Château-Thébaud: The Cliff-Top Cru
Approaching Château-Thébaud, it looks pretty much like any other rural French village. It is surrounded by a broad expanse of vineyard – de rigueur given that we are deep in Muscadet country here – the dark silhouettes of Vitis vinifera with their broad trunks, pruned low in the Nantais style, standing in ordered regiments. The outer suburbs come next, peppered with newly built residences, with their whitewashed walls or wooden cladding, each one topped off with a roof of terracotta or slate tiles.
Before long the streets narrow, and we reach the town centre. Here stands the church and the mairie, and other quintessential elements of any self-respecting French town; the tabac (of course), the coiffure (who goes by the name of Betty, if you were wondering; she does a mean short-back-and-sides) and the pharmacie (which, I am sad to say, has now closed down). Only two signs, pointing in the direction of the Pays du Vignoble Nantais and the Voyage dans le Vignoble, now serve to remind us that we are still in one of France’s most renowned wine regions.
Between these two signs, however, there is a third, for a belvédere, or viewing platform. Obeying its directional instruction takes you past the mairie, and one minute later you will be greeted with a sight which makes clear Château-Thébaud is no ordinary rural village. Suddenly you are no longer in France; you have been teleported to sun-baked Arizona, looking out across the Grand Canyon, the mile-deep ravine carved by the urgent waters of the Colorado River. Well, perhaps I am exaggerating a little, but the sight that meets your eyes here is still impressive. The belvédere looks out over a broad gorge, carved out over many millions of years by the flow of the Maine. On each side of the gorge tower cliffs of rust-red granite, the Granite de Château-Thébaud to be precise. Stand on the edge and it is a 60-metre drop to the river. The cliffs are pictured below; the white dot in the shadows is an intrepid climber, making his or her ascent.
The gushing waters of the Sèvre Nantaise, as they flow through the mill races and over the weir in the centre of Clisson, suggested to me that the Nantais landscape was more complex and characterful than I had previously imagined. But it was the cliffs of Pont Caffino, looking down onto the white-crested waters of the Maine in the heart of Château-Thébaud, that sealed the deal.
Of course, there was something else atop the cliff, on the far side of the gorge, that soon grabbed my attention. There, teetering on the brink of the chasm, were vines. The vines, no less, of the Château-Thébaud cru communal.Please log in to continue reading: