Guide to the Loire regions

Val du Loir

The Vineyards of Jasnières, Coteaux du Loir and the Vendômois

 
Le Loir at Montoire
 

Source d’argent toute pleine,
Dont le beau cours eternal
Fuit pour enricher la plaine
De mon païs paternel

‘A silver stream overflows, and bubbling eternally, to enrich the meadows of my native land’
An extract from Á la source du Loir - Le quatriesme livre des odes (1550) - Pierre de Ronsard

Contents: 

This page:

  • Facts and figures

  • Ten of the best

  • Overview

  • The Loir - The river and the region

  • History

  • In the vineyard
    Situation and orientation
    Climate
    Planting density
    In the cellar

Links: 

 

Facts and Figures – The Appellations at a Glance  

Coteaux du Vendômois
Appellation Côntrolée Status: VDQS - 4th July 1968, elevated to AC status 4th May 2001 Limit of Appellation: 1,800 hectares.
Vineyards in Production: 153 hectares AC (2007) plus a further 150 hectares planted for Vin de Pays and Vin de Table.
Declared Production: 7,224 hectolitres (2007)
Communes: 28 communes in Loir-et-Cher, extending from Vendôme to Tréhet 
Permitted Varieties:
WHITE:
Chenin Blanc (Pineau de la Loire) - either pure chenin
or ‘complimented’ with up to 20% Chardonnay.
RED:
Pineau d’Aunis (minimum 40%)
Cabernet Franc (minimum 10% and maximum of 40%)
Pinot Noir (minimum 10% and maximum 40%)

Gamay (maximum 20%).
GRIS:
Pineau d’Aunis (100%)
Vine Density: Minimum 4,500 vines per hectare
Maximum Yield: 55 hl/ha for red and white and 60 hl/ha for Gris  

Coteaux du Loir
Appellation Côntrolée Status: 12th May 1948
Limit of Appellation: 1,600 hectares
Vineyards in Production:  76 hectares (2007)
Declared Production: 2,504 hectolitres (2007) 50% red, 30% white, 20% rosé
Communes: 22 communes; 6 in d’Indre-et-Loir and 16 in Sarthe
Permitted Varieties:
WHITE : Chenin Blanc (Pineau de la Loire)
RED : Pineau d’Aunis (50% minimum), Cabernet Franc, Gamay, Côt
ROSÉ : Pineau d’Aunis, Cabernet Franc, Côt, Gamay, Grolleau (to a maximum of 25%)
Vine Density: 5,000 vines per hectare
Maximum Yield: 55hl/ha

Jasnières
Appellation Côntrolée Status: 31st July 1937
Limit of Appellation: 130 hectares
Vineyards in Production: 65 hectares (2007)

Declared Production: 2,397 hectolitres (2006)
Communes: Ruillé-sur-Loir and Lhomme
Permitted Variety: Chenin Blanc (Pineau de la Loire)
Vine Density: minimum 5,500 vines per hectare
Maximum Yield: 52 hl/ha

 

Ten of the Best
Given the limited size of the region, I’ve made a selection based on the growers, listed here in alphabetical order, for the three appellations combined. The wines follow the same grower order.

The Ten Best Growers

  • Jean & Benoît Brazilier, Domaine du Carroir - Coteaux du Vendômois

  • Patrice Colin, Domaine de la Gaudetterie - Coteaux du Vendômois

  • François & Xavier Fresneau, Domaine de Cézin - Coteaux du Loir and Jasnières

  • Joël & Ludovic Gigou, Domaine de la Charrière - Coteaux du Loir and Jasnières

  • Emile Hérédia, Domaine de Montrieux - Coteaux du Vendômois

  • Pascal Janvier - Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir

  • Benoît and Elisabeth Jardin, Domaine les Maisons Rouges - Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir

  • Raynaud & Francine Lelais, Domaine des Gauletteries - Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir

  • Domaine Jean Martellière - Coteaux du Vendômois, Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir

