An old grape varietal rediscovered
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... or how a need to pee had unexpected consequences.
The best things in life seem to happen by coincidence.
It was a grey monday morning that we were driving at random in the area of the Loire River in France. It was the more upstream part of the Loire, close to Blois, but the wines from there are still called Loire-wines. It's a very quiet, rural area. Certainly this monday morning, because on monday almost everything in France is closed.
No place open to have our morning coffee. And no place open to find a toilet after such a long drive But as a guy you are still the luckier gender... all I needed was a tree!
Sorry to my story with telling you about my sanitary needs that morning, but that was the reality of that moment.
I finally found a suiteble tree at this small unpaved side road into the forest, next to an ancient castle wall.
After I took care of my needs and wanted to back out the little road, I noticed that it seemed to lead straight through the woods to what looked like a vinyard. So instead of reversing into the main road, we decided to have a look.
Indeed, there was a vinyard and there seemed to be people around. We went there, and a young guy was happy to let us in, and tell us about the wines of this almost unknown area.
We tasted various typical Loire wines, a light red one, some white ones of different vintages, and a rosé wine. They were all Chéverny AOC wines, made from blends not unusual in the Loire area.
We decided to buy quite a few bottles, including half size samples, until he said:
"Wait, I would like you to taste one wine and you will never guess the name of the grape".
We tasted, and obviously our limited knowledge of grapes was insufficient to even guess. And then he introduced us into the secrets of the Romorantin grape, the long forgotten varietal which now is on its way back up... with limits!
In this area with so many castles and such a rich history, it should not come as a surprise that its wines also have their special histories.
It was in the early 16th century when François, who would later be the first king of France, came back from war in Italy.
However, upon arrival back home, his fiancée did not wish to live in the castle anymore; she was a city girl, fed up with the lonely countryside, and wanted to be in Paris. Or if not in Paris city, then at the very least in Versailles. So, the vines were left with the peasants in Chéverny area, and the couple moved to live the higher life up north.
The local wine farmers used the vines, and they seemed to do quite well around a small town in this area called Romorantin. That is where the name comes from under which the grape is known in our days: Romorantin grapes
After a while, other grapes came up that became more popular, because they yielded much more wine per acre, and the Romorantin grape disappeared... almost. However, around the tiny village of Cour-Chéverny, some farmers were still using them. And to make a long story short, in the middle of the 20th century it was rediscovered.
This grape was one of the few that seemed resistant against a terrible plant disease that struck many of the French wine areas in the old centuries as well as in the 70's of the 20th century.
Since then, most of the grape varietals are actually grafted on foreign roots, before they are grown up to produce grapes. But not so for the Romorantin grape, they grow on their own roots.
It was in the 70's that the "wine authorities" for the first time classified the Cour-Chéverny wines, and in the 90's (long overdue) they granted Cour-Chéverny its own AOC status, on the condition that they would be made for the full 100% from Romorantin grapes, and strict limits to the maximum production per hectare. And also it was decided that Romorantin grapes only be produced in this small area: only about 58 hectares, that's about 100 soccer fields.
We tasted the dry white one that was just coming of age, and it was definitely special.
Well, of course we have been buying, and we have been back quite a few times since then.
And ever since then, we have cherished the idea where someone's need to find a tree can ultimately lead to.