Sancerre is a small town on a hill overlooking the Loire river in France. Place names are important to wine lovers in France because wines take their name from the area the grapes are grown in. The name Sancerre is synonymous with crisp dry white wines made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape. This part of the Loire, upriver about 300 miles from its outlet into the ocean, grows mostly two varieties, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
I am staying in Hotel Panoramic, a three star modern property built on a steep hillside. Reception and bar is at the street level but in the middle of the hotel, with two floors above and two below. Rooms are modern and look out over an uninterrupted view of a valley of vineyards. Some mornings a dense mist blankets the valley so it is as if your room is flying above clouds.
On the opposite ridge across the valley can be seen the village of Chavignol. Only twelve families live in Chavignol; eleven of those are winemakers. Open doors of the old grey houses lining the street to reveal wooden fermenting tanks, presses, and barrels, and their cellars are lined with maturing bottles. Chavignol’s other claim to fame is Crotin de Chavignon goats cheese made in the village, and there’s no prizes for guessing that Sancerre is the perfect wine match.
Henri Bourgeois started with two hectares of land sixty years ago. Now the winery run by his descendents farm 60 ha of vineyards, own a winery in New Zealand, and a hotel and well-regarded restaurant in the village. The winery on a slope is new, not quite finished, and it is packed with state of the art computer controlled fermenting tanks and a gravity flow system where grapes arrive at the top and are moved downwards by gravity rather than pumping.
Down the street a door is opened and I go down to a brick arched cellar with hanging hooks where hams were kept. It’s the wine library where old bottles with mouldering labels wait for a special occasion.
The hill overlooking the village is called Monts Damnés (Damned Mountains) where small vineyards cling to a slope so steep they must be handpicked. Village families own individual plots and bottle under the Monts Damnés name or sometimes more politely as just ‘MD’.
Henri Bourgeois’ wines are clean, fresh and modern in style. The reds undergo no filtration and are expressive of Pinot Noir but I prefer the zingy lime flavours of their Sancerre Sauvignon Blancs.
Disclosure: Peter F May travelled to the Loire at his own expense and paid full price for all his accommodation, meals, tastings and wines.
Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle.