From the volcanoes of Auvergne, to the Mont Gerbier-de-Joncs, to its estuary at St Nazaire, the Loire crosses 4 regions: Pays de la Loire, Centre-Val de Loire, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes; and 15 departments: Loire-Atlantique, Vendée, Maine-et-Loire, Deux-Sèvres, Vienne, Sarthe, Indre, Indre-et-Loire, Loir-et-Cher, Loiret, Cher, Nièvre, Allier, Puy-de-Dôme, Loire.
1.1. The vineyard of the Loire Valley in figures
- • 68 appellations
- • 70,000 hectares including 52,000 in AOC
- • 4 million hectoliters of which 3.1 million in AOC
- • 24 grape varieties
- • 3rd wine region in France (excluding Champagne)
- • 2nd largest sparkling wine producing region after Champagne
1.2 Wine tourism in the Loire Valley
- • Terroir classified as World Heritage by UNESCO
- • Ranked 1st French vineyard for its welcome (ex aequo with Alsace)
- • More than 800 km of wine route
- • More than 1000 domains open to the public
- • 350 tourist wineries
- • The troglodytic cellars
- •1 in 3 visitors are foreigners
- • 50 million bottles exported to 160 countries
1.3 Cultivation methods
1.3.1. The main grape varieties of the Loire Valley
The muscadet or melon de bourgogne
Single grape variety of AOC muscadet, AOC muscadet-coteaux-de-la-Loire, AOC muscadet-sèvre-et-Maine, AOC muscadet côtes-de-Grandlieu, and AOC muscadets crus communaux: Gorges, Clisson, le Pallet. Originally from Burgundy, it was introduced in the region by monks in the 17th century, and is the only region in the world to use it. It is one of the earliest appellation grape varieties in France. It produces wines with floral or mineral dominance depending on the terroir, and even fruitier notes such as green apple. It goes perfectly with fish and shellfish. The crystalline rocks of the south-east of Nantes give it more finesse than the sedimentary rock areas.
La folle blanche
This grape variety originates from the South-West and is only present in the AOC gros-plant du pays nantais.
This rustic grape variety, planted in the region in the Middle Ages, produces wines with a low alcohol content, a nice freshness and often a little iodine.
Emblematic grape variety of the Loire Valley where it covers 14000 ha. It is present in the AOC Touraine, Touraine-Mesland, Touraine-Oisly, Touraine-Chenonceaux, Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, AOC Reuilly, AOC Anjou, AOC Menetou-salon, Quincy, Saumur, Saint-Pourçain, Valençay. A fragile grape variety, very sensitive to soil and climate, Sauvignon is one of the most aromatic grape varieties (passion fruit, citrus, blackcurrant, boxwood and broom), with multiple nuances strongly influenced by the terroirs, such as the flinty notes in the wines of the Centre.
Le chenin blanc ou pineau de Loire
Chenin Blanc is the grape variety of the Loire Valley, the Pineau de la Loire. It is often said to have originated in Central Europe, where it was brought back by Saint Martin, who planted it at the Marmoutier Abbey in the 4th century and founded the Vouvray terroir at the same time.
It would in fact be endemic to Anjou, known moreover under the name of plant of Anjou in the Xth century, it is cultivated there at the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Maur de Glanfeuil, in Thoureil. Later, it made its appearance in Touraine at the castle of Chenonceau where the lord of the place entrusted it to his brother-in-law, the abbot of Cormery in Mont-Chenin, near Tours, from where it takes its name. This grape variety was widely propagated by Rabelais under the common name of "Pineau de la Loire".
The old texts distinguish it under the name of "gros pineau de la Loire", as the Dictionnaire manuel du négociant en vins et spiritueux explains it in 1896: "The white wines of the hillsides of the canton of Vouvray, produced by the gros and the menu pineau de la Loire, give golden wines with a slight taste of gunflint, sparkling like Champagne or sweet like the richest Spanish wine", thus differentiating it from the "menu pineau" or "Orbois".
Chenin Blanc is an early maturing grape variety, which resists well to diseases. It likes sedimentary rocks, such as tuffeau (limestone rock of the Loire castles) and the slope. It is characterized by conical bunches of medium size, and grapes of medium size.
