The Loire Valley, France, and Wine Industry

The Loire Valley and the wines produced there are inextricably linked to France’s history. The first vineyards were planted in the Loire region during the 5th century, except in Pays Nantais, where Romans planted grapes first. During this time, monastic life significantly impacted the growth of vineyards. The love of French kings for this area and all it had to offer also played an important role in influencing in the growth of vineyards[1].

The Loire Valley

Figure 1. Loire Valley wine map.

In the Beginning

Did you know? It was the Romans who first planted vines in the Nantes area more than 2,000 years ago. 

According to Pliny the Elder’s account from the first century B.C. regarding grapes on the Loire River banks, their fame spread quickly. Since the 5th century, winemaking has been a thriving and lucrative industry on the Loire River[2].

Grégoire de Tours made the earliest mention of vineyards in Sancerre and Touraine in the year 582. Collaboration between the Catholic Church and the Count of Anjou led to the creation of an entirely new vineyard surrounding Chateau de Chalonnes.

The Augustinian and Benedictine monks also exercised enormous influence during the following centuries, constructing several unique vineyards.

The Rise of the Loire Valley Vineyards

There was an increase in the extent of Angers vineyards after Henry II Plantagenet’s coronation as king of England in 1154; John Lackland and Henry III continued serving only Anjou wines at court after he died, continuing the practice that he started[3].

In this way, for over a thousand years, the heads of state of France and England played a crucial role in promoting the Loire Valley and its wines. It was the House of Carpets, the House of Plantagenets, and finally, the House of Valois, who all had a role in supporting the expansion of Royal Vineyards[4].

From the Middle Ages until the 15th century, the local bourgeoisie was responsible for the rise of winemaking in the districts around Angers, Saumur, and Orléans. Only the Seigneurs were allowed to deal in wine until the French government repealed the Banvin Law[5].

In 1532, King Francois I gave the Estates of Brittany permission to retain their international trading privileges via the Ingrandes border crossing. Wines from the Loire Valley saw a resurgence in popularity due to this[6].

Aside from international commerce, the Loire was a hotbed for novel grape variety development.

Chinon wines were mentioned in Francois Rabelais’ writings throughout the 16th century. Originally from the southwest of France, the Breton grape, sometimes known as Cabernet Franc, was used to make wines in the Nantes region. Folle Blanche was also making its debut around this period. Known for its thick and meaty rootstocks, this type produces a wine called Gros Plant. Consistent with its strength, the plant’s appearance is striking[7].

A group of Dutch merchants in Nantes was actively looking for wines that would meet the needs of their customers. Sèvre-et-Maine and Layon Valley rural viticulture prospered, as did Saumur and the surrounding region up to Vouvray, and this development lasted far into the 19th century[8].

The Loire Valley, The Loire Valley, France, and Wine Industry

Figure 2. Wine Folly France: Loire Valley Wine Map

Growth Comes to a Standstill

The vines were affected by challenging winter conditions in 1709. Temperatures plummeted to -20 degrees Celsius throughout the shoreline, causing barrels to rupture and water to freeze. However, Melon de Bourgogne grapes resisted the weather. Those grapes were used to make Muscadet, a wine with a particular flavor profile[9].

Anjou and Nantes, the two cities at the center of the Vendée Wars, were devastated by the Revolutionary War’s effects on Loire Valley grapes[10].

The Loire Valley’s vineyards were in direct rivalry with those in the south as new modes of transportation, such as railroads, were developed. When the phylloxera epidemic arrived, they were still producing wines of the highest quality. At this point, all of their work was put on hold. Initially found in the United States, this grapevine bug killed many of the country’s vineyards because it attacked the plants’ roots[11].

Recognition for the Loire Valley Vineyards

Quality quickly took precedence when the crisis passed, resulting in the formation of some of the most famous designations in the world. Their Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée name was granted to them in 1936 when they were officially acknowledged[12].

Finally, in 2000, UNESCO declared the Loire Valley from Sully-sur-Loire to Chalonnes-sur-Loire a World Heritage Site. The Loire Valley has been hailed as a cultural treasure because of its impressive viticultural and architectural legacy. This is because the area is home to several world-famous medieval cities and chateaux. Since the beginning of human history, it has served as a focal point for a broad range of human ideals and is a sign of the natural synergy between man and the environment in which he lives[13].

ON THIS DAY

DECEMBER 1, 2000: The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) included the Loire River valley’s central area in its World Heritage Sites list. Since 2001, the Loire Valley has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO as an intrinsic part of its cultural landscape. The country’s vineyards, which have a long history and unique geography, were a significant component in its climb to worldwide renown[14].

 

Want to read more? Try these books!

The Loire Valley, The Loire Valley, France, and Wine IndustryThe Loire Valley, The Loire Valley, France, and Wine Industry
 

References

[1] LoubèreLeo A, The Red and the White : A History of Wine in France and Italy in the Nineteenth Century (Albany: State University Of New York Press, 1978).

[2] LoubèreLeo A, The Red and the White : A History of Wine in France and Italy in the Nineteenth Century (Albany: State University Of New York Press, 1978).

[3] 박희현, Shin Geon Cheol, and 김예원, “Developing a Competitive Wine Cluster: A Case of the Burgundy Wine Cluster in France,” The Review of Business History 31, no. 1 (March 2016): 5–26, https://doi.org/10.22629/kabh.2016.31.1.001.

[4] LoubèreLeo A, The Red and the White : A History of Wine in France and Italy in the Nineteenth Century (Albany: State University Of New York Press, 1978).

[5] 박희현, Shin Geon Cheol, and 김예원, “Developing a Competitive Wine Cluster: A Case of the Burgundy Wine Cluster in France,” The Review of Business History 31, no. 1 (March 2016): 5–26, https://doi.org/10.22629/kabh.2016.31.1.001.

[6] LoubèreLeo A, The Red and the White : A History of Wine in France and Italy in the Nineteenth Century (Albany: State University Of New York Press, 1978).

[7] “Monastic Wines,” France.fr (France FR, October 29, 2019)

[8] Abhijit V. Banerjee et al., “Long Run Health Impacts of Income Shocks: Wine and Phylloxera in 19th Century France,” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2007, https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.960875.

[9] Abhijit V. Banerjee et al., “Long Run Health Impacts of Income Shocks: Wine and Phylloxera in 19th Century France,” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2007, https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.960875.

[10] 박희현, Shin Geon Cheol, and 김예원, “Developing a Competitive Wine Cluster: A Case of the Burgundy Wine Cluster in France,” The Review of Business History 31, no. 1 (March 2016): 5–26, https://doi.org/10.22629/kabh.2016.31.1.001.

[11] Abhijit V. Banerjee et al., “Long Run Health Impacts of Income Shocks: Wine and Phylloxera in 19th Century France,” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2007, https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.960875.

[12] LoubèreLeo A, The Red and the White : A History of Wine in France and Italy in the Nineteenth Century (Albany: State University Of New York Press, 1978).

[13] Abhijit V. Banerjee et al., “Long Run Health Impacts of Income Shocks: Wine and Phylloxera in 19th Century France,” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2007, https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.960875.

[14] 박희현, Shin Geon Cheol, and 김예원, “Developing a Competitive Wine Cluster: A Case of the Burgundy Wine Cluster in France,” The Review of Business History 31, no. 1 (March 2016): 5–26, https://doi.org/10.22629/kabh.2016.31.1.001.