Every week we visit the charming, 15th-century Château de Nitray on our Loire Valley Day Trip from Paris. The castle is home to the de L’Espinay family who proudly gives you a guided tasting of their wines and a hearty three-course meal of traditional rural French dishes. After lunch last week we sat down with the personable owner François to ask him a few questions about winemaking in France.
1. What wines are found in your area?
We find all types of wine in our region: dry and mellow white wines, rosé, sparkling, red and rosé sparkling. To produce these wines, we use 3 white grape varieties: Sauvignon, Chenin and Chardonnay and 3 red varieties: Cabernet Franc, cotes and the deep black grolleaux. Our wines are known as being light and very fruity but there are many exceptions and this diversity creates the richness of the wines of our region.
2. What is the job of winemaker and is there training?
We leave the land cultivating the vine. Then we harvest the grapes that are used in the natural process of transformation into wine. The wine is bottled on the property. The whole process would take several pages to describe but what I can assure you is that each of our days is different.
Training is not required if the cultivated area is less than 10 hectares (24.7 acres) but it is strongly recommended if one wants to produce quality wine. One year of study is sufficient but one can study for up to 5 years if one decides to be a winemaker.
3. Which wines do you produce? How would you describe their taste?
Our wines are rather light but very aromatic. The whites have aromas of citrus and ripe fruit and our reds have aromas of cherry, blackberry or blackcurrant. We also have a natural oak wine that is a little stronger with a hint of apricot compote.
4. When did your production start?
We assume that the castle has been producing wine since its construction in 1521 but we have no proof. Vines appear on a map dating from 1768. In my family, my grandfather was a winemaker from 1955 to 1990. My father Hubert took over until 2018 and I am the third generation of our family to produce wine.
5. Do you produce anything other than wine?
Wine occupies all our concentration and attention. We would not have time to produce anything else.
6. What are the typical dishes in your region?
We like to eat cured meats such as rillette of Tours which is similar to paté, sausage with Montlouis white wine, and rillons which are candied pork belly cubes. The Loire Valley is a land of goat cheeses so you can find plenty of famous varieties here.
7. What are the top 3 things the Loire Valley is known for?
Castles, wine and gastronomy. The landscape is also very beautiful.
8. Are there events not to be missed in your area?
Every September, the European Heritage Day gives access to various historical monuments that are not normally visited so this is quite exciting if you like the castles of the Loire Valley. On those days, the doors also open to the winemakers and this offers many moments of exchange and sharing.