Harvested at the beginning of the harvest, it produces very elegant dry white wines and very fine sparkling wines, whereas if left on the vine, it develops noble rot (botrytis cynerea), and gives exceptional sweet white wines. Perfectly structured by acidity, elegant, with a complex nose and aromas of yellow fruits, dried fruits, citrus fruits, white flowers, honey... the wine made from chenin is quite lively and nervous, which allows it a good potential of keeping.
Today it covers about 10,000 hectares in France, including 8,200 in the Loire Valley, and it is very productive in South Africa where it covers more than 26,000 hectares. In the Loire Valley, it is associated with the AOCs: anjou-blanc, bonnezeaux, quarts-de-chaume-grand-cru, coteaux-du-layon, coteaux-du-layon-premier-cru-chaume, savennières, savennières-roche-aux-moines, coteaux-de-l'aubance, anjou-coteaux-de-la-loire, coteaux-de-saumur, crémant-de-loire, saumur-blanc, saumur-brut, touraine, touraine-amboise, touraine-mesland, chinon, jasnières, coteaux-du-loir, vouvray.
Pineau d'Aunis, also known as Chenin Noir, has been cultivated since ancient times. It has been present in the Loire Valley since the 9th century. It owes its name to the priory of Aunis in Dampierre, near Saumur in Anjou. Very appreciated for its yield, its fragility and its lack of alcohol have contributed little by little to its replacement by the Cabernet Franc. It remains the preferred grape variety in the Loir Valley, used as a single variety for the production of Coteaux du Vendômois. On the other hand, it is used as a blend for Anjou, Rosé d'Anjou, Crémant de Loire, Rosé de Loire, Saumur, Saumur Champigny, Coteaux du Loir and Touraine. Finally, it is an accessory grape variety for Valençay.
Gamay, originally from the Center-East of France, is particularly widespread in Touraine where it is often vinified on its own (A.O.C. Touraine in particular). In the Center, it constitutes the essential part of the red grape varieties of the A.O.V.D.Q.S. Coteaux du Giennois and Châteaumeillant.
More at ease on clayey-siliceous soils than on limestone, it can give results that are both surprising and original, especially when used in a blend with Cabernet or Côt.
In the Blois region, certain vintages of the Touraine-Mesland A.O.C. allow for the production of demi-garde wines, while for the Touraine and Anjou A.O.C., it allows for vinification en primeur.
Breton or plant Breton, is the name given to the cabernet franc in the Loire Valley. Some would like this name to be that of the Abbé Breton, administrator at Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil (on the lands of Cardinal de Richelieu) who in the 17th century planted the first Cabernet Franc in the region. However, Rabelais in the 16th century in a quote already mentioned this "This good Breton wine, which does not believe in Brittany, but in this good country of Veron", today Chinon.
The first red grape variety of the Loire, where it was planted in the 11th century, it is thought to have originated in the Spanish Basque Country.
Cabernet Franc is the mythical grape variety of the Loire where it produces wines rich in tannins, fine and aromatic. It likes clay-limestone soils and tufa soils.
It is used for the AOC Anjou-rouge, Anjou-villages, Anjou-villages Brissac, Cabernet-d'Anjou, Saumur-rosé, rosé-d'Anjou, rosé-de-Loire, crémant-de-Loire, Saumur-rouge, Saumur-Champigny, Saumur-Puy-Notre-Dame, Saumur-brut, Touraine, Touraine-Amboise, Touraine-Chenonceaux, Touraine-Azay-le-Rideau, Touraine-Mesland, coteaux-du-loir, Saint-Nicolas-de-bourgueil, Chinon.
Depending on the terroir, it produces fine wines evoking red fruits, spices and sometimes even peppers. The connoisseurs often feel raspberry (bourgueil) or violet (chinon). It is also used in the elaboration of certain rosés (Cabernet d'Anjou) or in the blending of certain Touraine rosés.
Cot is the other name of malbec in Touraine, also called Auxerrois in the Center. This grape variety has found its area of predilection in Touraine and, more precisely, in the Cher valley, up to Montlouis, where it has seriously competed with the grolleau.
