Domaine de la Cotelleraie
To my eye, St Nicolas de Bourgueil has always held a faintly bucolic charm, offering visitors a view upon life in a rural French village. I have never had any difficulty imagining the shepherd Céladon, immortalised in Honoré d’Urfé’s 17th-century romantic novel L’Astrée, wandering across the gentle slopes to the north of the village. Feeling his hunger, no doubt he would come to break his fast at a friendly auberge in the village square before returning to tend to his flock, and perhaps to the arms of his eternal love, Astrée.
Admittedly, you do have to squint more than a little in order to see this charm, as there are some features of the village which distract from this image of pastoral paradise. The most obvious is the large carriageway that slices through its heart, with huge articulated lorries thundering along it. Occasionally one or two will park up in the village square, the drivers keen to follow the lead of Céladon by stopping for an hour or two in one of the cafés and bistros dotted along the main road. Suddenly, as the clock strike midday, the village resembles a lorry park more than a rural idyll. Even so, the charm is still there, even if I find it easiest to see if I wear my rose-tinted spectacles.
St Nicolas de Bourgueil is also a village of vignerons, a fact that will come as no surprise to anyone who has taken the trouble to visit this corner of the Loire Valley. First, whether you arrive from the east, the west or the north, the journey to St Nicolas de Bourgueil involves crossing a sea of vines, waves of verdant green which roll up the gentle limestone slope to the north, only coming to an end at the tree-line beyond. Secondly, the centre of the village, which has been given a no-hold’s barred makeover in recent years, is festooned with advertising hoardings for local domaines, many of which seem to be run by one or other branch of the Mabileau family. Indeed, there are many notable domaines here, more than we perhaps at first realise. On the north side of the village, just five minutes walk from the centre, is one of the most notable. This is Domaine de la Cotelleraie, and the proprietor is one Gérald Vallée.