The Saumur-Champigny appellation as we know it today probably owes its existence to two figures more than any other. The first was Antoine Cristal, who acquired the Château de Parnay, an estate located near Saumur, in 1886. Although not born to a family of vignerons he oversaw the production and wide distribution of his wines, which were largely white wines. With time, however, Antoine Cristal turned his attention to red wines instead, planting Cabernet Franc in the famous walled vineyards, the Clos Cristal, perhaps spurred on by the need to replant after the devastation of phylloxera. Thus began the domination of Cabernet Franc over Chenin Blanc in the region.
Next came Paul Filliatreau. Having inherited Domaine Filliatreau in the mid-20th century Paul was struggling to find the freshness and definition he sought in his wines. Following the lead of Charles Joguet, he introduced stainless steel vats with temperature control in the 1970s; the results were fresher, brighter and more fruit-rich reds. He travelled to Paris to see if the bistrotiers of France’s capital city would be interested in his new style of wine; they were very well received, and soon a new craze for Saumur-Champigny had taken off. The wine became a significant part of Paris café culture, and thus city grew to become a very significant market for all the vignerons of Saumur-Champigny, not just Paul. The future of this little corner of the Loire Valley was assured.
We should not assume from Saumur-Champigny’s story, encapsulated very briefly in just two paragraphs, that the only domaines with any history are those two mentioned. This is not a region with a shortage of long-established family domaines and ancient vineyards, and as the region grew and evolved many other families were busy tending their vines, handing down their viticultural inheritance from one generation to the next, often over many hundreds of years. One such dynasty that has had a presence in the region is the Legrand family, who can trace their presence here back to at least the 17th century. Today the most recent generations, René-Noël and his daughter Clothilde (pictured above), run one of the better known estates of Saumur-Champigny.