It is a very old red grape variety with medium-sized bunches and berries with melting, juicy and sweet flesh. Very sensitive to frost, disease and temperature changes, it is very productive if preserved and if it reaches a good maturity. Its juice is sweet and low in acidity.
It is found in the following appellations: rosé-de-Loire, Touraine, Touraine Amboise, Touraine Azay-le-Rideau, Touraine-Chenonceau, Touraine-Mesland, Coteaux-du-Loir.
Pinot noir, originally from Burgundy, is the predominant red grape variety of the Center. Early, it adapts to almost all climates and expresses itself fully on limestone soils. Cultivated in the continental part of the Loire River. This grape variety, formerly known as "noirien", is mainly used in the production of red Sancerre and, as a blend, in the composition of the A.O.V.D.Q.S. of the Centre region. It is also found in the eastern part of Touraine, in the appellations, AOC Touraine and AOC Touraine Noble-Joué.
1.3.2. The conventional method
This consists in the use of all modern technological tools and products to produce more and more easily.
1.3.3. The reasoned method
It has limited the use of technological tools and chemical substances to reduce the environmental impact.
1.3.4. Organic and biological wine
Method aiming at suppressing the use of chemicals and mechanization in the vineyards and during the wine making process. A wine made from organic grapes can be recognized by the AB logo (optional) or by the official mention on the label: ("wine from organic farming"), reference to the certifying body.
- In the Loire Valley (Centre and Pays de la Loire regions), organic vineyards are accelerating their progression.
- The organic vineyard of the Loire Valley in 2015:
- 416 organic winegrowers
- 5 646 ha of which 23% in conversion
- 9.05% (6.4% in 2011) of the vineyard is organic in terms of surface area
- The Loire Valley vineyard is the 5th largest organic vineyard in France
1.3.5. The biodynamic method
It is the result of a method that aims to get closer to the natural rhythm of the vine and wine by helping them through natural processes and by limiting inputs, especially chemical.
Demeter is the international certification mark for biodynamic agriculture. It guarantees the respect of biodynamic practices, as well as the respect of the quality of these products during their transformation.
The Demeter specifications for agricultural production and for the processing of agricultural products are also stricter than the European organic regulation (mixed farms forbidden, CMS forbidden, fewer inputs allowed, stricter wine-making specifications....).
1.3.6. Natural wines
They come from grapes worked in Organic Agriculture and harvested manually, the natural wines, or natural wines, are also vinified "naturally". This means that any technical intervention that could alter the bacterial life of the wine is forbidden, as well as any addition of chemical products, except, if necessary, sulfites in very small quantities.
1.3.7. The primeur wine
The primeur wine is a wine sold just after the harvest, as soon as the fermentation has taken place. It is also called "new wine", "young wine" or "wine of the year". The winegrowers produce it most often by carbonic fermentation which consists in putting the whole bunches of grapes, neither destemmed nor crushed, in a hermetically sealed tank saturated with carbon dioxide. This gives the wine typical aromas of "fresh fruit" and a reduced presence of tannin.
1.3.8. La bernache
The bernache is the appellation of Anjou and Touraine of the bourru wine. It is a must in the process of alcoholic fermentation, and therefore still contains a lot of sugar. As the yeasts continue to transform the sugar into alcohol, it loses its sweetness and therefore does not keep long. Cloudy and milky, sometimes pearly, it can be drunk from the end of September to mid-November depending on the year, and goes perfectly with a pan of chestnuts or dried fruits.
1.4. A dynamic wine region
1.4.1. The main wine fairs in the Loire Valley
The wine fair de Loire à Anger is a fair dedicated to wine professionals, which presents every year more than 300 exhibitors of the Loire Valley vineyards on the first Monday and Tuesday of February.
The Loire River Levee is the exhibition of organic wines in the Loire Valley, it is now grouped with the Demeter exhibition (dynamic organic viticulture) at the Loire wine exhibition in Anger.
La DiveBouteille is the international reference for natural wines. It takes place every year in the cellars of Saumur.
1.4.2. A land of women
1 out of 5 producers in the Loire Valley is a woman.