Guide to the Loire regions

Chinon

In the vineyard  


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Situation and orientation
Resting on the same latitude as the Côte de Nuits, the vineyards of Chinon are at the divide of continental and maritime France. The 2,300 hectares (with an average altitude of 40 metres) can effectively be divided into four roughly equal sized zones. 

The Véron peninsular – around Savigny-en-Véron
The rive gauche of the Vienne – from L’Île-Bouchard to La Roche-Clermault
The rive droite of the Vienne – from the town of Chinon to Avon-les-Roches
Chinon, Beaumont-en-Véron and Huismes

The movement of the river has done much to influence the topography of the appellation over the past ten millennia. With its origins in the Corrèze, the Vienne has carved its way through the valley, splitting the wine region into two halves; the river also being responsible for the alluvial deposits of sand and gravel that flank its banks. The overall size of the appellation with its diverse locations ensures that the vineyards of Chinon enjoy a variety of orientations. North-facing parcels are not uncommon; notably on the rive gauche above the village of Rivière, as well as on the saddle-back plateaux of Beaumont-en-Véron. These cooler sites invariably mean a later harvest but regardless of this, they are considered to be some of the most prized in the appellation. 

Permitted communes  

RIVE GAUCHE:
Anché
Chinon – Saint-Jacques
L’Îsle Bouchard
Ligré
Rivière
La Roche-Clermault
Sazilly
Tavant
Théneuil

RIVE DROITE:
Avoine
Avon-les-Roches
Beaumont-en-Véron
Chinon
Cravant-les-Côteaux
Crouzilles
Huismes
Panzoult
Saint-Benoît-la-Forêt
Savigny-en-Véron

Communes 

THE VÉRON PENINSULAR

‘The wines of the Véron peninsular are the Pomerol of Chinon’ – Stéphane Mureau

The delta of Le Pays de Véron is a wedge-shaped strip of land which divides the Vienne from the Loire, prior to their confluence at Candes-Saint-Martin. Even today, the peninsular has a remote feel about it, yet prior to 1841 when a bridge was finally erected to connect the spit to Candes access was by ferry alone, ensuring that the Véron had remained an isolated outpost for many centuries previous. Flooding is a real risk to this low lying land, with spectacular breaches occurring in 1872, 1896, 1913, 1923, 1956, 1962, 1974 and 1988

The most important community here is Savigny-en-Véron. With around 1,500 inhabitants, it’s very much a village vigneron with the majority of the Véronnais wine producers having their cellars here. The threat of occasional flooding means that there are few underground caves, with most growers relying on chais or purpose built warehouses. Others transport their grapes to the rockier heights of nearby Beaumont where there are numerous tufa caves. Savigny extends from a small central square occupied by its church out across the sandy Véron plain; the route accommodating numerous smallholdings where poly-culture rules, although many can be seen hosting a few rows of vines.  

The most notable lieux-dits in the Véron include Champ Chenin, named as such on the village cadastre and, unsurprisingly, historically planted to Chenin Blanc. Domaine Olga Raffault with their 50 year old vines planted on the heavy clay-limestone soils claim it as a monopole. However, fellow Savigny-based grower, Jean-Louis Page also notes Champ Chenin in his list of parcels, although he states they have a different exposition.

Domaine Olga Raffault also claims ownership of Les Barnabès, a 5.6 hectare parcel on gravel soils, whilst Les Galuches is worked by numerous vignerons. Categorized as an alluvial vineyard, the soils here are derived from gravel deposits from the Loire rather than the Vienne which, according to one grower at least, are different in their composition. Records show that vines were already established here in 1830s.

As one migrates from the plain of the Véron, a series of small, limestone hillocks start to appear. Optimistically known locally as puys, the hills lend their name to numerous lieux-dits: Les Puy-Livet, Le Puy Bacles, Le Puy Gallant and Le Puy-Rigault.

At the entrance to the peninsular is the small town of Avoine. Despite being included in the appellation, there are only a nominal amount of vineyards within the commune. It’s not a pretty place, situated on the busy Chinon to Bourgueil road, although it does attract locals to its weekly Friday market. Driving north out of Avoine, one gets a sense that there are two industries that take precedence over the vine; the road being flanked by numerous hothouses situated here, presumably, to take advantage of the fertile soils of the Véron plain. The other is the sight of the massive nuclear power station that stands next to the Loire at Port Boulay; with its huge silver spheres, one could be led to believe that it was Martians rather than Muslims who colonized this part of the Véron. Prior to its construction in 1963, the site hosted numerous vineyards; a natural extension of those that remain today. Two lieux-dits mentioned historically are Les Lignes and Montenobles although there is no reference to these on recent maps or records. Could these have be the parcels along the banks of the Loire sacrificed to make way for the nuclear facility..? The plant dominates the local skyline and its plumes of steam can occasionally be glimpsed from numerous points around the appellation.   

BEAUMONT-EN-VÉRON TO CHINON
Those few vineyards that still exist within the commune of Avoine align themselves more to those in Beaumont-en-Véron, since they lie on a saddle-backed hill that runs parallel to this commune’s most notable parcels. The puys here are around 80 metres high with vineyards established on both their north and south-facing slopes as well as along the ridges.

The largest and most recognized of the lieu-dits here is Les Picasses which takes its name from the two-headed pick that was once used to work the hard limestone soils. It stands at the highest point between the Vienne and the Loire and during the 19th Century the plateau accommodated several windmills, the ruins of which can still be seen. Within Les Picasses, there are numerous individually titled sub-parcels; ownership here is highly fragmented. One parcel, known as Le Puy, is produced as a single cuvee by Rodolphe Raffault who works a total of six hectares here, although fractured over ten separate plots. The most special place in Les Picasses, however, is a tiny vineyard of old vine Chenin. Planted around 1895, on its own roots, and propagated by marcotage, the vineyard remains under the tenure of the Lenoire family, whose cellar-caves extend under Les Picasses. Along with Rodolphe Raffault and Alain Lenoire, other growers with holdings here include Domaine Olga Raffault, Wilfred Rousse and Catherine & Pierre Breton. Despite its altitude and part north-facing exposure, Les Picasses is said to be capable of ripening fruit by 1-2 degrees more than on adjacent slopes.  


Old Chenin vines in Les Picasses

A natural extension of Les Picasses is the lieu-dit of Isoiré. Located above the 17th Century château of the same name, its ancient cellars are said to extend well into the highly regarded Turonien-moyenne limestone below the vines. This parcel too has more of a north-facing exposure with some vines located on the plateau.

Other parcels include Les Peuilles, a south facing slope and plateau of argile-siliceux soils commercialized by Domaine Olga Raffault. Clos du Turpenay, a parcel of clay-limestone soils owned by Château de Coulaine which host 50 year old Cabernet Franc vines. At the highest point in Beaumont sits La Tour. Located on a plateau of flint, clay and sand, the vines surround the remains of a 17th Century windmill which was once a dépendence of the now abandoned Château de Razilly in the nearby hamlet of Montour. Once away from the puys and moving back towards Savigny, the remaining vineyards of Beaumont form part of the plain and as such are less distinguished.  


La Tour, Beaumont

The actual vineyards of the commune of Chinon begin as soon as one crosses the town’s by-pass. The most distinguished parcels run in a line along the course of the river, where the Vienne has carved its route through the limestone subsoil leaving a continuous slope of exposed white rock. Within the commune, one encounters the name of many clos, most of them still enclosed by their original walls. Once outside of the town, the use of the term is still as regular, but here they are now virtual enclosures, since many had their walls removed with the onset of mechanization.

Notable lieux-dits in the commune of Chinon:

Saint-Louans
Also known as Saint-Louands, the original vineyard here was part of a convent, established in the 11th Century whose chapel is built on top of an old crypt housing four 7th Century sarcophagi said to contain the bodies of Saint-Lupentis (Saint-Louans) and his three principle disciples, who originally founded the abbey here. Located two kilometres downstream from the town, Saint-Louans sits on a limestone bluff which is in close proximity to the rocky sub-soil and enjoys a 180 degree orientation - from north-west to south-east - overlooking the Vienne. It’s a magnificent coteau that reminds one of the most distinguished slopes of Vouvray. The vineyard sits in a ‘true’ clos, six hectares in size, with the old cellar located in the nearby château. Between 1987 and 2000, the vines were managed and by Jean-Christophe Pelletier on behalf of the Bonnet-Walther family. The vineyard was sold in 2007 with considerable local interest being shown from a number of top producers in acquiring the parcel. The successful bidder was Baudry-Dutour, who now see the vineyard as a jewel in their crown. The existing vines are between 25 and 35 years old.  


Chapel and vineyard on the slopes of Saint-Louans

Clos du Parc
Close to the Abbey of Saint-Louans and surrounded by walls on a south facing slope, the Clos du Parc is under the ownership of vigneron, Louis Farou.


Fortress de Chinon from Satis

Satis
This tiny 1.5 hectare vineyard consisting of clay-limestone soils sits on a slope just 300 metres away from the fortress of Chinon and overlooks the Vienne. The vineyard is owned by Jean-Christophe Pelletier, who produces a single cuvée from the parcel.

Clos des Capucins
Originally founded as a convent in 1604, a vineyard has been known to exist within this three hectare clos since 1790. Within its walls sits a modest bourgeois house, which was bought by the English writer, Fiona Beeston and her French husband in 2008. The property and its 1.7 hectare vineyard overlook the north face of the Fortress de Chinon. The vines here are currently between 20 and 60 years old. Since 2008 the wines have been made under contact by Baudry-Dutour and prior to this the Clos des Capucins was within the portfolio of Rodolphe Raffault who, between 2001 and 2007, tended vines and purchased the crop from the previous proprietor, Drouet d’Aubigny. Unfortunately for Raffault, the change of ownership meant that control of the vineyard was lost.

Le Clos des Hospices
In the same year that Rodolphe Raffault exited from the Clos des Capucins, an opportunity arose literally over the wall in the neighbouring Clos des Hospices, the second of two convents established by Cardinal Richelieu in the early 17th Century. Prior to this, the land was owned by Charles Dusoul whose wife, Mathe Gallet, was a great-granddaughter of François Rabelais. Documents which announce the foundation of the convent of Calvaire under the orders of Urbain VIII in 1626, confirm the presence of a vineyard. In 1654 the clos was sold to the convent for 3,000 livres, with the Calvaire nuns controlling the site until they were expelled in 1792 following the Revolution. After this period, the crop was offered for sale by vente à la bougie, a candle auction, until 1903 when the vineyard was grubbed up following the phylloxera epidemic and the plot left abandoned. 

 
Le Clos des Capucins (centre-top), Le Clos des Hospices (in front of the wall)

Replanted with 0.65 hectares of Cabernet Franc and a little Chenin Blanc ‘for fun’ by Rodolphe Raffault in September 2008, the cuttings were propagated from vines which pre-date to the last war. Le Clos des Hospice is actually owned by the multi-national construction firm of Vinci who have also redeveloped the old Augustine hospital into apartments and tourist residences. Sitting directly below the Clos des Capucins, the site enjoys the same view of the fortress and a stretch of the Vienne as it passes through the town. The first harvest for the revitalized Clos des Hospices was the 2011 vintage.

Le Clos de l’Echo
Without doubt, this best known vineyard within the entire Chinon appellation, taking its name from the echo transmitted from the northern cliff of the fortress. The legend goes that doubtful lovers would tease their maidens by shouting a pair of leading questions:

‘Les femmes de Chinon, sont-elles fidèles?’
‘Elles’
asks the echo.
‘Oui, les femmes de Chinon’.
‘Non’
says the echo.  

During the late 15th and early 16th Century, the land was said to belong to Antoine Rabelais, the father of François. The top portion, on the plateau, was bought by Baptiste Dutheil in 1925, who was little more than a humble wine merchant in the town at this time. The site had been abandoned after phylloxera had struck and it was only cleared and planted once more in the early 1930s (the vines from this era being grubbed up in 1985/6). For the first couple of vintages the wines were sold as Chinon Moulin-à-Vent, named after the windmill that stood in the middle of the vines (opposite). The title was subsequently dropped after objections were raised from growers in Beaujolais. Regardless, since the Moulin had been destroyed and dismantled after a thunderstorm, it was renamed Le Clos de l’Echo. The southern part of the slope was acquired by René Couly (who married Madeleine Dutheil, the daughter of Baptiste) in 1951 who cleared, drained and commenced planting one year later. Before this, the land was used only for growing cereals, as documented in an older aerial photograph of the fortress and the town. Not classified as a vineyard in the original decree of 1937, its 17 hectares were recognised by the I.N.A.O. (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine) retrospectively.

The Clos de l'Echo enjoys a mostly southern exposure, with around five hectares on the plateau orientated northwards. For such a large parcel, the soils here are surprisingly homogenous, made up of clay and clay-limestone which contain pebbles of quartz. Being the highest point of the commune, the clos enjoys a commanding view of the fortress and the valley of the Vienne; justifiably claiming its position as one of the most distinguished sites of the appellation. It is a monopole of Couly-Dutheil (although parts remain in fermage) and mostly planted to Cabernet Franc, but there is a little Chenin here too. 

Fort-Saint-Georges
This now defunct vineyard could have laid claim to being established on one of the most unlikely settings in the world. Forming part of the Fortress de Chinon, the vines were established directly on top of the deconstructed chapel built, originally, by Henry II in 1192. A photograph dated 1904 (see below) records the then proprietor, Monsieur Saillant, in the vines. Another photograph dating from 1941, documents Aldebert Chevalier in the vineyard with the Tour de l’Horlage noticeable in the background. There is no record as to when this vineyard was finally grubbed up, but a postcard with an aerial photograph of Chinon (above) shows that the vineyard could have remained here until as late as 1952; proven by the fact that the Clos de l’Echo (the arable land seen to the right) had not yet been planted.  


Fort Saint-Georges - From top left, clockwise: 1904, 1941, 2003, 2011

RIVE DROITE

Still within the Chinon commune, the vineyards of the rive droite commence as soon as one exists the south of the town. Protected from the north winds by the forest of Chinon, from here the vineyards begin to split into those on the côteaux and those on the plain.

Le Clos de l’Olive
The Clos de l’Olive takes its name from Baron Charles de L’Olive-Noiré, conqueror of the Guadeloupe in 1635 and who once owned the property, although it has also served in its past as a refuge for lepers. It was acquired by René Couly in 1951, around the same time as he purchased the southern part of the Clos de l’Echo and was replanted in the 1970s. Some of the vineyards original 100 year old-plus ceps still remain. The vineyard is a reasonable three hectares in size and is a ‘true’ clos in that it is situated within its own walls. It is one of the first vineyards to be encountered as one negotiates the D21 towards Cravant, where it sits on a gentle south-facing slope. At the top the soil is clay-limestone but by the time one descends to the foot of the clos the profile has changed to sand and gravel. The vineyard here is harvested later than in the Clos de l’Echo, a function of the vines being grafted onto 41B rootstock which delays the ripening process. Today, Le Clos de l’Olive is the home to Pierre Couly, although ironically, the rights to the name rest with Couly-Dutheil, where it forms part of the firm’s haute-gamme.

Le Clos de l’Haute Olive
This two hectare vineyard on a limestone slope is owned by the brother-in-law of Pierre Couly and rented to Pierre and and his son, Bertrand, independently of Couly-Dutheil. The two clos are separated by a single wall.

Bel-Air
Located on the slope that faces directly towards Le Chêne Vert (see below), the vineyards here are planted directly into the limestone rock.

Le Clos Guillot
Situated immediately above Le Clos de l’Olive, this vineyard might have been considered part of Bel-Air prior to 1962. The vineyard is located on a limestone slope, although the plateau is more clay based. The most celebrated owner here is Bernard Baudry who planted three hectares between 1993 and 1998, one hectare of which was established on its own roots. Two-thirds of the vines have already been affected by phylloxera, although the remaining 30 ares planted on a vein of sand have continued to show some resistance. A second grower, Thierry Landry, a neighbour of the Baudry’s, also has a parcel of 40 year old vines here and makes a single cuvée from the resulting harvest.

L’Huisserie
Located in the same sector as Le Clos Guillot and the Coteau du Noiré, the two hectare vineyard was planted on the argilo-siliceux soils by Philippe Alliet in 2000.

Coteau de Noiré
Planted on south and south-east facing slopes of between 10-40% on very active limestone, it is necessary to utilise either 41B or 161-49 rootstock to avoid the risk of chlorosis.  


Le Clos du Chêne Vert

Le Clos du Chêne Vert
This renowned vineyard sits above Le Haut Olive; the two hectares owned by Domaine Charles Joguet facing south-south-west, towards the town. Few realize, however, that a further one hectare is owned by Serge and Bruno Sourdais of Le Logis de la Bouchardière, although their 30 year old vines have a different orientation. The vineyard takes its name from the green oak tree that dominates the top of the slope. It is believed to have been planted by the Benedictine monks from the abbey of Bourgueil in the 11th Century, at the same time as they established a vineyard here. Despite a couple of attempts to cut it down, it continues to grow and, apparently, due to its strategic positioning, it is said that it never throws a shadow over the vines. Just below the oak there is a cellar-cave hewn from the rock which demarcates the point where the soil profile changes from being a heavy with large stones (silica, clay and chalk), to being light and friable, producing more perfumed and aromatic wines.

The story of how Charles Joguet acquired Le Clos du Chêne Vert is well documented but recited again here, in brief, for posterity. Despite nearly 1,000 years of continuously being planted, by 1976 the vineyard had been abandoned. What vines remained were overgrown with brambles and wild fennel. The land had recently been inherited by Monsieur Terray, a local oenologist, known to Joguet, who had no interest in either keeping or propagating the vineyard. Terray approached Joguet to make him aware of the sale which, as local custom dictated, was to be conducted by candle auction. By this point, no single vigneron had come forward expressing an interest to buy the land. In fact, the only potential bidder wanted the slope for grazing his sheep. Joguet claims he had no money, but ended up buying the vineyard anyway (for a modest 4,800 Francs) and replanting started the same year. During this period, Joguet was using horses to work the soils. Being on the wrong side of the Vienne and 12 kilometres away from his cellar in Sazilly, the initial reaction was that his sudden impulse to buy it was something of a foolish and impractical long-term decision. 

Because of the very active limestone soils, Joguet elected to plant on 41B rootstock and the vineyard material was all sélection massale. Le Chêne Vert is always the first of the Domaine Joguet wines to be harvested; usually 12 days in advance of Le Clos de la Dioterie, yet is said to always retain great freshness in the resulting wines.

Moving further upstream, the distance between the côteaux and the Vienne opens up and vineyards begin to appear on the plain. Although there are just over 700 Cravantais, the name given to the residents of Cravant-les-Côteaux, the vineyards here account for almost half of the appellation. In 1983, there were 120 registered vignerons; two-thirds of whom viewed wine as their biggest income, while rest saw it as supplementary.  The name of Cravant is derived from the Gaulish word for gravel; the vineyards of the commune divided almost equally between those on the plain against those on the slopes and plateaux. It’s a pretty village, especially when one gets to explore Le Vieux Bourg, the oldest part which is set back, hidden from the main Chinon to Panzoult road. There are also a number of hamlets sitting on the plain; the most notable of which is Briançon which claims its own prehistoric remains in the Dolmen du Gros-Caillou, which sits alongside the road to L’Île-Bouchard.  

The most notable lieu-dit in Cravant-les-Côteaux is La Croix Boissée (left), a relatively steep, south-facing slope of sand and clay over limestone. Its reputation lies with the work of Bernard Baudry whose top red wine come from here. In addition, there is 0.8ha of Chenin Blanc which Baudry planted here in 1995 and is consistently the best white wine produced in the appellation. Yet La Croix Boisée is no Baudry monopole, since it is also shared, among others, by Domaine de Bel-Air and Domaine Gouron.   

