The Loire Valley holds a universal appeal that has spanned centuries, and drawn the attention of men and women of all ages, classes, cultures and tastes. It spans over 150 miles of stunning scenery punctuated by sleepy villages, thriving cities, and 21 of the most lovely chateaux in all of France. But with all of it’s visual appeal, one of the valley’s main attractions is it’s incredible diversity of wines, including delicious whites, reds, rosés, and sparkling versions.
Near the center of this outstanding Valley lies Vouvray, a village with a population of just over 3,000. The town has lent it’s name to the uncommonly palatable white wines that are produced by a rare combination of soils, microclimate, and viticultural techniques that only Vouvray and seven small neighboring communities can claim. The village of Vouvray itself is appealing, but deceptive in that it’s gray limestone cliffs, matching stone manor houses, town hall, cathedral, and ancient shops belie the exceptional talent of it’s inspired vintners and the rare quality of the vines that provide their raw material.
Since Vouvray is a small but very special wine region, it wouldn’t do to write about it without pointing out a few intriguing facts. First, the primary grape variety used to make Vouvray wines is Chenin Blanc. According to one of the vintners I met there, the grapes were originally brought to the area by Saint Martin. This may not be true, though, since Martin arrived in area around 400 AD, probably long before Chenin Blanc was born. And second, the grapes thrive in this area due to the mysteries of the terroir, that je’n sais quoi of soil, climate, genetics, and other unknown and unreproducible factors that shape only the wines from a given area.
The vines themselves are gnarled and wizened-looking, as if they’ve earned the right to survive and produce their bounty only through long years of desperate struggle. Looking at the rocky soil that sustains them, it’s hard to imagine how they survive at all.
One last bit of Vouvray lore is the fact that the vintners must prune the vines short, as you can see above, and leave only one or at most two spurs per vine. If this weren’t enough work, each spur can have no more than three buds, so that the vintner, not the vine, chooses how many grapes will be produced.
I should point out here that I’m not a wine connoisseur. And that may be a serious understatement. I drink wine, and enjoy drinking wine, but I can’t describe for you it’s fruity bouquet, or tell you whether it’s bright or buttery. Shameful, I know, but there it is. What I can say is that the dry (sec) Vouvray wines that I’ve tasted have been among my all time favorites, and that one of my more erudite friends whose palate is far more refined told me with no hesitation that the best bottle of wine in his vast experience was a Vouvray, which was recommended to him by an outstanding sommelier. So plan accordingly.