  • Eric and Christine Nicolas, Domaine de Bellivière - Jasnières and Coteaux du Loir

The Ten Best Wines to Buy Now

  • 2006 Coteaux du Vendômois ‘Vieilles Vignes’ Rouge, Patrice Colin

  • 2007 Jasnières ‘Clos Saint Jacques’, Domaine de la Charrière

  • 2006 Coteaux du Loir Rouge, Domaine de la Charrière

  • NV ‘Le Verre des Poètes - Franc de Pied’ Vin de Table, Domaine de Montrieux

  • 2007 Coteaux du Loir Blanc, Pascal Janvier

  • 2007 Coteaux du Loir Rouge ‘Cuvée de Rosiers’, Pascal Janvier

  • 2007 Jasnières ‘Clos des Jasnières’, Domaine les Maisons Rouges

  • 2007 Coteaux du Loir Rouge ‘Les Vieilles Vignes d’Aunis’, Domaine les Maisons Rouges

  • 2007 Coteaux du Loir Blanc ‘Haut Rasné’, Domaine de Bellivière

  • 2005 Coteaux du Loir Rouge ‘Rouge Gorge’ Domaine de Bellivière  

Overview

The valley of the Loir is at France’s most extreme limit of viticulture. Historically, the culture of the vine was far more important than it is today, with vineyards in the mid 1800s extending along the banks of the Sarthe and Mayenne, and stretching as far north as Argentan the valley of the Orne. This was before the blight of phylloxera, something from which the vineyards would never fully recover. This decline continued during and after the Great Wars with the region suffering a run of dismal vintages lasting the best part of four decades. By the end of the 1980s there was a sense of desperation, and without any regeneration, vineyards were simply being left abandoned.

But as with Savennières, the past fifteen years have seen an influx of dedicated young and often first generation vignerons, establishing themselves along the Loir; taking a once practically forgotten region and forging a minor revival in these relatively obscure appellations. In the wider context of the wines of the Loire, the appellations of the Coteaux du Vendômois, Coteaux du Loir and Jasnières remain marginal and unknown, but it is the purpose of this report to help raise the greater awareness of this otherwise overlooked region.  

For such a small valley (the vineyards effectively extend along a relatively short 55 kilometre section of the Loir) the first question to address is why there are three separate appellations when perhaps a single one would suffice, especially when the varietal mix is essentially the same: Chenin Blanc for the whites and mostly Pineau d’Aunis – a grape peculiar to Touraine and Anjou – for the reds and rosés. The answer lies primarily in the history of the region, although there are also cultural factors at play here.

Jasnières, for example, has been recognised for its privileged south facing slopes since the time of Henri IV, and even through the bleakest moments of the late 20th Century its quality and reputation have been maintained. The appellation here exists only for Chenin, and as a result needs its own identity to distinguish it from the wider Coteaux du Loir designation. It was also the first of the three regions to be recognized within the appellation côntrolée (AC) system.

The accession of vineyards of the Vendômois to AC status is more recent, despite the fact that plantings of vines around Vendôme are believed to predate those in the rest of the Loir. Whilst the limit of the appellation here follows the administrative boundary of the département of Loir-et-Cher, the main distinction is the strong cultural difference that exists between this appellation and those of the Coteaux du Loir and Jasnières further to the west. The Coteaux du Vendômois might extend to the same surface area as the other two ACs combined, but its growers overall lack the same focus and quality ethic. The argument for this cultural divide is strengthened when one realises the fact that although the three regions together support some forty commercial growers, there is, perhaps surprisingly, only one vigneron who exploits vines in both the Coteaux du Vendômois and Coteaux du Loir. However, there is little or no surprise or coincidence in identifying that the best wines are made by those growers who are dedicated vignerons, and are not distracted by other agricultural crops or commercial interests.