 

Panzoult is the second largest commune after Cravant; its vineyards a natural extension of the same slopes and plain. The hamlet of Pointe Vinière sits on top of a south facing slope whilst the vines give way to pastures and arable fields close to the river. Within the lieu-dit of Bois Girault and located on the hillside is a cave, now under the ownership of the Vignerons de Panzoult which, at one-time, was said to be the residence of Sybille, a notorious pagan oracle. Rabelais clearly knew of the cave and its legend, since he writes of Pantegruel consulting ‘the old soothsayer of Panzoust’ on the deceptions of marriage. Rabelais rather had Sibyl residing in a thatched cottage instead of a grotto, so presumably the legend has been fabricated and twisted over time. The most notable lieu-dit in Panzoult is Le Pressoir which unsurprisingly forms part of the Château du Pressoir. A solid fortified door gives access to this 16th Century logis with a superb dovecote capable of accommodating 2,000 birds.

Beyond Panzoult is Avon-les-Roches, a hillside village that is otherwise dominated by arable farming. In 1979 there were just 56 hectares of vines in the commune servicing 12 different domaines; now there are just three producers remaining and the vineyards have shrunk back even further to a few isolated parcels on the plateau above the village; the rest being located on the plain that connects Avon-les-Roches to Panzoult. The village boasts some semi-troglodyte houses, but is perhaps more famous as a site of prehistoric importance, since this stretch of the valley is littered with Stone Age flint tools which have been deposited here over time by the Vienne. Two kilometres further on is the hamlet of Les Roches Tranchelion, home of a ruined collégiale. The vineyards of Chinon once stretched as far as this point, although only a couple of arable smallholdings now remain.

Diverting, briefly to the village of
Crissay-sur-Manse, outside the appellation, but worth a detour on two counts; firstly that it is officially classified as One of the Most Beautiful Villages in France, and secondly, in that there is a sole vigneron still active here; his appellation Touraine vineyards can be found to the rear of the ruined château.

Crouzilles marks the rive droits extremity of the Chinon appellation. It’s small village of just 100 inhabitants with a compact Romanesque church, dedicated to Sainte-Radegonde, dating back to 1045. The most notable lieu-dit in the commune is on the plateau above the town; Le Puy-Livet, a cool but highly respected gravel and limestone parcel where most growers within the commune have at least a few rows of vines.  

Straddling an island in the Vienne and offering the only river crossing between here and Chinon itself, is the rather dull market town of L’Île Bouchard. For over 1,000 years it was, until the arrival of the railway here in 1882, an important river port. It’s made up, in fact, of two separate parishes; Saint-Maurice on the left bank which evolved around the church that shares the same name, and Saint-Gilles on the right bank. Its church dates back to 1067, and there is also a large dolmen made up of seven blocks, crowned with a seven metre long roofing stone within the communes boundary. Whilst the town continues to host a couple of stalwart vignerons, there are practically no vineyards remaining in the commune.

RIVE GAUCHE

Theneuil might be included as one of the communes in the Chinon appellation, but in reality there are only a token number of vineyards and no growers based here. It sits in the middle of a cereal belt, with any vines well-disguised. A census conducted in 1979 noted ten hectares planted. Today, I suspect there are even less than this.  


Tavant marks the start of the rive gauche proper as one drives upstream along the Vienne. More noted for its Renaissance church, whose frescoes are of international significance, Tavant’s vines cling to a thin cordon of low-lying land that flanks either side of the main D760 road that connects Candes-Saint-Martin to L’Île-Bouchard. The village is home to just a couple of resident vignerons.

Continuing along the same route, Sazilly is the next commune to be encountered with the vineyards following the same narrow band as Tavant. The village is noted for two things; firstly it is the home of the excellent Auberge du Val de Vienne, and secondly it is the ancestral home of Charles Joguet. Its notable lieux-dits all have a Joguet connection.  

Le Clos de la Dioterie is, along with Le Chêne Vert, discussed earlier, is the best of Domaine Joguet’s vineyard holdings; It is also the original family vineyard and where the main vinification cellar is located. Unlike Le Chêne Vert, it is nothing to look at; a simple, shallow slope, facing north, next to a couple of undistinguished grain silos. The soil here appears to be heavy clay with some sand and gravel, although the vines apparently sit very close to the limestone sub-soil which is particularly active. Famous since The Middle Ages and still classified as a clos despite the walls of this 2.2 hectare vineyard having long since disappeared. The existing vineyard here is around 90 years old, with the vineyard split into two when it comes to harvesting, since the upper and lower halves deliver slightly different levels of maturity. The two resulting wines are blended - a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its individual parts. The north-facing orientation ensures that Le Clos de la Dioterie is one of the last parcels in the appellation to be harvested.  

With its 4.5 hectares of vines, Les Varennes du Grand Clos is a natural extension of Dioterie, with the same north to north-east orientation and a similar soil profile; clay with some silica at the top of the gentle slope and a more sandy-gravel terrace at the foot. In terms of how the resulting wines might differ from the adjacent parcel, the vines in Les Varennes du Grand Clos are said to produce smaller bunches and berries, resulting in lower yields, but with greater concentration and lower alcohol. The vineyard was part replanted by Joguet between 1962 and 1976. At this stage half the vines were 40 years old and the rest were over a hundred. It was the older ceps that had to go, but even so, Joguet couldn’t bear the thought of blending the juice of the remaining 40 year old vines with the wine from the younger plants. It was from this emotive decision that the concept of young and old vine cuvées is said to have been introduced to the Chinnonais. In 1982-1983, permission was granted by I.N.R.A. (the National Institute of Agricultural Research), to part replant a section of vineyard with ungrafted vines. Today, a strip of bare land between Les Varennes du Grand Clos and Dioterie marks the spot where these vines used to be; they were grubbed up in 2008 having finally been lost to phylloxera. A separate period of replanting took place between 1992 and 1995.

Le Clos de la Cure is a two hectare parcel in front of the village church; purchased by Joguet in 1970 and planted four years later. The soils here are clay over deep gravel, with the grapes from here blended with another small parcel known as Piece de la Chapelle which lies next to the Joguet office and cellar in the centre of Sazilly. The resulting wine is sold by Domaine Charles Joguet as Cuvée de la Cure.

Beyond Sazilly, the next commune is Anché. Again, the vines here follow a thin cordon either side of the main road, with the two most notable sights being the Château de la Garde and Château Brétignolles. There is little here to delay the oenophile.  


Flood levels carved on wall in Rivière

Of much greater interest is the small village of Rivière, not just because of its more significant vineyards, but also because of its location directly on the banks of the Vienne. At 366 hectares (of which 50ha are planted to vines), it is the smallest of all the Chinon communes. The balance of its agricultural land is given over to polyculture: asparagus and corn thrive in the rich alluvial soils which account for 170 hectares of the commune’s surface. There are a few isolated parcels of vines on the plain: La Fuie, Les Friches, Les Plantes, La Galvaudrie and Les Godeaux, all of which share the same silty-gravel and sand soils. The most notable lieux-dits, however, are to be found on the limestone plateau which rise up to 106 metres a couple of kilometres inland from the river. La Croix Marie, is worked by Patrick Barc, whilst between the two communes of Rivière and Ligré is the hamlet of Vau-Breton (meaning Breton Valley in old French). Here one finds the parcels of 0.8 hectare parcel of Le Clos des Gailhards, with its deep clay over limestone. At the top of the hamlet, a crossroads not only divides four separate parcels of vines but also signifies the boundary between the four communes of Rivière, Ligré, La Roche Clermault and Chinon.  


