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Loire Valley - The Garden of France

The Loire [pronounced L'wahr] Valley is located in northern France.  It follows the Loire River (France's longest river), stretching over 600 miles from central France in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. It is often referred to as “the garden of France,” because of the abundance of vineyards and orchards that line the banks of the river.

The Loire Valley is one of France's larger wine regions, encompassing approximately 310 square miles and about 185,000 acres of commercially planted vineyards within its boundaries. There are fifty very diverse sub-appellations within the region. The farthest east region is Sancerre and the farthest west region is Muscadet,
which borders on the Atlantic Ocean.

History of the Loire Valley

The Loire Valley has been inhabited since the Middle Paleolithic Period (about 2000 years). Its earliest inhabitants were the Celtic tribes known as the Gauls. The Romans staged many battles there and the Loire Valley became part of the Roman Empire for several centuries. During that time, Attila the Hun was defeated there by an army made up of Romans and Visigoths. During this period of Roman rule, many settlements were established in the valley. One of the more important settlements was called Torones, which eventually became Tours, where in the year 732, Charles Martel defeated an invading Islamic army from Spain. This was one of the most important battles of the middle ages.

Tours later became a place of refuge for the Kings of France during the Hundred Years War with England. The nearby town of Orléans is where Joan of Arc helped to end that war. The region eventually became a popular retreat for the royalty of France - the Emperor Napoleon's wife even had a residence there. In 2000, UNESCO added the central part of the Loire River valley to its list of World Heritage Sites.

There are more than 300 historic chateaux in the Loire Valley, many of which have been converted into museums or plush hotels.

The Wines of the Loire Valley

The Loire Valley is the most diverse wine region in France – sparkling wines, dessert wines, and red and white wines of many styles are produced with great success there. Loire wines tend to exhibit a characteristic fruitiness, with fresh, crisp flavors. The main white wines of the Loire Valley are Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc), Vouvray (Chenin Blanc), Savenniéres (Chenin Blanc), Menetou-Salon, Montlouis (Chenin Blanc), Muscadet, Pouilly-Fumé (Sauvignon Blanc) and Quarts de Chaume (Chenin Blanc). The main sparkling wine is called Crémant de Loire. The main red wines of the Loire Valley are Bourguil and Chinon.

Grape Growing in the Loire Valley

Because the area is so large and so diverse, there is a variety of soil types, although the main components in the soils tend to be limestone and chalk.

Overall, the climate is considered to be a temperate maritime climate, with generally mild temperatures. The summers tend to be hot (but they rarely exceed 100 °F) and the winters tend to be cool and rainy. Annual rainfall averages between 25 and 27 inches per year. This climate is considered to be the most pleasant in northern France – this temperate, cooler climate produces grapes, and consequently wines with great balance and intense aromatics.

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