In the land of Pineau d’Aunis

Vendôme © T.Joly
Less than 200 km away to the south west of Paris, near the beautiful town of Vendôme, the hillsides of the Loir valley boast vineyards giving excellent wines with a particular taste. They owe their characteristics to a local grape that is cultivated almost nowhere else : the Pineau d’Aunis.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
175 km from Paris on autoroutes A6a and A10 till exit 3 then on N 10.
- By train
TGV from Paris Montparnasse to Vendôme. Journey takes 45 mn.
Getting around
A car is necessary to explore the Loir Valley.
- Hotel
Hôtel Vendôme
Le Saint Georges
Le Saint Jacques
Hôtel Capricorne
- Bed and Breakfast
La Bretonnerie
Le Moulin Frabault
Hans et Adèle (in Villiers / Loir)
La Papillionière (in Villiers / Loir)
Le Moulin du Loir
Hôtel Capricorne
Auberge de la Madeleine
Le Moulin Frabault
La Vallée (in Saint-Ouen)
Vendôme Tourist Office
Tel : 0254770507
Among all the wine areas of the Loire Valley, the Vendomois is one of the less known and one of the smallest. At the beginning of the 20th century it spread over 2000 ha but most of the vineyards have been gradually replaced with cereal fields. In the 70s there was already only 700 ha left and today the planted area is limited to 350 ha. Scattered between Vendôme and Montoire, two towns twenty km away from another, the vineyards are divided between about forty landowners.

Loir valley © T.Joly
 AOC “Coteaux du Vendômois”
A dozen of independent winemakers and 25 wine growers who deliver their grapes to a cooperative cellar existing since 1921. The wine area is divided into two distinct parts. 190 ha produce wines marketed under the appellation “Vin de Pays du Val de Loire”. As to the remaining 160 ha, since 2001 they benefit from the AOC “Coteaux du Vendômois”. This appellation is reserved to the vineyards planted on the right bank of the Loir river – not to be confounded with the Loire – the valley of which is scattered with picturesque villages. Rochambeau, nested at the feet of a cliff where houses have been hollowed out of the rocks, is topped by a castle where lived Rochambeau, the French general who fought alongside George Washington at Yorktown during the American War of Independence. Le Gué du Loir that stands at the confluence with the Boulon in a verdant setting. Les Roches l’Eveque, that is known for its troglodytic dwellings. That’s also in this valley the Renaissance poet Ronsard was born and had a love affair with the beautiful Cassandre.

© T.Joly
 A rarity
The vineyards are planted on hillsides facing the south on a clay soil with flints and no further than 1 – 1,5 km away from the river. Thus, they enjoy temperatures 2-3 degrees warmer than in the surrounding plains.
Half of the produced wines are reds made from four grapes. Gamay, Cabernet franc, Pinot noir and a local variety, Pineau d’Aunis, that takes up 35 % of the vineyards. A rarity since this cousin of the Chenin blanc – hence sometimes called Chenin noir – is only cultivated in the Loire valley and only over 400 ha. Very much appreciated by king Henri III Plantagenet, it’s a capricious grape that is used in blends with Pinot noir and Cabernet franc or vinificated alone. It gives excellent wines with a surprising peppery and red fruits taste to be discovered without delay at the Cave Cooperative du Vendômois or in the cellar of few independent winemakers. Besides, the Pineau d’Aunis also serves to elaborate a pale coloured rosé called “Gris” boasting a mineral and lighter peppery taste.

Trinity Abbey © T.Joly
 On the edge of Vendôme
Concerning the whites, the most cultivated grape is the Chenin blanc, very common in the Loire valley. It gives subtle dry wines as well as half dry and mellow wines going well along foie gras and desserts. Some winemakers blend it with a bit of Chardonnay. Lastly, there are also Vin de Pays arisen from Sauvignon and Pinot blanc. The latter is perfectly adapted to the local climatic conditions and the Cave Cooperative produces a very good one.
In order to help the visitors to understand and visualise the differences between all these grapes, the winemakers have participated in the creation of an ampelographic garden where few vine stocks of each variety are planted side by side. It is found on the Coutis, a 16 ha hillside covered
by vineyards sloping down till the edge of Vendôme. From the summit the view is splendid and an orientation table allows identifying the villages of the Loir valley as well as the main monuments of this town that deserves at least a half-day visit. Built on several islands created by watercourses, the historical centre has a lot of charm with its ancient houses and its flowered parks.

Saint Georges Tower © T.Joly
 Superb gothic church
Some celebrities lived there. Balzac studied for seven years in a college that is now the city hall. Rochambeau was born in town and his statue stands on Saint Martin square near half-timbered houses and the Saint Martin tower, formerly the bell tower of a disappeared church. This neighbourhood is nested between two branches of the Loir on which it is possible to stroll on rowboats. A good way to see Vendôme from another angle and discover its 13th century fortifications. The most impressive part is the Saint Georges Tower. It was one the four entrance gates of the town that was also protected by a powerful castle located on a hilltop position. Its remains constitute another nice stroll. Nowadays the most interesting monument is the former Trinity Abbey. Once very rich, it was partially destroyed during the Revolution but keeps a superb flamboyant gothic church and a 80 m high Romanesque tower. And, of course, some excellent restaurants are waiting for the gourmets wishing to enjoy the “Coteaux du Vendômois” wines along with local dishes.

Mars 01, 2011
Thierry Joly 

[ Wine picks ]

- Cave Coopérative du Vendômois
Alfred de Musset 2008
Montagne Blanche 2008
- Cave de la Bertholetière
Vieilles Vignes de Pineau d’Aunis 2009
Charles Jumert 2009
- Domaine Patrice Colin
Pierre François 2008
Les Vignes d’Emilien Colin 2009
- Domaine de Montrieux
Coteaux du Vendomois 2008
- Domaine du Four à Chaux
Benjamin 2009
- Domaine J.Martellière
Réserve Jean Vivien 2008
Balzac 2009
- EARL Houdebert
Domaine de la Charlotterie 2008
- GAEC de la Fontaine
Domaine de la Fontaine 2009
- Domaine Brazilier
Rochambeau 2009