Dolmen at Ligré

Ligré sits at the centre of a cereal belt, its closest vines being at least two kilometres away from the village, with the majority of its vineyards located in a handful of hamlets that are politically aligned to the commune. Above the town, set alone in the middle of a field, is an impressive dolmen. Within Ligré are the notable lieux-dits of Le Clos du Saute-aux-Loups; classified as a 1er Cru vignoble in the Annuaire de Marques et Appellations d’Origine handbook published during the 1940s. There are 12 hectares of vines here, planted on argile-siliceux soils. There are two possible origins for the name; a spring from which the wolves drank or from the word saltus; Latin, meaning to leap or jump. A second vineyard, Le Bois Joubert is a parcel of clay over limestone. Both are owned by the Dozon family, whilst Vindoux is the collective name for nine hectares of vineyards, rather than being a specific lieu-dit. Le Paradis is a very distinguished north-facing vineyard with spectacular views across to the fortress of Chinon on the opposite bank of the Vienne. It is unusual in that it includes a parcel of Cabernet Sauvignon planted by Gatien Ferrand of Château de Ligré in the 1970s. Les Grozeux is another parcel owned, since 1959, by Ferrand family, although in this instance, the vines face south. In the hamlet of Les Roches-Saint-Paul is the six hectare Le Clos de la Hégronnière. This ‘true’ clos has prolific amounts of limestone mixed in with the clay soil. The parcel is rented by local vigneron, Philippe Brocourt.

The location of
La Roche-Clermault is somewhat different to the other communes on the left bank of the Vienne, since the village sits perched on a hillside above a cereal plain. The 500 inhabitants live on the higher slopes whilst its church and cemetery are located below. The village’s unfinished château dates from 1638 and is on the site of an earlier fortress, of which only the enceinte walls still remain. Located close to La Devinière, Rabelais would have known La Roche-Clermault well and he immortalized it as ‘the city of the Picrochole Conflicts’ in his books. The 30-odd hectares of vineyard run in a fairly continuous line along the same contour of the hillside capped, on its plateau, by a small forest. From here it is just a short ride back to Chinon via the suburb of Saint-Jacques, which is also credited with a few parcels of vines.

The remaining two communes that make up the appellation are located some distance away from the rest, although logically they should both form part of the sector that incorporates Beaumont-en-Véron and Chinon.  

The village of Huismes is located nine kilometres north of the town, within reach of the Loire and the forest of Chinon. Its name originates from the Gallic name Uxisama, translated as La Très Haute, or ‘the high place’ and indeed the vineyards of Huismes, at 117 metres, are the highest in the appellation. The vineyards surround and indeed filter into the village itself, although most of the 17 hectares planted here are on the plateau above and includes the communes most notable lieu-dit: Beauregard. A few low-lying vineyards are to be found along the banks of the river Indre as it works its way towards its own confluence with the Loire at Avoine.  


The village of Saint-Benoît-La-Forêt sits in a clearing within the 3,000 hectare Chinon forest and was known as Mors or Terra de Morte in the 12th Century. During the 1400s it was a favoured hunting spot for Louis XI who established a lodge here to house the royal falcons. It’s a surprising addition to the Chinon appellation, since the only vineyard (tended by its lone vigneron who lives in what once the hunting lodge) that is within sight of the village is ironically not within the appellation at all and can only claim status as a generic AC Touraine. The inclusion of the village in the appellation is indeed negligible, a political decision, based on a fraction of land which abuts the communal boundry of Chinon and which just happens to be planted with a few vines.

OUTSIDE OF THE APPELLATION
It would be churlish to ignore some of the vineyards that exist on the periphery of the Chinon appellation; in villages such as Cinais, Thizay, Saint-Georges-sur-Vienne, Lerné and Marçay – all south of the Vienne - and Crissay-sur-Manse to the north. Planted mostly to the same authorised grape varieties, grown on similar soils types in the same climate, in theory there is little difference between these wines of Touraine and those of Chinon except, of course, in the price that they command.

From the slopes of La Roche Clermault, the pepper pot towers announce the presence of the Château de Marçay; a five star hotel since 1973 which boasts a Michelin rosette restaurant and its own vineyard. There is little logic to the commune’s exclusion, since the village of Marçay sits on the same Turonian limestone as the rest of the Chinon appellation. As an extension to the rive gauche of the Vienne, there is a sporadic number of parcels that stretch between the villages of Cinais and Candes-Saint-Martin centred, mostly, around the commune of Saint-Germain-sur-Vienne (which is perhaps better known for its boat-builders than its vineyards). All are currently classified as AC Touraine, but changes in the Cahier de Charge in 2012 will result in certain vineyards being left behind in a vinous no-man’s land, since the decree will insist that Touraine blanc will contain 100% Sauvignon Blanc, whilst the reds will become Gamay based blends. This leaves those growers with Chenin Blanc without a name, other than Vin de France and those without Gamay planted trying to find a home for their Cabernet Franc. There are already two Chinonnais growers who work Chenin vineyards here: Domaine Charles Joguet rents the three hectare Clos de la Plante Martin, whilst Château de Coulaine has a 1.5 hectare plot, which forms part of their Les Pieds Rôtis cuvée, coming from the limestone slope of Saint-Germain and the sandier soils of neighbouring Thizay. With two high-profile and vocal benefactors, these orphaned vineyards are set to be adopted by the Chinonnais within the next few seasons. President of the syndicat, Jean-Max Manceau is confident the boundaries for the appellation will be changed in the next few years to accommodate them, although he is more non-commital for the prospects of the outlying vineyards of Lerné, Marçay and Crissay-sur-Manse.  


Spring arrives in Chinon - I heard my first Cuckoo of 2011 here

Climate
The writer George Sand put it succinctly when she described the Touraine weather as a ‘climat souple et chaud, ses pluies abondantes et courtes’. Neither is it excessively hot in summer or extremely cold in winter due, in part, to the influences of the Atlantic weather patterns which help modify the temperature. The climate here, on the cusp of being both maritime and continental, is sufficiently septentrional to be favourable for Cabernet Franc. Some may find it surprising to learn that not only is the town of Chinon is slightly further south than Beaune but also climatically milder.

Along the length of the coteaux there are numerous individual microclimates that influence the conditions of specific sites and there is a contrast between those vineyards in the Véron which are more tempered and humid than the likes of Panzoult and Avon-les-Roches. The wind generally blows from the west, or occasionally from the north and north-east. Vineyards situated between Beaumont-en-Véron and Panzoult tend to be protected from these northerly gusts by the Chinon forest.