Whilst it is true that the sales of wines from the Loir do not generally extend much beyond Paris or the region itself, there is no real sense or evidence here of the viticultural crisis which is prevalent elsewhere in France. A combination of short vintages in 2006 and 2007 and a steady demand mean that stocks are low and growers have little wine in their cellars. The appellations of the Loir may well provide wines that are instantly gratifying, its vins de l’année, but it is equally capable of delivering great, long-lived Chenins from the Coteaux du Loir and Jasnières. And any wine lover will know that the Loire as a whole is a treasure trove of undiscovered bargains, and nowhere more so than the values one can find here.

This report sets out to explore the wider region of the Loir, covering the valley as a whole from its source to its confluence with the Sarthe. It combines a detailed appraisal of the three wine appellations and of its growers, with an insight into its other attractions, for the benefit of the tourist and gastronome alike.

Le Loir - the river and the region
The disputed source of Le Loir

Lavoir and church at Saint-Éman

Like La Loire, the source of Le Loir is also disputed. Saint-Éman, a small community made up primarily of modern houses, is situated around 25 kilometres west of the cathedral city of Chartres. On the edge of the village one finds a picturesque 11th Century church and spring fed lavoir. This pretty little oasis in the bleak Perche landscape has, understandably, been claimed as the symbolic and emotional source of le Loir; its true origin, however, lies some 20 kilometres further north-west, near the hamlet of Beaurepaire.  


The True source of le Loir?

It is here that a barely recognisable trickle emerges from a small coppice and empties into a ditch which then crosses a forest flanked field of arable land. On the edge of the field a small cairn is visible built, presumably, by fellow explorers of the true source. From here, the waters run into the Bois de la Gatine and feed a series of ponds before overflowing as a continuous stream, passing through the village of Saint-Denis-les-Puits, and into an ornamental lake at the Château de Villebon some five kilometres further east.  

In the 16th Century, it is said that the ponds in the Bois de la Gatine were owned by the Catholic Church and managed by the local monastery. The monks here would stock the ponds with trout to eat during the harsh winter months. Legend goes that the fish escaped into the lake at Villebon after a local flood, and the hungry monks set off to Château de Villebon to ask kindly that they be repatriated. The château was owned by the Duc de Sully, a staunch Huguenot and right-hand man to Henry IV of France. By all accounts, Sully, a brilliant businessman, but with a reputation for being rude and obstinate, was loathed by Catholics and Protestants alike. He told the monks that they could take back any trout that they found wearing a habit, however the rest were his. In retaliation, the monks plugged the connecting stream, diverting the waters elsewhere.  

After Villebon, the stream turns south and runs through a series of drainage channels, feeding at least two other lavoirs on its way. As it flows past Saint-Éman, the water that rises from the spring here joins the main channel and carries on towards Illiers-Combray, at which point le Loir is properly recognizable as a river.

Wherever the exact origin of le Loir may be, the river’s existence serves, primarily, as a natural drainage course for the plateaux of the Perche and the Beauce, a series of wide, featureless and undistinguished grain-growing prairies that straddle the départements of the Orne and Eure-et-Loir.

Le Loir at Saint-Denis-des-Puits


The Course of Le Loir

It is not only the disputed source that the two rivers have in common. Le Loir may be a more intimate version of la Loire, enduring the ambiguous sibling relationship that any junior brother might have with their elder sister, but le Loir is just as captivating and enchanting, providing us with a charming, albeit shorter alternative to its famous homonym further south.

Beyond Saint-Éman, le Loir arrives in the town of Illiers-Combray, famous as being the setting for Marcel Proust’s Á la Recherche du Temps Perdu (In Search of Lost Time), published in seven parts from 1913 to 1927. ‘Combray’ is largely disguised version of Illiers, the birthplace of Proust’s father. The town adopted and hyphenated the name of Combray on the centenary of Proust’s birth in 1971. In the novels, le Loir becomes the Vivonne.

