Traveling in Rabelais country

Article from 22-07-2006

The memory of François Rabelais is omnipresent in the Loire valley wine region, cherished bard of “la Dive Bouteille” fame. But you have to kick off any journey into Rabelais wine country in Seuilly, the most westerly point of the Tours area. La Devinière (literally ‘soothsayer’s place’) stands in the middle of fields: the house where the writer was born and where books, pictures and documents remind us that, before being Rabelaisian, François was above all a Humanist.

Around La Devinière, a few cabernet franc vines have been recently replanted. But strangely they’re not in the Chinon appellation area, famous neighboring AOC: on this tiny part of the river Vienne’s left bank, jammed between Chinon and Saumur-Champigny, these vines produce wine classified under the Touraine appellation; and the growers are trying to gain recognition for a “Coteaux de Seuilly” appellation covering the villages of Candes-Saint-Martin, Saint-Germain-sur-Vienne, Couziers, Lerné, Seuilly and Cinais. The very same Rabelais territory, where the writer set the action to the picrocholine wars between “the knights of Lerné and Gargantua country folk.”

On this outstanding terrain, long forgotten and still unrecognized, a dozen producers seem to carry on their timeless grape-growing: barely 150 hectares of cabernet franc and chenin blanc planted, only on the Vienne’s best slopes, and mainly using environmentally friendly techniques far removed from the big production mentality that holds sway in other appellations...

The last of these Mohicans is called Patrick Corbineau. In Candes Saint-Martin, he calmly tends his four hectares of vines to make a few unforgettable bottles, such as his “La Croix Faucher” reds (‘Reaping Cross’). You must also try Pascal Avril’s whites made from chenin in Ligré or those made by Edouard Delapalme at Château La Trochoire in Couziers. Beyond Candes-Saint Martin, ranked as one of the most beautiful villages in France, all the villages in this area have charming white tufa stone buildings, particularly Cinais, Seuilly and Lerné.

But you can’t bring up Rabelais without talking about Chinon! On the other side of the Vienne, the Pantagruelian (referring to one of Rabelais’ characters) vineyards stretch out across 2000 hectares. In the centre of this lovely old Medieval city, Rabelais’ statue reminds us it’s his town.

"I know where Chinon is and also the Paincte cellars, I’ve drunk many a glass of refreshing wine there", as Rabelais had Pantagruel say. Nowadays the “Caves Painctes” is the seat of the Confrérie des bons Entonneurs Rabelaisiens (Brotherhood of fine Rabelaisian singers), who pull out all the stops four times a year and welcome Chinon wine lovers from around the world to be ordained as knights by Grand Master Pierre Couly.
Next door to Caves Painctes, in another cellar hollowed out beneath the château, Marc Plouzeau welcomes visitors in a wine cathedral several hundred meters below the hillside, and talks about his Chinon wines, 5 times gold medal winners in 2006.

If you really want to discover Chinon’s vineyards, you need to go to Panzoult by following the Loire Valley vineyard route. Once again Rabelais joins us, in the Sibylle cellar; a visionary who Panurge went to see, taking Pantagruel’s advice, to find out if he’d been unfaithful! In this Troglodyte cave, where the village winegrowers organize a wine fair on the first Sunday of May and August, sculptures evoke Rabelais’ works and local winemaking.

Guillaume Lapaque
Photo GL - Ligérienne de Press

La Devinière, Rabelais museum
Every day:
July and August: 10am-7pm
Full price: 4.50 €
Tel : 02 47 95 91 18
Next installments on Sat 23rd September 2006 and Sat 2nd December 2006.

Touraine-Coteaux de Seuilly:
* Patrick Corbineau
4, rue de la Courdinière
37 500 Candes-Saint-Martin
Tel: 02 47 95 96 68

* Pascal et Catherine Avril
5, Touraine
37 500 Ligré
Tel: 02 47 93 46 92

* Edouard Delapalme
Château de la Trochoire
1, La Trochoire
37 500 Couziers
Tel: 02 47 95 87 14


* Caves Plouzeau
Open Tuesday to Saturday from Easter to September, and Saturdays all year round.
94, rue haute Saint-Maurice
37 500 Chinon
Tel: 02 47 93 16 34

* Sibylle de Panzoult
Info from Charles Pain
37220 Panzoult
Tel: 02 47 93 06 14

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