Central Vineyard Climate
The vineyards of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and their ilk are referred to as the Central Vineyards not, as it might at first seem, because they are central to the Loire Valley. This nom de plume instead reflects the fact these vineyards, which lie directly east of Tours (160 kilometres distant, as the corbeau flies) and not quite directly south of Paris (a similar distance) lie as close to the centre of France as it is perhaps possible to be. They are France’s most ‘central’ vineyards, more so than the vineyards of the Massif Centrale, such as those around Roanne and Puy-de-Dome, which are in fact closer to Geneva than they are to Paris.
This central location plays a role in determining the local climate. France lies at the western end of the continent of Eurasia, which expands westwards through Iberia and much further eastwards through Eastern Europe, Russia and Asia. A few hundred kilometres to the north of Sancerre lies the English Channel, and a similar distance to the south there is of course the Mediterranean Sea. As such, the location of the Central Vineyards is about as ‘landlocked’ as it is possible to be in Western Europe.
The long distance between the region and these bodies of water has a significant effect on the local climate. Without the moderating influence of large lake or nearby ocean, the vignerons of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and friends enjoy a semi-continental climate. Regions with a continental climate have significant annual variations in temperature, meaning they have hotter summers and colder winters, and this is the pattern seen in Sancerre (pictured below, from behind the cross on the top of the Cul de Beaujeu in Chavignol). Admittedly, the annual variation is far less pronounced that that experienced at the heart of the Eurasian continent in Kazakhstan or Mongolia (a ‘true’ continental climate, hence the phrase ‘semi-continental’ here), but it is still of significance to local viticulture.
The semi-continental nature of the climate of the Central Vineyards is perhaps best illustrated by a comparison with the vineyards of The Nantais which, with their position on France’s Atlantic coast, have a much more maritime climate. In and around Nantes this maritime climate can be attributed partly to the nearby ocean, but also to the proximity of the Lac de Grand Lieu, a contender for France’s largest freshwater lake, and of course to the Loire itself, broad and meandering as it approaches the ocean. The Central Vineyards, meanwhile, have few such moderating influences, the only one of note being the Loire itself, which is broad and cool, although even this high up it still has a tendency to slowly wind its way around sandbanks and islands.