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wines,” she says to me in her lilt­ing French ac­cent, which her Cu­vee Con­certo (100% Caber­net Franc) shows.

Of course most of the winer­ies here are fam­ily af­fairs, and wine­maker and son Matthieu Baudry of Bernard Baudry (the dad) in Chi­non are craft­ing ex­cep­tional wines of depth and char­ac­ter. The fam­ily, post-wwii, was grow­ing corn, bar­ley and some grapes, but de­mand and pro­duc­tion of grapes soared af­ter the war, so vine­yards in­creased. Matthieu pulls his grapes from a va­ri­ety of plots, some hill­side, some close to the river and some of the drier flat­lands, all of which help to ex­press the in­tri­cate nu­ances his wines achieve. “I am not the boss, my fa­ther is not the boss,” he tells me, “it’s the cli­mate and we re­spect the ge­ol­ogy.” What’s un­der scru­tiny through­out Loire is the use of oak in Caber­net Franc; a method typ­i­cally and his­tor­i­cally frowned upon. Some de­cry that any bar­rel pro­gram with overt new oak pum­mels the Franc into a Cal­i­for­nia style Franc. How­ever I found that there are some pro­duc­ers who are us­ing French oak ju­di­ciously like Do­maine Olga Raf­fault, Do­maine du Colom­bier, and even Al­liance Loire to cre­ate wines for a pub­lic that has di­verse and evolv­ing tastes.

Cas­tles and Fortresses

In ad­di­tion to stel­lar wines, the Loire of­fers stun­ning cas­tles from hill­top creations to mam­moth struc­tures to del­i­cate Gothic build­ings. Chi­non Cas­tle perched above the town of the same name is the most kid friendly and Hol­ly­wood-esque of the cas­tles. Sound ef­fects of sword­play fill the air and card­board cutouts of face­less knights and damsels al­low you a selfie mo­ment. In spite of the kitsch, the history at Chi­non is all about Joan of Arc who came here in 1429 for sev­eral days to plead with Charles VII to fight the English.

The Fortress at Angers is as im­pos­ing as it is in­spir­ing. Seven­teen round tur­rets of lo­cal troglodyte stone found through­out Loire (which is why the wines are so min­eral driven) al­low you to walk nearly the full length of the para­pet, imag­in­ing you’re keep­ing your en­e­mies at bay as they sailed up the Main River. This rocky bluff has been in­hab­ited since the 9th Cen­tury, but it wasn’t un­til the 1200s that a fortress be­gan to take shape as a for­mal in­stal­la­tion. It has been ex­panded upon ever since. In­side the walls is the chapel con­structed some­where about 1410, as well as a royal res­i­dence for King Rene in 1435 and other build­ings from as late as the 1700s. But the fortress is also home to a tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled room where the Ta­pes­try of the Apoc­a­lypse is housed. Spir­i­tual or not, th­ese 71 hand wo­ven ta­pes­tries from the 1370s de­pict the bi­b­li­cal End of Days in stun­ning de­tail and color and, if for no other rea­son, a visit is a sublime ex­pe­ri­ence in hand­i­work rarely seen any­more. There were orig­i­nally 90 ta­pes­tries, but they have been lost to time and this dark­ened room re­veals a stun­ning re­al­iza­tion that the colors, skilled weav­ing and in­tri­cate de­tail of th­ese large fab­rics, over 500 years old proves how adept our an­ces­tors were at cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful art­work.

Chenon­ceau cas­tle is the most del­i­cate of the cas­tles; built over a river, it is sto­ry­book per­fec­tion. It is of­ten called “the ladies’ cas­tle” due to the num­ber of women as­so­ci­ated with it from 1547 to World War II, six in all, who con­trib­uted to build­ing por­tions of the cas­tle and to ma­jor ren­o­va­tions. It is an elon­gated home with orig­i­nal hard­wood floors. Of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est to me was the kitchen and the weath­ered wood counter, with a bowed por­tion still vis­i­ble af­ter years of use. Un­like some of the other more im­pos­ing cas­tles, hunt­ing lodges and palaces that are aus­tere, Chenon­ceau feels lived in, per­sonal and ro­man­tic.

Cham­bord, the largest, most vis­ited and most jaw-drop­ping cas­tle in all the Loire was the part-time home of Fran­cois I. The mam­moth struc­ture is un­be­liev­able in terms of scope and mass, dwarf­ing ev­ery other cas­tle, yet fit­ted with in­tri­cate em­bel­lish­ments. Huge stone blocks make up the interiors; ceil­ings are 30 feet high; some rooms are fit­ted with two fire­places as, no doubt, it was very cold in the win­ter. Built as a hunt­ing lodge, Cham­bord is one of those cas­tles so large and post­card per­fect, it’s hard to imag­ine this was built with such pre­ci­sion in the 1500s; it is the iconic im­age of the Loire Val­ley cas­tles.

But this is the con­trast of the Loire: del­i­cate wines with a rich farming history sit­u­ated side by side with French roy­alty, all sit­ting on pre­cious earth. As Carine Reze of Do­maine de la Jarnoterie says, “The best way to taste the ground is to drink the wine.” A visit to the Loire will give you a com­pass to understand Caber­net France and the vi­su­als of French ar­chi­tec­ture.


The Fortress of Angers

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