Il ya six lieues d’Amboise à Tours,
Y a six lieues d’Amboise;
Montlouis est au milieu,
On boit du bon vin vieux.
– Monseigneur Le Vin, Georges Montorgueil, (published 1927)
Georges Montorgueil was not one of France’s great literary figures. Indeed, truth be told, there was no such person. Montorgueil was little more than a pseudonym used, for whatever reason, by the French journalist Octave Lebesgue (1857 – 1933). Having started out as a reporter in Lyon, he wrote for a number of satirical publications before he eventually took on the position of editor at Le Temps, one of France’s more prestigious daily newspapers, a position he held until his death in 1933 (the newspaper itself would eventually fold under German occupation in 1942).
It was under his pseudonym that Lebesgue wrote the above words on the wines of Montlouis in 1927, which was a time of great upheaval for this little corner of the Loire Valley. Both Vouvray and Montlouis were undergoing an identity crisis, as each region – neither yet ratified as an appellation, struggled with its sense of self. For Vouvray, as I have already described in my detailed guide, there was a need to determine which villages and communes would be eligible for the new appellation. For the vignerons of Montlouis, however, it was a more fundamental question. Given that their desire was to join the Vouvray appellation (despite vocal resistance from some of their peers on the opposite bank of the Loire), did they really have any independent identity at all?
For this reason Montorgueil’s (or Lebesgue’s if you prefer) words are apt. Like many authors of the time, he only refers to Montlouis in the context of other places, as if it had no identity of its own. Those who wrote about the region’s wines, such as the Russian-born Charles Vavasseur (1867 – 1950), who also happened to be mayor of Vouvray and a vigneron himself (so he might have been more than a touch biased on certain matters), and local historian Auguste Chauvigné (1855 – 1929) only ever referred to Montlouis as a source of wines of inferior quality to those of the pre-appellation Côtes de Vouvray. In a similar vein, Montorgueil only refers to Montlouis as a temporary rest stop, six leagues from Amboise, and six leagues from Tours, rather than a destination in its own right. It is a staging post where travellers can take a break, a convenient midway point where horses can be fed and watered.
He does at least indicate, to his credit, that those passing through can enjoy a glass of “good, old wine” while there (the travellers, obviously, not the horses). On the other hand, after three full pages of text on the wines of Vouvray, to dismiss Montlouis in such few words seems harsh.
This disdain for Montlouis was not a transient phenomenon.Please log in to continue reading: