For a wine region defined by its rivers, not just the Loire but also the Vienne, the Sèvre Nantaise (to give it its proper title), the Maine and the Cher, to name some of the region’s more vinously and spiritually significant waterways, it is remarkable how few vineyards look directly down onto their waters. Especially so, I think, in the case of the Loire.
In contrast to the Mosel, or the Rhine, or the Rhône, where great craggy slopes encrusted with vines tower above the glistening jewel-like waters, the Loire Valley offers few (if any) such dramatic panoramas. Stand at the top of the best vineyards on the première côte of Vouvray, for example, and look down to where the river should be, and you might be forgiven for thinking you are looking in the wrong direction. Indeed, so broad is the flood plain of the Loire you might be forgiven for wondering if there is any ‘valley’ to the Loire Valley at all. It takes faith to believe that out there, perhaps behind that line of trees in the distance, lies the river you seek, meandering its lazy way towards the Atlantic.
There are some exceptions to this rule though, and here in Savennières we find one of the best. At this point the waters of the Loire cross from the easily eroded limestones and marls of L’Anjou Blanc, which have permitted these rivers to carve such broad and shallow valleys, and on to the more resilient schists of L’Anjou Noir. Suddenly there is no more flood plain; the river now follows a much more tightly defined course, hemmed in between much harder walls of schist which resolutely refuse to be worn away. For the first time in either Touraine or Anjou it is here in Savennières, most notably in the Clos de la Coulée de Serrant (pictured below), that we can stand among the vines and look down (or at least across) to the Loire. And, standing here, we can immediately understand how closely this river and its vineyards are connected.
In this part of my guide I will explore what has become, during the course of the last few decades, one of the Loire Valley’s most renowned appellations. In this first instalment I examine the history of Savennières, from Gallo-Roman times though to the early 20th century, before looking at more recent events, including the creation and subsequent evolution of the Savennières appellation, in a second instalment. I will explore the relatively new appellations of Savennières Roches-aux-Moines and Coulée de Serrant, until recently ‘mere’ crus of the Savennières vineyard, in subsequent instalments.