Château de Fosse Sèche
Saumur is no less impressive a vineyard than any other situated on the limestone bedrock of the Bassin Parisien. If I were asked to convince you, I would suggest a drive along the D947, the road running along the left bank of the Loire through Montsoreau, Turquant and Souzay-Champigny and which affords an excellent view of the imposing limestone scarp which runs parallel with the river. The rock face is peppered with caves, perfect for the long-term cellaring of wine (one reason why Saumur has developed such a strong reputation for sparkling wine) and also the cultivation of mushrooms, and in places there are troglodytic homes, dwellings cut directly into the rock. Look up, especially at La Grande Vignolle at Turquant, and you will see the edge of a sea of Cabernet Franc atop the limestone plateau. It is a sight to rival any similar scene on the première côte in Vouvray, or in any other of the Loire Valley’s grandest appellations.
There is more to Saumur than these familiar riverside vineyards and villages though. The limestone stretches out far to the south, and consequently so do the vineyards. And there are some particularly strong terroirs south of Saumur, the hill of Le Puy-Notre-Dame, now the epicentre of its own appellation, being a notable example. All around the puy there are vineyards, some with very ancient origins. The vineyards and domaines of Saumur are no less likely to have an ecclesiastical beginning than those in Burgundy or the Mosel, it seems. Not far to the north of Le Puy-Notre-Dame, in the commune of Brossay, lies one such domaine, known to us today as Château de Fosse-Sèche.
There are clues to the ancient origins of the estate, as although the château has something of a renaissance feel to it the associated chapel and ruined dovecot both suggest that there has been habitation here for more than just a few hundred years. Indeed, the history of Château de Fosse Sèche can be traced back to at least the 13th century, when the property was established as a dependence of the Prieuré Saint-Nicholas de Montreuil-Bellay. Although the nearby town of Montreuil-Bellay is today best known for its lycée viticole and château, the origins of the town were ecclesiastical, and it was once home to a very grand priory.