others work as we motor around the wine region, touching on the amount of sugar per litre of wine required for fermentation and achieving an ideal level of alcohol. Of the 200 grams per litre most, if not all, is consumed by the yeasts and left only is a residual amount of between 1 to 2 grams. From a dental perspective attention needs to be focused not only on the remaining mainly fructose monosaccharides but also, and perhaps more importantly regarding wine, its pH. Having working for several years in the Marlborough region of New Zealand I’ve noticed the effects of a poor, modern industrial diet on many a client regarding caries but specifically with the wine industry regarding acid erosion and tooth surface loss, whether through abrasion, attrition or abfraction. Tooth enamel demineralises in pH values below 5.75 and far less with exposed weaker root structure compose of dentine. Over time with increased regular exposure tooth structure can disease and be lost. Lower pH values intra orally also allow destructive bacteria to flourish and remove tooth mineral as well as reduce the numbers of beneficial germs that thrive in higher pH scenarios.


Relative pH of drinks

In New Zealand, the biggest wine making operation, Peter Yealands, recently approached me to create a protocol for their wine makers. Research was untaken, guidance produced and products purchased  ranging from electric toothbrushes to calcium phosphate based toothpaste and sugar free gum for each individual. Whitening trays were also produced to allow the the remineralisation of teeth to be more effective as the product stayed in place longer. I discuss with Philippe, as he chomped merrily on sugar-free gum, the dental benefits of stimulated saliva flow with an increase in pH balance, an influx of minerals and ions from the saliva and the promotion in balanced or higher pH of beneficial calcium “building” bacteria to remineralise the affected tooth structure. The sugar alcohol debate regarding Xylitol wasn’t broached this time. Touched on too was the use of calcium phosphate toothpaste with stannous and other types of fluoride in adding their bioavailability to the teeth for further protection and strengthening.




My Remineralisation and Risk Reduction Protocol 

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Awaiting shipment, Les Godons Sancerre

Both dental health professional and wine maker have similar aims and goals, creating an end product that needs to be managed and maintained. We deal with bacteria, teeth, gums, bone and behaviours, they with weather, soil, fruit, yeasts, bacteria and the seasons. Both deal with envronmental pressures. We both see things environmentally and ecologically and play a game and a merry dance with similar external, internal, negative and positive pressures to achieve success. Philippe’s work environment is the weather, the soil and the vine married to the patient process of picking, gentle crushing of perfectly ripe grapes and fermenting wine, allowing nature, bacteria, yeasts and time to capture the essence of Sancerre. Ironically too, The Romans, had to deal with the land and the water, they carefully selected the right materials to support the bridges that allowed access over the wide French rivers they faced to control the environment, the natives and their empire, their environment. Those ancient wooden bridge supports stand testimony to the pressures of weather, water, sediment and the microbiome of the river, over nearly 2,000 years, preserving them.

Our dear friends, Philippe and Lynne

Sources and further information




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