Domaine de Montgilet
The windmills of Anjou deserve a thesis of their own, and in fact I am sure such theses have already been written, perhaps many times over. At one time there were 1,200 such mills dotted around the region; today only 200-or-so remain, many of them mere ruins, sorry shadows of their former selves. Exactly such a windmill towers above Domaine de Montgilet; all that now remains is a stone tower, situated atop a stone-built cave within which millers would once have ground their wheat. A century or more ago there would have also been a rotating wooden section – looking rather like a tiny house – sitting atop the tower, to which the sails were attached. With many years of disuse this part usually succumbs to rot, leaving just the more resilient stone.
That there is a mill here is no coincidence; the Aubance, the waters of which lie just a couple of kilometres away, had a particularly strong association with milling. There were watermills to harness the power within the river’s flow, while on high ground other mills like those described harnessed the energy of the wind. Domaine de Montgilet is situated on a moderate rise of land which lies between the aforementioned Aubance to the south, and the Loire to the north, and with the extra height provided by the cave at its base, and the tower, no doubt this was once a very successful mill.
Alongside their mills, the meuniers as they were known would make the most of their land, establishing smallholdings. A few fruit trees perhaps (even these days, when I visit domaines in the Loire, it is not uncommon to find a few trees laden with pears, apricots, mirabelles and figs at one end of the vineyard), maybe a few crops for personal consumption, a few chickens or goats, and maybe a few rows of vines. This was the typical arrangement for many domaines during the 19th century. It was only during that 1900s that innovative young proprietors began to focus more on wine, and less on the other crops. Domaine de Montgilet is one such domaine.