Winters tend to be drier in the Indre-et-Loire than in other comparable départements, with an average rainfall (calculated over the past 40 years) of just 59mm between November and March (compared to 76mm in Muscadet). Spring and summer offer more rain (a total of 376mm on average for the past 40 years) during the growing season, although August remains the driest month overall. As with the rest of the lower Loire, there is a tendency for summer conditions to extend well into September and early October; ideal conditions for the late ripening Cabernets and Chenin.

Spring frosts can be an issue for the relatively precocious Cabernet Franc, although those vines located on the plateaux and slopes are better protected, as are those in the Véron with their proximity to the two rivers.

The notes on the various vintages further on in this report indicate that the harvest is starting much earlier than in it did in the 1970s and 1980s; no doubt a function of climate change. Regardless, it is still the vignerons of the Véron peninsular that harvest first, starting with their Savigny vineyards; the only exceptions being in the two recent hot vintages of 2003 and 2005. One vigneron makes a profound connection between the precocious growing seasons ultimately being responsible for delivering the greatest vintages. Studying the vintage charts, he is not incorrect.  


Mist over the Vienne valley above the town of Chinon

Soil
In 1978, Jacky Dupont of the University of Poitiers presented a thesis on the vineyards of Chinon. He had, during the course of his research identified over fifty different soil types throughout the appellation. Thankfully, he elected to simplify these into two basic groups: vins des graviers and vins des tufs. Gravel soils represent around half of the appellation, whilst the vins des tufs are sub-divided into argilo-calcaire (clay-limestone; around 30%) and argilo-siliceux (clay-silica; around 20%).

It’s rare to find sand and gravel in the same proximity as the limestone sub-soils, although there is one sector between Cravant-les-Côteaux and Panzoult, around the Clos de Noyer, found towards the top of the gentle slope that is an agglomeration of sand, clay and limestone of sedimentary origin, and collectively known as millarges. Considered suitable for Cabernet Franc but not for Chenin, this complex soil profile is around 60cm deep and sits over the limestone sub-soil. Coincidentally, both Cravant-les-Côteaux and Panzoult are notable in having all three soil types within their respective communes. It is here that the different influences on the wines are perhaps the most clearly defined.  

VINS DES GRAVIERS
The local name in Touraine for the silty-sandy-gravel alluvial terrasses is Varennes, with the name occurring in numerous lieux-dits: La Varenne (Cravant-les-Côteaux), Les Varennes de Grand Clos (Sazilly) and La Vigne des Varennes (Savigny-en-Véron) being just one example from each of three of the distinct zones located across the appellation. The first of the varennes are to be found on the right bank of the Vienne and extend across a two to four kilometre-wide band that stretches from Crouzilles to Cravant-les-Côteaux on the lower. Sitting between 5 and 10 metres above the river, they are generally high enough not to form part of the flood plain.
The gravel soils, notably around Cravant-les-Côteaux, produce grapes that are precocious, light and fruity in style.

The second zone runs parallel to this on the opposite bank of the Vienne, from L’Île-Bouchard as far as Rivière, whilst the third is more extensive and encompasses Le Pays de Véron. Created only after the last Ice Age, the Véron is made up of sand and gravel deposited here over several ages by the Loire. Collectively, these richly fertile alluvial soils have been utilized not only by vignerons, but by generations of amateur gardeners who cultivate their summer crops in the boires or dry arms of the various streams. Within the Véron one finds other rock types mixed in with the sand and gravel: perruches (a name encountered in Vouvray where it means flint) or known locally as galuches, come from the mother rock and is made up of a hard. compacted, non-porous limestone.

These sandier soils are much warmer and heat up quickly in the early spring giving the plants a head-start. It is normal during the growing season for the vines in this sector of the Véron to be around eight days ahead of those in Avon-les-Roches at the other extreme of the appellation. The Véron is also the first to harvest and although well drained, there is a risk of hydric stress in drier years.  


The plateau above Beaumont-en-Véron

VINS DES TUFS – ARGILO-SILICEUX
The plateaux and buttes are composed essentially from sand and clay occasionally mixed with silex dating from the Sénonian age (taking its name from the town of Sens north of Le Mans) and were deposited on the plateaux after the shallow seas retreated at the end of the Cretaceous Period. These are not considered to be the best soils, but are well aerated down as far as the limestone. The wines produced from these sites tend to be better in drier years, with wines produced from this sites located on both sides of the river. The most notable, however, are on the plateau above Beaumont-en-Véron, where the soils appear deep and sandy.

VINS DES TUFS – ARGILO-CALCAIRE
These are considered the best sites and consist mostly of slopes and some plateaux. If the Chinonnais ever considered a grand cru system, this is where the most distinguished wines would originate. Contrary to logic, these slopes are the last to warm up in the spring which can have a knock-on effect during the growing cycle, but regardless of this, these soils produce the most serious and long-lasting wines. Not only suited to Cabernet Franc, this is also the chosen location for the appellations best Chenin Blanc vineyards.  


Exposed chalk at Saint-Louans                    Young vines planted directly on chalk, Bel-Air

There are two distinct sectors for these soils; the first extends from Beaumont-en-Véron to Chinon where the heaviest concentrations of limestone can be seen protruding from the earth as one passes the slopes of Saint-Lounas. Now mostly obstructed by the town of Chinon itself, the vineyards on the coteaux re-emerge as one exits the conurbation in the direction of Cravant-les-Côteaux. From here, the line of vineyards runs almost unbroken as far as Avon-les-Roches and contains some of the greatest single parcels of the Chinon appellation.

The limestone here is deep and hard but also well drained. The more yellow looking tuf is known locally as aubuis and comes from the Upper Turonian Age, a classification within the Upper Cretaceous Period. It is said to produce the most distinguished wines. The tuffeau of the Turonian Age is porous and composed mainly of fragments of bryozoa, marine organisms that live in mass colonies that settle into deposits which also contain sand and mica.  

Permitted grape varieties  

Cabernet Franc
According to Guy Lavignac in his work of 2001, Cépages du Sud-Ouest – 2000 ans d’histore, Cabernet Franc originates from the Spanish side of the Pyrenees and was brought to the south-west of France by pilgrims returning from Santiago de Compostela. It belongs to the family of Carmenets and Lavignac suggests that it is closely related to some wild grape varieties. I think this is an interesting theory since I personally find that Cabernet Franc has a similar profile to the Galician variety, Mencia.

There are numerous theories as to how and when the variety arrived in the middle-Loire. Ligerians dispute that it arrived via Bordeaux since Cabernet Franc is only documented in Bordeaux during the 18th Century, although another unfounded claim states that it was introduced into Bordeaux by the Romans. If it did arrive in the Loire via the Aquitaine, the most logical route would have been via the ports of Brittany, presumably at the same time as the Breton mariners were transporting vin de l’Adour by cabotage to the various ports and estuaries along the Loire basin. It is unlikely that the variety would have been transported over land; through the hostile Vendée.

