Château de Chaintres
The town of Saumur must be the most famous on the Loire, thanks principally to its imposing hilltop château and also its network of cliffside caves, which function as troglodytic dwellings, mushroom caves and even cellars for the aging of the millions of bottles of sparkling wine produced here. Historians and classicists know it as the birth place of Charles Ernest Beulé, politician and archaeologist, who is renowned for his discovery of the propylaia (a classical, fortified entranceway) during his excavations of the Athens Acropolis in 1852. Fashionistas, I suspect, prefer to think of Saumur as the birth place of designer Coco Chanel.
Just a few kilometres to the south-east of Saumur is the little village of Champigny; I suspect the only people familiar with this diminutive settlement are its inhabitants, and of course wine geeks, who are I hope all aware of the wines of Saumur-Champigny. Almost midway between these two settlements is Chaintre, a tiny hamlet which is home to two significant Saumur-Champigny domaines. One, housed in a complex of buildings near the southerly end of the hamlet is Domaine Filliatreau. The other, just 200 metres along the road, is Château de Chaintres. The entranceway to the estate is through a large stone archway, constructed from the pale-cream tuffeau stone and sealed with cast iron gates. Beyond that lies an attractive château which dates back to at least the 17th century, and on the other side of that there is a huge walled vineyard. The estate has long been one worth knowing.
The details of the origins of Château de Chaintres are not known, but as indicated above the first suggestions of its existence date back to the 17th century. At this time the property seems to have been in the hands of the Pères Oratoriens, a society of apostolic life within the Roman Catholic church founded by Saint Philip Neri in 1575. In such an order, priests and laymen live and work together, usually with some specific goal in mind, but without taking religious vows as would be the case in a monastic order. The order seems to have arrived in the Saumur region in the early years of the 17th century, when they took over the running of the chapel at Notre Dame des Ardilliers, one of several imposing buildings on the Quai du Jagueneau in Saumur. Perhaps their purpose in also establishing themselves at Chaintre was agricultural, or maybe even viticultural. After all, services held at their imposing riverside church would have needed communion wine.