LOIRE VALLEY: from the Atlantic Ocean to the Auvergne Mountains
WINE, CULTURE, HISTORY
12 day immersion: June 09 - June 20, 2024
If ever a river and the landscapes surrounding the river shaped France’s national identity and lifestyle, it is certainly the Loire River and the wine regions that border it.
The Loire Valley is the heart of France and the Loire is the river of the Kings, straddling for 634 miles from almost one side of the country to the other. “Loire” – images of an extraordinary collection of architectural marvels, ranging from majestic, incredibly beautiful castles to medieval strongholds lined up as a string of pearls, as well as names of iconic historic personalities such as Leonardo da Vinci and Joan of Arc appear in our mind and of course memories of extensive vineyards on the hillside banks of the river, and gorgeous wines. The Loire Valley wine region is a vast area and consists of several distinct wine regions, each with its own characteristic grapes, appellations, and wine style. We take you on a journey from the Atlantic Ocean to the Auvergne mountains to explore this unique region. We travel along the eponymous river, starting in the hip, vibrant university city of Nantes, which was for centuries the seat of the Dukes of Brittany. We move inland towards Angers, the medieval seat of the Plantagenêt dynasty – thinking of Richard the Lionheart, the most famous member of the Plantagenês. Here we explore the many facets of the wines of Anjou. Then we move to the Touraine region, our gateway for visiting famous Loire castles. Here we learn about wines from Chinon, Vouvray, and many other appellations of the Touraine wine region. As we move eastward we stay in the small, picturesque town of Sancerre to enjoy the fantastic Sauvignon-Blanc wines and we end our journey by tasting wines from the Upper Loire valley region, mostly unknown to the wine lovers on the US side of the big pond. Of course as usual on our tours, epicurean delights - wine pairing lunches at famous estates and excellent meals at carefully selected restaurants - will be part of the journey. It goes without saying that we will take the time to do an in-depth visit of several Loire Châteaux. Bypassing the history and the Châteaux in the Loire Valley is unforgivable.
- We will visit about 20 Domaines in well-known appellations such as Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maines, Savennières, Vouvray, Saumur-Champigny, Chinon, Sancerre, etc. and also in up and coming, still under-the-radar appellations.
- We will get intimate insights into the world of the Loire Valley wines with visits to famous Domaines, but also to excellent lesser known and unknown producers.
- We will learn about the classification of the Loire Valley wines.
- We will see the beautiful vineyards straddling the eponymous Loire river and its tributaries.
- We will explore the fascinating history of the region and its importance for wine production and wine trade.
- We will dive into the historic turmoil played out in the Loire region that eventually shaped France and the Europe of today.
- We will have meals at beautiful, quaint French village restaurants typical for the region.
- We will dine at exquisite gourmet restaurants worthy of a Michelin star.
- We will appreciate the Loire Valley's incredible beauty.
- We will do guided tours of several gorgeous Loire Châteaux, and other historic monuments renowned for their stunning beauty and historic significance.
- We will attend a performances at some at the Château Chambord.
- We will experience genuine French hospitality.
- We will have wine pairing luncheons or dinners in an intimate setting at different Domaines which we share with the proprietors / general managers and/or winemakers.
The Loire Valley is a huge wine region spanning from Muscadet in the west to Sancerre in the east bordering the Burgundy region and then south to the Auvergne mountains parallel to southern Beaujolais and the Côte Rôtie. This vast region has about 185,000 acres of vineyards, most of which are on the hillside banks of the river. The Loire Valley is home to 87 appellations and produces wines of a sheer diversity of styles and varietals, ranging from bone dry to sticky sweet dessert wines, red, white, rosé, vinified in both still and sparkling format. Signature grapes are Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc for the whites and Cabernet Franc and Gamay for the reds. However, there are several autochthonous varieties which are worth exploring and which we will learn to appreciate on this trip.
The Loire Valley’s viticulture is steeped in history and still today has a cohesive artisan wine culture. It respects tradition but is at the same time dynamic and experimental. It is the Loire wine region where biodynamic wine production took off and subsequently this region has become the spiritual home of natural winemaking. Currently three quarters of wineries and about 80% of the vineyards have achieved some sort of environmental accreditation.
The Loire Valley wine region is divided into five core production regions from west to east. The Pays Nantais with its maritime climate is a white wine region where we will enjoy crisp, bone-dry white wines made from the “Melon de Bourgogne” grape. The wine making technique here is unique in still wine production. Just like making Champagne the wine is kept on its fine lees for an extended period of time. This autolysis gives the wines an extra layer of flavor and complexity. In Anjou-Saumur two subregions meet. The maritime climate fades into a more continental climate and red wines become more prominent. In Anjou, in the area around the town of Angers, we will taste dry white wines based on Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc. We also learn about noble sweet wine produced from the Chenin Blanc grape along the Layon river south of Angers. Red wine production is often a single variety Cabernet Franc or Gamay wine but we also find blends and delicious wines from other red grapes, unique to the region. The Anjou is famous for its rosé wines, the Rosé d’Anjou. These rosé wines are very often blends of the grapes Grolleau and Cabernet Franc. As we move towards the small town of Saumur the Saumur-Champigny region produces excellent, stunning Cabernet Franc single variety reds. However, Saumur is most famous for sparkling wine, the Crémant de Loire. The majority of ‘Crémant de Loire’ is produced here. Saumur is the second largest sparkling wine production region in France, second only to Champagne. These sparkling wines are made predominantly with Chenin Blanc – a bit of Cabernet Franc is added for the rosé - and produced in the Méthode Traditionelle. We move further inland and taste our way through the Touraine region. The Touraine region around the city of Tours is the Loire Valley’s most diverse subregion. The culture of Sauvignon Blanc fades and Chenin Blanc rises. Here we find Vouvray with dry or fruity sweet or bubbly Chenin Blanc. The soils are a unique clay-limestone mix, called ‘tuffeau’. South of Tours around the town of Chinon we will visit Cabernet Franc country. Lots of wines are fresh and easy-drinking but Chinon also has top vineyard sites where serious, utterly delicious wines are produced with power, structure, and incredible longevity. As we move eastward we enter the Centre Loire region. Two subregions are on the international radar for producing top notch wines: Dry white Sauvignon Blanc is king in Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Sancerre sits on the west bank of the Loire River where we find a siliceous clay soil called ‘Silex’ which gives the Sancerre wines its character: lean body, vibrant acidity, racy, lovely aromatics. Across from Sancerre on the east bank of the Loire the soil is very different. We see Kimmeridgian Marl – we are close to Burgundy’s Chablis region – which lets the wine become a bit broader, softer, slightly less vibrant and aromatic than its cousin on the other side of the river. We will also taste wines from the Upper Loire region, also called Auvergne vineyards, the southernmost eastern region of the Loire Valley with its volcanic, granitic soils of the Massif Central.