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Loire Valley Wine Guide: Menetou-Salon

Menetou-Salon

The cultivation on the vine on the limestone slopes around the settlement of Menetou-Salon can be traced back nearly a thousand years, to the 11th century. At this time the land was part of the seigneurie of Menetou-Salon, the land owned and controlled by local noblemen who had little to fear, other than the wrath of God himself. It should perhaps come as no surprise then that the earliest documents which mention the vine here are those describing the donation of lands by the seigneurs of Menetou-Salon to the church. These ancient deeds date to 1063, 1097 and 1100, and some describe very significant donations indeed. The granting of the Clos de Davet to the famed Abbaye Saint-Sulpice de Bourges is one such example. Another was the donation of land and vines to the Abbaye de Loroy by Hugues de Vèvre, who resided between Humbligny (within the borders of the modern-day Menetou-Salon appellation) and Crézancy-en-Sancerre, in 1190.

Despite the major contributions of seigneurs and bishops alike, however, the most significant historical figure in the genesis and development of viticulture in the Menetou-Salon region was surely the merchant and minister Jacques Coeur.

Jacques Coeur

Jacques Coeur (c.1395 – 1456) was born into a merchant family in Bourges; his father was Pierre Coeur, a wealthy and well-known figure within the town. Jacques was raised in Bourges, and married well, but he was ultimately a self-made man. He started by setting up as a merchant in the town, and branching out from these humble beginnings he soon established new trading routes between France and the Levant (the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean). By the 1430s he was bringing the riches of that region, including nuts, various fabrics including wool, mohair and silk, richly embroidered brocades and fine carpets into France. In doing this Coeur (pictured below, in a 17th-century painting by an unknown artist, a copy of a 15th-century original) built up a considerable personal fortune, and he was also almost single-handedly responsible for raising France’s status as a trading nation within Europe, competing with the renowned merchants of Italy.

Menetou-Salon

Coeur’s skill, achievements and wealth soon brought him to the attention of Charles VII (1403 – 1461), who raised him to the post of argentier (essentially, in charge of the nation’s mint) and then ennobled his family. It was as a result of this that Jacques Coeur found himself seigneur of Menetou-Salon, where he built a grand château in a neogothic style, a property today famed for having been the first property outside Paris to be fitted with electric lighting. More importantly, Coeur also found he now held sway over a huge swathe of vineyards. By virtue of his many well-placed connections, the wines of Menetou-Salon were soon being served at the royal table. And it is believed, although the story seems to me likely to be apocryphal, that Agnès Sorel (1422 – 1450), a favourite mistress of Charles VII, had a particular penchant for the wines of the region. During visits to the château she would allegedly while away the afternoons sitting beneath long-disappeared lime trees that once surrounded the château, sipping on the wines of the Clos de la Dame.

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