According to Adrien Ory, a former vigneron, mayor and president of the local growers' syndicate in Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil during the 1930s, Cabernet Franc arrived in Bourgueil in 1152 through the alliance of Anjou and Aquitaine by the marriage of Eleanor to Henry II. Another theory suggests that around the same period there was a vineyard on the Presqu’ile de Rhuys, close to the Golfe du Morbihan on the Brittany coast, whose fruity red wine was said to resemble the reds of Touraine and where the Abbaye Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys was of the same Benedictine order as the Abbaye Saint-Pierre at Bourgueil. They abbey was founded in 990, their benefactor being Emma, the daughter of Thibault the Deceiver, Lord of Chinon and Count of Blois. Could it have been that the bargemen transported plants from the Breton coast up the Loire as far as the abbey at Bourgueil? There is also the possibly that the vines were planted after 1079, during the period that Baldric of Dol (also known as Baudry or Baudri) was Abbot of Bourgueil. In 1089 the abbot praised the wine cultivated locally by the monks in verse:

Si j’ai un bon vin en reserve, je vous le donnerai’.

Interestingly, Cabernet Franc has not been adopted - in any great significance - in any of the appellations to the east of Chinon or Bourgueil; presumably due to the climate becoming much more continental from this point onwards.

ORIGINS OF THE TERM ‘BRETON’
According to records in the archives of Château de Chenonceaux, Abbot Breton, independently of Cardinal Richelieu, bought thousands of plant cuttings from the province of Guyenne (modern day Gascony) to Bourgueil in 1631 or 1632 in order to create a vineyard on the land that Richelieu had acquired as part of his duchy-peerage. It was from here that the plant spread, eventually replacing the ‘inferior’ Pineau d’Aunis. But chronology and logic suggests that attributing the name of Breton (or Berton, as the Chinonnais would have it pronounced) to the Abbot Breton is incorrect, since it referred to red wines from Touraine well before the mid-1600s, with even Rabelais referring to it in his musings of the early 16th Century: ‘Ce bon vin Breton qui poinct ne pousse en bretaigne mais en ce bon pays de Véron’.

A text dating from the 11th Century, La vie et les miracles de Saint-Mexmes, refers to a local vigneron shipping his Breton wines on the river to Nantes, reasonably concluding that the term could have been associated with any red wine from the region, since another theory is that the wine was simply collected by to the Bretons (the closest and most logical export market for the growers in The Middle Ages), suggesting the wine was produced for the Bretons rather than by the Breton grape. Indeed, what the Bretons might have purchased during this period could equally have been produced from Pineau d’Aunis given that it is generally accepted that this was the original and most prolific red variety planted during The Middle Ages. Whilst the vine itself may have changed, the name of the wine remained the same.

PHYSIOLOGY
There are around 16,500 hectares of Cabernet Franc planted in the Loire (similar to Bordeaux with 17,000ha), representing about 21% of the total vineyard area. Within Chinon, the variety has been almost omnipresent since the 1970s. Yet despite it being the dominant red grape in the Loire, it is often incorrectly perceived as a marginal variety and suffers from an identity crisis - playing prince to king Cabernet Sauvignon. Genetic studies, carried out in the States in 1997, however, indicate that Cabernet Sauvignon was originally crossed between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, suggesting that Cabernet Franc is therefore the original Cabernet. But while consumers think about the role of the grape (invariably due to the part it plays in Bordeaux), Cabernet Franc will only ever be labeled as a blending component and therefore considered inferior. In addition, the lack of any varietal labeling within the Loire ensures that the grape is always destined to remain somewhat obscure to the mass consumer.

Cabernet Franc, however, remains eminently more suitable to the growing conditions of the Loire than Cabernet Sauvignon. From a climatic perspective, it buds earlier (which can put it at risk from late spring frosts), but also has a record of uneven flowering which compounds the problems of homogenous ripening and makes machine harvesting less successful. It enjoys a long growing season and often benefits from the Loire’s Indian summers. The variety is less at home on the sand and gravel of the plains, where it has a tendency to over crop if planted on soils which are too fertile (which only serves to accentuate the herbaceous character of the variety). It is, however, well suited to the limestone soils of the slopes with better root growth, which equally accounts for its success in the appellations of Saumur-Champigny and Bourgueil as well as Chinon. It also adapts well to clay soils (as demonstrated at Château Cheval Blanc in Saint-Emilion) but the grapes produce completely different flavour profiles when grown on the schist and slate soils of the Massif Amoricain in Anjou.  In terms of its physiology, the variety is more herbaceous than Cabernet Sauvignon due to the higher levels of methoxypyrazines common to both Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Whilst this character is sought after in white wines, it is less welcome in reds. The vine is certainly more vigorous too than Cabernet Sauvignon, which, depending on the vignerons motive, is either a good or bad thing.

Correct vineyard management is essential; pruning short to reduce yields with the removal of shoots in over-vigorous vines; the overall aim for the quality conscious grower is to keep yields below 40hl/ha if they stand any hope of preserving the integrity of the variety. When grown under the right conditions; the correct site, sympathetic vineyard management and gentle handling in the cellar, Cabernet Franc is, without doubt, a viable stand-alone variety. Its success in the region is also attributed to its resistance to disease, especially mildew, and its ability to ripen and produce a decent depth of colour even in ‘lighter’ vintages. The historical temptation for producers to pick early, when full phenolic ripeness hadn’t been achieved, also seems to have been addressed, although climate change is probably as much responsible for this as the attitude of the growers themselves. The real concern today is less about ripening fruit, but the ongoing loss of vines to esca, with growers currently reporting losses of between two and five percent per year. 

When correctly handled in the vineyard, the wines should show their own unique characteristics. There is less tannin (due to the thinner skins) and acidity than one would expect from Cabernet Sauvignon, and the wines are therefore more approachable in their youth. Aromas range from fresh raspberries when young, moving through a complex array of violets, pencil shavings, sandalwood and sous-bois and organic notes as they age. The role of Cabernet Franc in rosés should also not be under-estimated; from semi-sweet Cabernet d’Anjou and the drier styles of Rosé de Loire, Chinon and Bourgueil.