After Illiers-Combray the river flows south, through Châteaudun (see attractions) to Vendôme where it changes course and starts heading west. At this point, it is around 50 kilometres north of la Loire and begins to run parallel to it, slowly closing the gap as it descends. In between the two rivers, towards Blois and Orléans, is La Petite Beauce, a natural extension of the cereal growing plains further north.

After Vendôme, the river takes a tranquil and leisurely meander through a sleepy backwater. It is at this point that we start to see the first vines which stretch in an intermittent cordon along the hillsides as far as Château-du-Loir, a town, which prior to the arrival of the Tours to Le Mans railway, was serviced by boat. Today, like the Loire itself, the river remains useless to commerce and whilst typically placid, it too is prone to bouts of petulant flooding.  
Le Loir at Châteaudun


Here, the river becomes the dividing line between Normandy, Anjou and Touraine’ where meadows flanked by orchards mingle with the grapevine. This is the very northern limit of viticulture.  

All along this stretch, between Châteaudun and Durtal, the river wends its way through a wide and fertile valley of small towns and pretty villages with wisteria covered houses in a landscape defined by gently rolling hills and small escarpments where it has carved its way through the chalk. Here troglodyte dwellings house not only people but serves as barns, mushroom farms and, of course wine cellars. In past times these caves were used for pagan and Christian worship and as a safe refuge in times of conflict. The slopes, orientation and mother rock here bear a close resemblance to those of Vouvray, as can the resulting white wines. Is it purely a coincidence that le Loir shares a wine producing village of the exact same name?   

 

 
Le Loir at Lavardin


Sarthe and Loir in flood at Briollay

Beyond La Flèche the river widens out and dawdles at large into a broad valley; by the time it has fallen into the Sarthe at Briollay it has descended around 180 metres and traveled 312 kilometres from its source. The Sarthe itself then joins the Mayenne, which combine to create the Maine, a river which enjoys a brief moment of celebrity, flowing past the château of Angers before joining La Loire at Bouchemaine.

Thankfully, perhaps, tourists remain a rarity in the valley, bypassing the region for the Loire proper. Le Loir is, however, a delightful river which offers a true insight into French provincial life, but one needs time to explore and to appreciate its easily missed rural charms. It has its fair share of good restaurants serving classical regional cuisine, and fine châteaux to explore along its banks. It very much deserves its name of La Douce France.

History


Old Jasnières postcard

It is impossible to know for sure when the culture of the vine arrived in the Loir, but what we do know is that its history is both long and distinguished. The common theory is that vines would have been introduced by the Romans, who baptised the river Lidericus (as well as naming the Loire Liger) after their conquest of Gaul. They reigned in northern France until 270AD, introducing their own style of architecture replacing or alongside structures erected by Gaulois tribes.

Documents show that the history of winemaking in the Sarthe goes back to the 9th Century when Pineau d’Aunis grape was first grown on the hillsides of Chahaignes, and vines would have almost certainly been planted on the slopes above Vendôme by the Benedictines of Marmoutier after their arrival from Tours in 1040. The monks came at the request of Geoffroy Martel, son of Foulque Nerra, the Black Falcon of Anjou, founder of the Abbaye de la Trinité in Vendôme.

Wine played a dominant role in the region during the Middle Ages and is well documented during the Renaissance with Ronsard having Bacchus planting vines in La Chartre-sur-le-Loir and in his Pantagruel, Rabelais wrote that La Chartre was full of wine merchants, noting there were at least 27 taverns in the town.

During the Reformation, Henri IV stopped at the palace of Prépatour, close to the town of Vendôme, and was refreshed with wines from the slopes of Mont-rieux. He often hunted in the forest of Bercé, riding between courts at the château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye close to Paris and La Flèche, with the wines of Jasnières being served at the royal table. Also in existence is a detailed map which illustrates the vineyards of the Coteaux du Loir and Jasnières at the time of Louis XIV, significantly on the same sites as today.

