War and Winemaking on The Loire

As we continue to celebrate our new partnership with wine travel specialists Winerist, we look back at our presenters visiting just a few of the many wonderful places Winerist offers tours to.

This week, we revisit Joe Fattorini discovering the historic and picturesque Loire Valley – and only some of it from within the confines of a barrel!

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Joe Fattorini

Are you claustrophobic? If you’re not, you should be. I wondered if I could be stuck in a small place for an extended period of time. “Of course, no problem,” I thought. I couldn’t be more wrong.

It was perhaps the context. Patrice Monmousseau is jovial, convivial and charming. But in the dark cellars of his Montrichard winery, he tells his father’s story with deadly seriousness. During WW2, Jean Monmousseau smuggled agents of The Resistance across the Nazi guards on the River Cher in his wine barrels. It’s an easier task here than in other parts of France. The Loire traditionally uses a 400 litre barrel, compared with barrels of 225 litres or so elsewhere. I mean I’m small. But not that small.

Monmousseau is famous for its sparkling Saumur. But this part of the Loire also makes still, oak-aged Chenin Blanc whites and vibrant, currant-scented reds. Nazi guards on the River Cher waved over Jean and his truck of barrels as he passed from Free France to Vichy France. They imagined they were full of Chinon red or Anjoy Blanc. Little did they know that inside were undercover agents; fearing for their lives.

I say ‘fearing’. I can’t imagine they were doing anything else. You have to crouch down to get in a barrel. Then stopper your ears with plugs and headphones; the clatter of coopers hammering on the barrel’s crown and hoops is deafening. Then everything is dark. Every movement is out of your control and unanticipated. Every sound outside a mystery. When you stop moving you wonder why. When you start you wish it would stop. And the fusty, muggy heat. Creeping up, like a human-powered mini sauna.

They left me in for 50 minutes. It felt like hours. And nobody was waiting to riddle my barrel with machine gun bullets. I’ve tasted bravery with a glass of wine in the past. I’ve never done it with the same appreciation of what it really means to be brave as that night in the Loire.

Monmousseau Brut Etoile Methode Traditionnelle Non-Vintage

Great bubbles don’t come better value than this. But also with a soft pear fruit and frothy fizz, many people actually prefer this to more expensive sparkling wine. Match it with salads and a touch of spice for a magical mix. Think more robust fish dishes and spiced chicken.

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The Wine Show has partnered with specialist wine and food travel company Winerist to provide experiences in many of the countries we’ve featured on screen. Together we are offering unique wine tastings, holidays and tours that we are sure will thrill and exhilarate you. Book now to experience the unforgettable.