SYNONYMS:
Berton (Touraine) Bouchy (Bergerac), Bouchet or Bouchy (SW France), Cap-Breton (Landais), Véron (Nièvre), Véronais (Chinon), Pinot Fin de Pernand (Vendée), Carmenet (Médoc), Gros Vidure and Gros Bouchet (Pomerol/Saint-Emilion), Acheria (Irouléguy – where the literal translation from the local dialect of Basque is ‘fox’). Noir-Dur (Loiret), Méssange Rouge (Landes), Gros-Cabernet (Landes), Capbreton (Landes), Plant des Sables (Landes), Trouchet Noir (Basses-Pyrénées) and Bordo or Cabernet Frank (Italy)  

Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for 6% of all red Loire plantings, yet represents just 1% of those in the Chinon appellation. It was established during the 1980s, but its legacy remains as a failed ‘twenty year experiment’, since growers have essentially concluded that the variety is not suited to Chinon - even in a hot vintage like 2003 - since it fails to ripen sufficiently. This is not surprising given that it was mostly planted on cooler sites that are prone to frost; the idea being that the later-budding Cabernet Sauvignon would avoid damage. Whilst the theory behind this is sound, the reality is that the variety was never able to accelerate its ripening (usually it is between seven and ten days later than Cabernet Franc) and today no grower is actively propagating the variety. Now, it is more likely to be vinified as rosé as much as it is red, with the maximum amount permitted for the appellation being 10% of the blend – for both styles of wine.
In addition, the variety has proven to be more susceptible to eutypoise than Cabernet Franc and it is this point alone which might ultimately lead to its outright exclusion from the appellation.

Chenin Blanc

‘O, lachrima Christi, c’est de la Devinière, c’est vin pineau. O, le gentil vin blanc, et par mon âme ce n’est que vin de tafetas’ – Rabelais

The vin de tafetas to which Rabelais was referring to was almost certainly Chenin Blanc, with Jean des Entonneurs defending the pineau grape during the battle of Picrocholine. Native of the Loire Valley, where it has been grown since at least 845, Chenin probably acquired the name pineau during Gallo-Roman times, despite having no connection to the Pinot family. It has been suggested that the grape was first domesticated by Saint-Martin from local wild vines. Evidence that Chenin was a adopted from wild plants comes from pollen, from the genus, being discovered in peat dating from the Holocene Epoch (within the last 10,000 years) on the shores of lake Grand-Lieu within the Muscadet region. This proposition, however, is not conclusive.  


Marcottage - The oldest Chenin vineyard in Chinon

The existence of Chenin within Chinon clearly pre-dates any documentary records. The oldest known parcel within the appellation is within the lieu-dit of Les Picasses in Beaumont-en-Véron, where the Lenoir family are guardians of a tiny parcel planted, on its own roots and propagated by marcottage (above) in approximately 1896. The greatest accolade bestowed on the variety, however, is in Savigny-en-Véron, where one specific parcel of land, known on the cadastre as Champ-Chenin, has been planted with the variety for longer than anyone can remember.

Certainly the variety was more widely planted in the region in the 1960s with Pierre Galet stating (in 1962) that the variety is ‘une grande partie produit des vins blancs de qualité’. During this period some of the wines produced were from grapes that were surmaturité, essentially moëlleux, although these are no longer allowed within the appellation. That’s not to say that some producers in Chinon have given up on the style, with Jean-Christophe Pelletier, for one, producing both demi-sec and sweet wines and happy to declassify where necessary.

Current plantings account for around 35-40 hectares, or 2% of the total vineyard area of Chinon, although these have been increasing to the point that the authorities have decided to cap any further growth. The variety performs best on the limestone slopes, on similar sites and orientation one would expect to find in Vouvray, although some growers have been tempted to plant it on the plains which are considered unsuitable.

Chenin remains a nominal variety in Chinon and, given the current cap on plantings, this is unlikely to change. It serves little real purpose within the appellation, offering those who grow it nothing more than novelty to their range and personally, I have yet to taste an example that can come close to rivaling the dedicated appellations of either Vouvray or Montlouis.

Other varieties
There is surprisingly little deviation to the planting of Cabernet Franc in the appellation, beyond the authorized Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin. Some producers have a Touraine Sauvignon Blanc included within their range, although this is generally sourced from outside of the appellation. In the case of Château de Bonneliere, the plantings are literally on the wrong side of the road that signifies the boundary between Chinon and AC Touraine.

The same grower also produces a wine from vineyards in the commune of Lerné (a village made famous for its fouaces) which also falls outside of the Chinon appellation. Here, a tiny 0.4 hectare vineyard is inter-planted, on its own roots, to Cabernet Franc with some Chenin and Pineau d’Aunis. The vines within the clos at Chàteau Maulevrier are believed to be around 150 years old and propagated by provinage. It is noted here since it serves as an historical reference as to what might have been planted in and around the Chinon appellation prior to the arrival of phylloxera.

Vine density, trellising and pruning  



Vine density
The appellation laws state that there must be a minimum of 4,500 vines per hectare with the standard configuration being 2.10 metres between the rows and 0.55 metres between the vines.

Trellising and pruning
Within the appellation, both Guyot Simple and Guyot Double (also known as Taille Guyot à deux verges) are permitted. The former is the most widely adopted method for both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon; pruned to one long cane with a maximum of seven buds.


Single Guyot                                                                                               Double Guyot

Double Guyot is used more for Chenin Blanc although some growers, such as Radpolphe Raffault, use it for both red and white varieties. Introduced into the décrit in 2009 was the use of Cordon Royat, essentially for Chenin Blanc, since historically it was never deemed necessary to have a more suited pruning method for what was considered a minority grape variety.  


Chlorosis

Rootstocks
The most favoured rootstock is 3309 although this can only be used as the graft when there is little risk of chlorosis developing from close proximity to the limestone. It is therefore most successfully used on the plains close to the rivers, particularly in the Véron peninsular. On the coteaux, where the vines are in direct contact to the chalk, growers mostly elect to graft onto 41B which is more resistant to chlorosis. This explains why, for example, Couly-Dutheil have Le Clos de l’Echo planted to 3309 whilst the Le Clos d’Olive is on 41B. Picking dates for these two vineyards is around one week to days different, since the 41B retards the ripening process. The alternative to 41B is 161-49 which is also resistant to chlorosis.

One or two brave souls, including Charles Joguet (in Les Varennes du Grand Clos) and Bernard Baudry (in Clos Guillot), have experimented with direct planting, with both vineyards ultimately falling victim to phylloxera.  


A condemned vine at Domaine Charles Joguet

Declared plantings
The vineyard area has practically quadrupled since the start of the 1970s, which is in contrast to other appellations, not necessarily just in the Loire, that have seen a contraction. Plantings, of course, have a direct correlation to demand and this ready market for the wines could explain the degree of complacency when it comes to absolute quality.  

Recently Declared Plantings

2009 – 2,350ha
2008 – 2,351ha
2007 – 2,351ha
2006 – 2,345ha
2005 – 2,360ha
2004 – 2,344ha
2001 – 2,200ha
1998 – 2,074ha (plus 22ha Chenin Blanc)
1993 – 1,850ha
1990 – 1,765ha
1988 – 1,640ha
1986 – 1,550ha
1983 – 1,200ha (
approximate)
1977 – 1,000ha (approximate)
1970 – 600ha
1827 – 7,145ha


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