Plantings Around the Canton of La Chartre-sur-le-Loir (hectares)

COMMUNE                         1809               1848
La Chartre-sur-le-Loir          40                31
Beaumont                          65                103
Chahaignes                        180               242
La Chapelle-Gaugain            5                  17
Lavenay                            20                52
Lhomme                            65                 800
Marçon                             225               418
Poncé-sur-Loir                   50                 61
Ruillé-sur-Loir                    40                 181

(Source: Musée du Vin, Lhomme)

Between the beginning and the middle of the 19th Century, vineyards were in the ascendency. In the canton of La Chartre-sur-le-Loir it was documented in 1809 there were nearly 700 hectares of vineyards planted, and this had risen to 1,200 hectares by 1848. A survey conducted in 1824 stated that there were 10,350 hectares planted in the département of the Sarthe alone. André Jullien, a renowned wine writer and author of the seminal 1832 vinous work Topographie de tous les vignobles connus recognized the wines of the region, as did Dr Jules Guyot (inventor of the trellising system) in his vineyard census conducted in 71 different départments between 1861 and 1867.

 
Maison des Vignes

The decline in viticulture, however, began with evidence of phylloxera appearing in the Vendômois in 1876, some seven years after it had been first identified in the Gard. By 1892 it was starting to decimate the vineyards in the Sarthe. Before its onset in the second half of the 19th Century there had been 18,000 hectares of vines in the departement, along with a further 4,000 hectares in the Vendômois. In the 1870s half of the population of the Loir-et-Cher department was dependent in some way in tending 30,000 hectares of vines. The Vendômois, an action committee was formed in 1877, prescribing the use of carbon bisulphide, a dangerous and potentially lethal heavy liquid, easily ignited by a frictional spark from flint readily found in the soils of the region. In the injection into the soils was more likely to kill the vine or the growers who administered the chemical than the louse itself. The growers had to wait for twenty years before they could begin to reconstruct their vineyards, with the first successfully grafted vines only appearing in the region in 1914, by which time plantings had all but stopped.

Horses would have been used to work the wines until after the Second World War, with the first dedicated tracteur vigneron arriving in the region at the start of the 1950s, although by this time the vignerons in the Vendômois had already grubbed up 90% of vines in favour of cereals. By 1992, only 454 hectares of vines still existed in the Sarthe. The decline was accelerated between the 1950s and 1970s with a succession of poor vintages (there is considered to be only one really exceptional year in each of these decades – 1959, 1969 and 1976). In 1979, British importer Robin Yapp, wine buying pioneer of the Loir, was writing of the ‘unmistakeable aura of decline about the vineyards; many overgrown with weeds, others abandoned’.


Another age

By 1980, the few growers remaining and the local Syndicats d’Initiative established La Confrérie de la Puette et du Franc-Pinot for the promotion of the three appellations of la Vallée du Loir, an initiative that could have been considered by many as being too late to save the the Loir’s reputation as a viable viticultural region. This decline continued well into the 1980s, but towards the start of the decade and the success of the 1989 and 1990 vintages, there was a minor revival in wines from the region and by 1995 the decline in vineyard plantings had been reversed for the first time since 1914. 

In the Vineyard

‘If Rheingau is Savennières then Jasnières is Mosel’ – Jacqueline Friedrich

 Situation and Orientation   


Map of the region; click here for a higher resolution pdf version. This map is copyright Richard Kelley and may not be used without permission.

History suggests that initially the first vines to be planted would have been on the right bank of the Loir towards Vendôme. With time, vineyards migrated across the river to take advantage of other south facing slopes. During the height of plantings in the mid to late 19th Century, vineyards extended up onto the plateaux on both sides of the river which is where, in the Vendômois at least, most vineyards still remain. The best sites though are the steeper, south facing slopes which enjoy the better drainage offered by the natural incline as well as the presence in the soil of more cailloux or small pebbles made up mostly of Sénonian silex which dates from the late Cretaceous period. Slopes that are concave perform very differently to those which are convex, due to the depth of soil where it meets the bedrock. Often the soil composition is different too as a result of weathering. The plateaux are distinctly colder and more vulnerable to the north winds with soils here made up of clay, profoundly deep in places, which only helps retard the growth and ripening process. Vines grown on the hillsides tend to range in altitude from between 80 and 100 metres along the river itself, but can be as high as 115 metres on some of the slopes of the outlying villages of the Coteaux du Loir.  


