As I have said in previous posts, I love the Loire Valley – it really is one of the best places to visit in Europe. My previous trips there have been to explore the architectural heritage of the region, the many Loire Valley castles. But, as the area is so well known for many and various great wines, I decided my next trip would be to investigate the viticulture. And this I did last week; well I scratched the surface. I stayed at a charming holiday cottage and spent my days touring numerous vineyards.
With the right people, the vineyards themselves can be very interesting; they are not just row upon row of grape-producing vines. Look closely at the photograph above and you will see dotted about the vineyards small and somewhat quaint buildings. These buildings can be seen everywhere, in various states of repair, or disrepair. A close up of one can be seen in the photograph below. These are maisons de vigne, that once provided shelter for meals and rest to the farmers who worked the vineyards. Now, with more modern farming techniques and less of a reliance on the horse, workers tend to go back to their houses for lunch and to escape the midday heat.
And scattered amongst the more standard vineyards, using more usual techniques are the vineyards of those who experimented, those tried something different. One of those was the successful draper Antoine Cristal. This man, who knew some very influential people and was friends with the French President Georges Clémenceau, is credited with introducing Loire Valley red wines to wider market in the mid to late 1800s. The Loire Valley had until then been known only for its white wines. Cristal is also famous for his Le Clos des Murs, vineyard of walls, pictured below.
The quality of wine is said to be dependant on the growing conditions of the vine itself. Cristal believed the best wine would be produced from vines whose roots were in shade but where the grapes were in direct sun. So he produced his ‘vineyard of walls’, where he placed the root in the shade of the wall, and the vine was then passed through a whole in the wall and allowed to grow in direct sunlight.
Visiting this fascinating and quirky vineyard, and learning of its history, was a real treat and a surprise. When he died Cristal bequeathed his Clos des Murs to a local Hospital, and still today Cristal’s vineyards produce some very fines wines.