In the land of Pineau d’Aunis

© Thierry Joly
Less than 200 km away to the south west of Paris, near the town of Vendôme, the hillsides of the Loir valley boast vineyards giving excellent wines. Reds and rosés have a particular peppery taste coming from a local grape that is cultivated almost nowhere else : the Pineau d’Aunis.

[ Practical ]

- Getting there
- By road
175 km from Paris on autoroutes A6a and A10 till exit 3 then on N 10.
- By train
TGV from Paris Montparnasse to Vendôme. Journey takes 45 mn.
- Lodging
- Hotel
Hôtel Vendôme, in Vendôme
Le Saint Georges, in Vendôme
Le Saint Jacques, in Vendôme
Hôtel Capricorne, in Vendôme
- Bed and Breakfast
La Bretonnerie, in Vendôme
Le Moulin Frabault, in Vendôme
Côté Jardin, in Villiers / Loire
La Papillionnière, in Villiers / Loire
Moulin de la Plaine, in Trôo
- Gites
Les Roches Neuves, in Lavardin
- Restaurants
Le Terre à TR, in Vendôme
Hôtel Capricorne, in Vendôme
Auberge de la Madeleine, in Vendôme
Le Moulin Frabault, in Vendôme
Le Petit Vin Blanc, in Villiers-sur-Loir
La Vallée, in Saint-Ouen
Café restaurant de la Paix, in Montoire
Le Manoir de Saint Quentin, in Saint Quentin les Trôo
- Getting around
A car is necessary to explore the Loir Valley.
- Tourist train
Tours from July 1st to September 15th.
- Information
Vendôme Tourist Office
Tel : 0254770507
Among all the wine areas of the Loire Valley, the Vendomois is one of the less known and one of the smallest. At the beginning of the 20th century it spread over 2000 ha but most of the vineyards have been gradually replaced with cereal fields. In the 70s there was already only 700 ha left and today the planted area is limited to 350 ha. Scattered between Vendôme and Montoire, two towns twenty km away from another, the vineyards are divided between about forty landowners: dozen of independent winemakers and thirty-two wine growers who deliver their grapes to a cooperative existing since 1921.

© Thierry Joly
 Coteaux du Vendômois AOC
The wine area is divided into two distinct parts. 200 ha produce wines marketed under the IGP “ Val de Loire” while 150 ha are situated within the “Coteaux du Vendômois” AOC area. Created in 2001, this appellation covers the vineyards planted on the right bank of the Loir river – not to be confounded with the Loire – the valley of which was the birthplace of Renaissance poet Ronsard and the scene of his love affair with the beautiful Cassandre. There, you can see the castle of Rochambeau, the French general who fought alongside George Washington at Yorktown during the American War of Independence, as well as picturesque villages. Lavardin, that is topped by the ruins of an impressive medieval fortress. Le Gué du Loir that stands at the confluence with the Boulon in a verdant setting. Les Roches l’Evèque and Thorè-la-Rochette, that are known for their troglodytic dwellings and cellars. The second one is also home to a wine museum and the former railway station houses a room where to discover and taste local wines and products. In summer time, it’s the departure point of a nearly three hours long commented tour of the valley on board of a railcar from the 50s.

© Thierry Joly
 A rare grape variety
The vineyards are planted on south-facing hillsides, on a clay soils with flints and no further than 1 – 1,5 km away from the river. Thus, they enjoy temperatures 2-3 degrees warmer than in the surrounding plains.
Wines offer a great value and half of them are reds made from four grapes. Gamay, Cabernet franc, Pinot noir and a local variety, Pineau d’Aunis, that takes up 35 % of the vineyards. A rarity since this cousin of the Chenin blanc – hence sometimes called Chenin noir – is only cultivated in the Loire valley and only over 400 ha. Very much appreciated by king Henri III Plantagenet, it’s a capricious grape that is used in blends with Pinot noir and Cabernet franc or vinificated alone. It gives excellent wines with a surprising peppery and red fruits taste to be discovered without delay at the Cave Cooperative du Vendômois or in the cellar of few independent winemakers. Besides, the Pineau d’Aunis also serves to elaborate a pale coloured rosé called “Gris” boasting a mineral and lighter peppery taste.

© Thierry Joly
 On the edge of Vendôme
Concerning the whites, the most cultivated grape is the Chenin blanc, very common in the Loire valley. It gives subtle dry wines as well as half dry and mellow wines going well along foie gras and desserts. It is sometimes blended with a bit of Chardonnay. Some wineries also produce sparkling wines and IGP “Val de Loire” whites made from Sauvignon and Pinot blanc. The latter is perfectly adapted to the local climatic conditions and the Cave Cooperative has a very good one.
In order to help the visitors to understand and visualise the differences between all these grapes, the winemakers have participated in the creation of an ampelographic garden where few vine stocks of each variety are planted side by side. It is found on the Coutis, a 16 ha hillside covered
by vineyards sloping down till the edge of Vendôme. From the summit the view is splendid and an orientation table allows identifying the villages of the Loir valley as well as the main monuments of this town that deserves at least a half-day visit. Built on several islands created by watercourses, the historical centre has a lot of charm with its ancient houses and its flowered parks.

© Thierry Joly
 Superb gothic church
Some celebrities lived there. Balzac studied for seven years in a college that is now the city hall. Rochambeau was born in town and his statue stands on Saint Martin square near half-timbered houses and the Saint Martin tower, formerly the bell tower of a disappeared church. This neighbourhood is nested between two branches of the Loir on which it is possible to stroll on rowboats. A good way to see Vendôme from another angle and discover its 13th century fortifications. The most impressive part is the Saint Georges Tower. It was one the four entrance gates of the town that was also protected by a powerful castle located on a hilltop position. Its remains constitute another nice stroll. Nowadays the most interesting monument is the former Trinity Abbey. Once very rich, it was partially destroyed during the Revolution but keeps a superb flamboyant gothic church and a 80 m high Romanesque tower. And, of course, some excellent restaurants are waiting for the gourmets wishing to enjoy the “Coteaux du Vendômois” wines along with local dishes.

November 21, 2017
Thierry Joly 

[ Wineries ]

Here is a selection of wineries you can visit in the area and some of their wines we liked.
- Patrice Colin
Half sweet Pente des Coutis 2015 : €9.20
C Chardonnay 2014 : €12.50
Cuvée Pierre François 2016 : €7.20
Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2016 : €8.90
Les Vignes d’Emilien Colin 2016 : €11.50
L’Intuition 2014 : €17
Tel : 0254728073
- Domaine Brazilier
Half sweet Clos Courtin 2016 : €6.50
Gris Tradition 2016 : €5
Cuvée Rochambeau 2016 : €6.50
- Cave aux Caux
Rubis de Trotte Putain 2015
Tel : 0254728200
-Villiers-sur-Loir- Cave Coopérative du Vendômois
Montagne Blanche 2016 : €5
Prestige 2014 : €6
Grillé d’Aunis 2015 : €9.80
Tel : 0254729069
- Cave de la Berthelotière
Sweet white
Vendanges Saint Catherine 2015 : €15
Tradition 2015 : €6
Tel : 0254729409
-Naveil- Ariane Lesné, Domaine de Montrieux
Ithybole 2016 : €15
Picrochole 2016 : €15
Grandgousier 2015 : €17
Tel : 0610970873