Topographic map. Copyright: InterLoire

The vineyards in the Coteaux du Vendômois are to be found on both sides of the river. On the north bank, the vines tend to follow the contour of the Loir where south and south-east facing slopes allow, whereas the vineyards on the south bank generally cling to the shallow inclines of the rolling hills on the plateaux, isolated from each other by their orientation and exposure to the sun, and where they can find protection from the elements.


Vines and the plateau above Thore-la-Rochette

At Pont-de-Braye the river becomes the border between the départments of Loir-et-Cher and the Sarthe, and the appellation changes also. (The INAO has always had a tendency to follow departmental boundaries rather than respecting the terroir). Whilst the communes on the south bank are retained in the Coteaux du Vendômois as far as Le Chartre-sur-le-Loir (where the départment changes again), those on the north side of the river become appellation Coteaux du Loir which in turn extends into Jasnières where the vines occupy a single south facing slope set some five kilometres back from the river.

Climate


Orientation tower, Jasnières

The milder maritime climate enjoyed by the western Loire during the late winter and early spring is less evident here, replaced instead by a distinctly colder continental influence. Prevailing winds during the late growing season, however, come mainly from the west, sweeping over the Loire and its tributaries, ensuring the Loir enjoys the same temperate conditions as other key Chenin appellations, ideal for this late ripening variety. But then, the further upstream one travels, the more marginal Chenin becomes; the earlier ripening Gamay, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay start to appear as soon as one traverses the Loir-et-Cher border and enter into the Coteaux du Vendômois. Whilst Pineau d’Aunis remains the most important variety here, it can at least be vinified into gris, the local name for rosé, should ripening in any given season become an issue.

Other weather systems bring rain and cold winds from the west-north-west, but with the Bercé forest to the north, certain vineyards in the Coteaux du Loir which sit directly below can benefit greatly. The village of Chahaignes, for example, is situated at a point where the Loir valley narrows and the forest starts to encroach on the northern slopes of its vineyards. Here the levels of humidity are increased as the damp air stagnates, encouraging the development of botrytis. One vineyard in Chahaignes, Rasné, was once as prized for the quality of its sweet wines as those of Jasnières.

Humidity plays a part in Jasnières too, with the western slopes, which look towards Chahaignes and the Bercé forest being more susceptible. The vineyards on the eastern side of the appellation tend to face the morning sun, so any mist here tends to burn off quicker. Winds from the north and east tend not to be damp, often blowing in March and helping to dry out the land, allowing growers access to the vines for ploughing. In September, the same winds can help aerate the grapes, as was the case in both 2007 and 2008, effectively saving the vintage. In collaboration with the sun, the autumn wind can also assist with desiccation and concentration of berries, left on the vine to harvest in late October or even early November. These factors help illustrate that despite the small geographical area numerous preferential microclimates exist for the grower to exploit. However, in a year without sun, of which there were many in the 1960s and 1970s, the results can be catastrophic.

Planting Density 

Until the end of the 19th Century and the arrival of phylloxera, it was normal that vineyards were planted en foule (literally meaning ‘crushed’ together) incorporating between 15,000 and 20,000 vines per hectare. New plantings were propagated by a system known as provignage or marcottage where a spur from one vine would have been layered under the soil, much in the same way as a gardener would multiply strawberries plants.

 
Marcottage

The arrival of horses in the vines and subsequently mechanization dictated that vineyards were planted in a more orderly way and in rows, but this also removed the potential for very high density plantings.

Greater vine density ensures there is competition between the vines and, coupled with a maximum yield of juice per hectare means more concentration in the resulting wines. To paraphrase Emile Hérédia of Domaine du Montrieux in the Vendômois, if the desired yield is 35 hectolitres per hectare and there are 8,500 pieds, or vines, per hectare, then the resulting crop would equal 0.41 litres per vine. However, with a planting density of 4,500 pieds, the yield increases to 0.75 litres (or one bottle) per vine and the result, in theory, is a more dilute wine. With this gem of information in mind, it is relevant to know that the minimum density for Appellation Contrôlée status in each of the three areas discussed here are:

Coteaux du Vendômois: 4,500 vines per hectare (the appellation dictates plantings of 2.10 metres maximum between the rows and a distance between the vines of between 0.90 and 1.10 metres). Most vineyards are currently planted to between 4,750 and 6,000 vines per hectare for all varieties. Some vineyards stand at 3,000 vines per hectare, although these will be deemed illegal in 2020’ twenty years after the appellation came into force.

Jasnières: 5,500 vines per hectare (minimum 1.80m between the row and 1.00 metre between the vines).

Coteaux du Loir: 5,000 vines per hectare. (For the record and as a yardstick of quality, Eric Nicolas of Domaine de Bellivière plants at 1.5 metres between the rows and at 0.7 metres between the vine which equates to 9,600 vines per hectare).

Whilst Gobelet training was widely used until the 1970s, the first mechanical harvester rolled into the vineyards of the Coteaux du Loir in 1983, ensuring that existing vineyards alongside new plantings needed to be trellised from that point onwards. Exceptions do remain: some very old vines continue to be harvested by hand and have not been converted, and in the few rare examples where slopes are too steep for mechanical harvesting and it is not deemed safe or practical. Pruning techniques have also been adopted, and today guyot double and cordon royat are the most widely used and authorized.  

In the Cellar

The Use of Chestnut Barrels

It is believed that the Gauls had already perfected the art of barrel making when the Romans were still transporting their wine in clay amphora. Whilst there is a good supply of top quality oak (the village of Jupillé, which lends its name to barrels commercialized by certain French tonnellerie, is situated in a clearing in the Bercé forest, just north of Chahaignes) the traditional barrel of the Loir was always sourced from chestnut or acacia. These trees were grown in copses, often by the vignerons themselves, who then felled, seasoned and delivered the wood to any number of coopers who worked out of caves in Lhomme, Marçon and La Chartre-sur-le-Loir. The barrels would be made to order, and any additional wood sold to the tonnelier to offset the cost of production.

The traditional size of the fût, known locally as busses, were the 220 litre barrique or pièce, the 110 litre demi-barrique, the 55 litre quart and the 33 litre petit fût. A set of barrels from the hands of the last cooper, Claude Branjonneau, tonnelier and part time winemaker, based in Lhomme since 1935 can be seen at the wine museum in the village, along with his old tools. Branjonneau retired in 1990 and died in 2006.

Acacia has generally fallen out of use, but there are still a handful of vigneron in the region who perpetuate the use of Chestnut. They are in the minority and tend to be from those families, who have been making wine in the region for several generations and who remain passionate about upholding the traditions of the past, with Bernard and Christophe Croisard, Joël Gigou, Ludovic Bidault and Jean-Marc Raimbault being the main protagonists. Buying new barrels and repairing old ones can be a problem, although chestnut barrels can last for at least a generation. Only one tonnelier, Didier Raimbault in Rochefort-sur-Loire, still coopers barrels from chestnut.

Whilst Christophe Croisard believes chestnut helps to intensify the aromas, the majority of other producers have moved away from this wood, either to concrete, fibre-glass or stainless steel tanks. Their criticism of chestnut revolves around the fibres in the wood which they believe are too large and only serve to dry out the wine. Other growers have introduced oak into their cellars, although to find new barrels is still a rarity. Second hand barrels, from either Burgundy or from producers of dry white Bordeaux, are the preference.

Back to top