Because the Loire is more than just dreamy castles...but yes, they have those too.
It's been two weeks since I've held a piece of Kimmeridgian Marl on a stony hilltop in Sancerre. It was the last day of our trip and I remember that moment clearer than any other. Although the Loire Valley is filled with extremely diverse soils, that one piece of Marl really tugged at me. To me, it represented the love, wonder and memories of an incredible 5 day journey from Muscadet to Sancerre. There's so much magic in the Loire Valley, and I'm here today to give you the top reasons why the Loire Valley should be your next wine adventure.
Ok ok, duh right? But if you ask me, Loire Valley wine is some of the most underrated wine in the game. Why? Because there is certainly something for everyone and I'm not just talking everyone in the "industry." I'm talking your brothers & sisters, your great Aunt Sally, and your neighbor Joe from down the street. From the light-bodied fruity whites of Muscadet, to semi-sweet rosé in Anjou, to the deep complex reds of Chinon, there is virtually a wine for every palate. Taking that a step further, one of my favorite things about the wine was discovering how terroir can also create a huge range of style within a given area.
Still with me? Let me explain.
In Pouilly-Fumé the wines are made solely from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. We had the honor of tasting through the lineup at Domaine Landrot-Guyollot who offers two cuvées coming from specific parcels. One wine came from Silex (flint) soils while another came from Kimmeridgian Marl (limestone with layers of seashells). Although both wines were 100% Sauvignon Blanc from Pouilly-Fumé, they tasted completely different. That just goes to show you the pure power of range & terroir within the region!
The Loire is a place of personal wine discovery as well. You may think you have your preferences nailed down, but the Loire will show you something new to love that's totally unexpected. For those who know me and follow me, you know that I'm always drinking dry wines. Any indication of sugar I usually find generally displeasing. Well guess what? Times have changed. This first happened in Anjou at Domaine Leduc Frouin when tasting their wines from the Coteaux du Layon AOC. These lusciously sweet Chenins sparked the perfect balance of sugar and acid, and although I wouldn't sit with a full bottle on the balcony, I found myself craving these wines with dishes like foie gras, blue cheese and any pretty much any dessert! A little residual sugar like in the wines found in Vouvray? Love them now. It's not that the Loire CHANGED my palate, it just introduced me to trying styles I normally wouldn't.
It comes as no shock to me that the entire valley is a UNESCO world heritage sight. There's something so charming about the French countryside...am I right? Every time we made our way to a different town, we were in complete awe of its sheer beauty. I remember standing in front of the Vienne River starring at the Forteresse Royale de Chinon thinking, "I could live here." It didn't end with the castles. Standing on top of Sancerre looking down into the different villages completely took my breath away. A picture says a thousand words, so to further put my thoughts in order, I'm going to show you exactly what I mean:
Make sense now? Thought so!
The people & the stories:
I feel like Americans have a huge misconception of the French. Don't get me wrong, I've experienced a sly remark or two in Paris, but the people of the Loire Valley are some of the most hospitable and humble people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. We experienced this on our first day in Muscadet visiting Château de la Ragotière. This property was built by the Loré de la Ragotière family in the 14th century and then later purchased by the Couillaud brothers in 1979. An old cellar was discovered in the chapel (on site) with vintages dating back to the 1940's! Not only did we get to taste wine in this chapel (including one from my birth year), but Amélie who now runs the winery with her husband Vincent, prepared a gorgeous traditional lunch for us going above and beyond to show us a wonderful afternoon (there's a bee story in there too, but maybe I'll get to that another time..just know the honey is amazing).
No story would quite top the one we heard at Domaine Champalou however. It's a story of two young lovebirds who came from winemaking families dreaming about starting a winery of their own. With only 1/2 hectare of land and all odds against them, they built a tiny empire supported only by love & passion. Over time they slowly grew acquiring more hectares when everything changed one day in 1989. A gentleman by the name of Kermit Lynch (only the biggest name in wine imports) "discovered" the winemaking duo and sent a purchase order for 50% of their product! To this day Kermit Lynch is still bringing their wines to the US, and we're honestly so lucky for that. Madame and Monsieur Champalou are still very much in love, and that love is evident in all their wines.
History buff? Sip in the Loire and hear stories of how the women of the Domaines had to step up during the times of WW2 and run the family wineries. From wine growing to winemaking, the stories of women doing it all were abundant was we bounced from house to house. A lot of that history carried through to today as many of the Domaines we visited were female dominated. Although the Nazis took most of the wine during the war, we were lucky enough to spot one bottle from Famille Bourgeois in Chavignol dating back to 1934. They were able to hide a small stash and it is still cellared today...talk about a story!
I could keep writing this post for days (and there will be a part 2 down the road), but I guess I want you all to know that my experience in the Loire Valley made such an impact on not only my passion for wine, but also on my life as a whole. Meeting those vignerons and hearing their stories has made me reevaluate my own personal priorities in a positive way. They reminded me to keep fighting for my dreams and that anything is possible. It was the reset this city girl needed, and if you're ready for a wine AND personal awakening, consider visiting the Loire Valley.