The story begins at the foot of the slopes of Sancerre in Saint Thibault on the banks of the river Loire. Formerly named « Gortona », this Gallo-Romain port is ideally situated at the junction of the via Romana and the majestic river, thus providing an excellent departure point for the transport of the wines produced in the region. Pliny the Younger (61AD – 144AD) mentions the existence of a grape variety called the « Bitrurious » which can almost certainly be taken as a reference to the fact that the vine was cultivated here by the local Celtic tribe, the Bituriges, before the roman conquest of Gaul.
A huge impetus was given to the production of wine when in 313 AD the recently converted Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official state religion throughout the Empire. Consequently wine became an important part of the official new religion and this lead to increased popularity and consumption amongst the now Catholic Gallo-Romain citizens.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, thanks to the hard-working Augustinian monks of the nearby Abbey of Saint Satur and the powerful House of the Counts of Sancerre, the vineyards flourished. Jean of France, Duc of Berry, praised his own wines qualifying them « as the very finest in all the kingdom ». As a forerunner of today's AOC rules and regulations, he even had a charter drawn up governing the vinification of the wines and the dates of harvest.
Prior to the Phylloxera crisis, the Sancerre vineyards were primarily planted with red grape varieties however the replantings were mostly carried out with the Sauvignon Blanc varietal which received its AOC classification in 1936. The reds which received AOC status in 1959 account for some 15% of the production and are produced uniquely from the noble red grape variety, the Pinot Noir.
In a lot of respects, this area has more in common with the Burgundy region of Chablis, only 125 km to the east, than with the rest of the Loire Valley. The climate is semi-continental and frost is often a major worry during the spring. For these reasons, the majority of the vineyards are found close to the river Loire where they take advantage of its temperature moderating influence. The soils vary quite a bit with three distinct soil types, all found above a base of Kimmeridgian Limestone, the same as Chablis and parts of the Champagne region.
Just south from Sancerre and on the right bank of the river Loire are the vineyards of Pouilly-Fumé. Here, once again the Sauvingon Blanc is by far the most dominant grape variety and the region owes its name to the smoky characteristics wines have from being grown on the flinty soils. These wines are often blended with the fruitier and lighter Sauvignon Blanc which is grown the sandy, pebbly soil known as Caillote, as well as deeper and more complex Sauvignon Blanc planted on clay soils known as Terre Blanche.
Another wine is produced here from a rather unusual grape variety known as the Chasselas and which has its own appellation, Pouilly sur Loire AOP.
Here, the Sauvignon Blanc varietal produces crisp, mineral wines, often displaying quite pronounced notes of quince and white flowers. The red grape varieties, Gamay and Pinot Noir, are blended to produce medium-bodied reds with peppery blackberry and plum aromas.
Southwest of Sancerre is Menetou-Salon AOP. The white wines are vibrant with a distinctive aroma of dried chamomile flowers, while the reds from the Pinot Noir are medium-bodied with notes of cherries and plum.
Quincy was the second region in France to be granted its appellation in the 1930’s, after Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Vineyards are planted on terraces of Kimmeridgian limesone, with sand and silt, above the Cher River. The wines typically have notes of melon, pear or grapefruit.
Neighbouring Reuilly is one of the hottest and driest parts of the Loire Valley. Chalk and limestone soils lend a crisp citrus and mineral quality to the Sauvingon Blanc while Pinot Noir produces red and rosé wines with light acidity, red cherry fruit and minerality.