“Reuilly is a small town some 15 kilometres from Bourges. It is on the Arnon, a river that flows into the Cher, which in turn flows into the Loire. It is a very sleepy, rather depressing place, and there are no outward and visible signs that it has anything at all to do with wine. It took me some considerable time to find a wine-maker, who turned out to be one Claude Lafond, who is one of the biggest in Reuilly.”
– James Seely, 1989
The words of James Seely may appear somewhat unkind, but their inclusion here serves an important purpose. Seely visited this region during the 1980s, a nadir for the Reuilly appellation which at this time was teetering on the brink of extinction. Many Ligérian appellations suffered some decline during the twentieth century, a downwards spiral kickstarted by the vineyard diseases of the previous century, especially phylloxera, and reinforced by the effects of war and the global economic decline which followed. Some appellations all but disappeared, and Reuilly’s flirtations with this fate were prolonged and more serious than many others. Indeed, that it survives today is largely down to the work of the one vigneron James Seely was fortunate enough to meet; the late Claude Lafond (1952 – 2015) was instrumental in ensuring this appellation’s resurrection.
The regeneration and recovery seen here is but one chapter in this appellation’s story though. As with many of the wine regions of the Loire Valley, the vineyards of Reuilly have a long, fascinating and illustrious heritage.
Many appellations have truly ancient origins, and not to be outdone the vignerons of Reuilly claim that there have been vines planted here for well over a millennium. Legend has it there were vineyards during the reign of Dagobert (c.603 – 639), a Merovingian king (pictured below, as imagined by a 19th-century artist) who ruled over Neustria (which spanned northern France, including the Loire Valley) and Aquitaine (Bordeaux and the southwest), as well as Burgundy and lands even further east, as far as Bavaria. Having said that, other than a few fleeting historical references there is little evidence that this claim is true, and it is not until the church began planting vines here many centuries later that the story of the Reuilly appellation really gets going.
It was during the 13th century that religious orders began establishing vineyards along the banks of the Arnon and Théols, vineyards which today form the majority of the Reuilly appellation (although there are some distant vineyards on the banks of the Cher, much closer to Quincy than the rest of Reuilly – I will come to those later). Religious ascetics from the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Beauvoir were responsible for some of the earliest vineyards, as already described in my guide to Quincy. Indeed, the nuns who lived at the abbey have been credited not only with the planting of these early vines, but also with the introduction of Sauvignon Blanc, which they referred to as Savignum, to the region. Sadly, despite the great significance of the abbey to viticulture in the region, it no longer stands, having been razed to the ground during the French Revolution.