Wine has been produced in France for 2000 years. In the Loire Valley, St. Martin, the patron of wine growers and makers, founded the Abbey of Marmoutier, a monastery constructed between Tours and Vouvray in around 372.
Vines and wine are therefore part of the scenery in central France and ingrained in all aspects of local life.
One feature which always interests visitors to the region is the caves and cellars cut into the limestone cliffs and used as habitations and for both the production and storage of wine throughout the Touraine. Many of these caves are very old and when visiting one winemaker in Vouvray recently we were told that his dated from the 15th century. Originally caved out for the valuable building stone, they were later used in the raising of silk worms for the silk cloth industry, economically important in the region for nearly three hundred years. The silk trade declined when production rights were awarded to the people of Lyon, and the tunnels were then exploited to cellar wine.
One of the characteristics of the local Tufa stone is that it is soft when first cut out of the cliffs, but hardens on exposure to air. The famous castles and chateaux of the Loire, together with almost every other building in the region, are constructed from this attractive, creamy-white limestone. The tunnels, sometimes miles in length, have a constant temperature of 12 degrees C and high humidity, just perfect for storing and aging wine. As buildings, if you need extra space you can easily cut out some more.
Later during the same trip we visited the cellars of Paul Buisse in Montrichard, an ancient town strategically placed on the banks of the river Cher, with its ruined 11thC castle and other ancient buildings.
Paul Buisse is both a grower and a négociant, buying grapes and wine from other producers; he has a fine reputation for aging wines in his stone cellars, which can be visited, as we did, during a tasting. I had been meaning to visit this establishment for some time and he put on a good show for me and my wine tour guests, bringing out wines from Chinon, Bourgueil, Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, Saumur-Champigny, Touraine and Vouvray, together with Crémant de Loire and Pays du Val de Loire. Some wines tasted dated back as far as 1989.