12 December 2008

Vouvray: "a bit of a mess"

That's how the Cadogan guide to the Loire Valley describes Vouvray. When you arrive in the town, "the lower part looks a bit of a mess down in the valley," it says. "Signs signal potential wine tastings, dégustations, at every turn." That's the hokey part of Vouvray, and it's very small — maybe the equivalent of three American blocks along the main road along the Loire.

Hauling grapes up the Vallée Coquette in Vouvray

To be fair, the Cadogan guide describes the upper part of the village of Vouvray as "elegant." The Michelin Green Guide to the Châteaux de la Loire is a little kinder: « Au cœur d'un vignoble réputé, Vouvray s'étage sur les coteaux qui dominent la rive droite de la Loire, en amont de Tours » — "At the heart of a famous wine-producing area, Vouvray is built on hillside terraces above the right bank of the Loire River, upstream from Tours." The guide goes on to mention the old troglodyte dwellings you can still find around the area.

A typical house in Vouvray

Vouvray is not a glitzy place, that's for sure. On good days, when the sun is shining, it can look green and beautiful. On gray days, it all looks a little rundown and sad. I guess you can say that about a lot of places in the Loire Valley, or all over France. What Vouvray has, of course, is the wine, which sparkles. It certainly can lift your spirits.

Our favorite place to taste and buy wine in Vouvray is the winery run by Jean-Claude Aubert and his family in the Vallée Coquette. We found it by chance in October 2000, and immediately liked the wine, the people, and the prices. We could walk there from our gîte (but we usually took the car because it was easier to carry the bottles home that way).

Arriving at the Aubert winery, which is built into the side of a hill

The Vallée Coquette, despite its name (as you know, coquette means "charming, attractive, stylish"), is not at all prettied up. The road that runs through it is lined with wineries, both the old-fashioned, agricultural-looking ones and some big modern buildings with parking lots for tour buses. Aubert's place is definitely on the agricultural side, as you can see from some of the pictures in this post.

A jumble of hoses, tanks, and tools in the Auberts' courtyard

Until recently, the person we dealt with for tastings and sales at Aubert's was a small, square-jawed woman in her 60s who I'm sure was Madame Aubert herself. She had short dark hair and a big smile. She was always welcoming and cordial, but also very business-like. She had a very aged cat that climbed around on the cases of wine stacked all around and would jump up on the table where tastes were poured. The cat would arch its back and make it clear it wanted to be petted — « Caressez-moi, caressez-moi ! » it would say in cat French.

A real grape press in Vouvray — not the tourist version

One day a couple of years ago we drove over to Vouvray and stopped to pick up a few bottles. Mme Aubert was on duty, but we saw no sign of the cat. "Where is your cat?" we asked. Her face went solemn and tears welled up in her eyes. "I ran over it with the car two days ago, and it was killed," she told us. "The cat was so old, and it was deaf. It was behind the car when I backed up, and I didn't see it. It is so sad." We were sad for her and the cat.

Wines for sale at the Cave Touristique in Montlouis

On another visit we saw that some swallows had built a mud nest on the arched ceiling of the wine cellar. Mme Aubert told us they had had to make sure to leave a window open all the time so that the birds could come and go as necessary to keep their chicks fed. That day, Mme Aubert's four-year-old grandson was spending the afternoon with her, riding his tricycle through the cellar and sales area.

The Vouvray vineyards in October

Nowadays a new generation of Auberts seems to be taking over the business. We've met the daughter and her husband (parents of the little boy on the trike). They are very nice, all smiles in a formal kind of way. But the old metal cash box is gone. We no longer get a hand-written invoice when we buy wine. Now there's a PC. We are in the database. A printer whirs and a printed invoice slides out. The whole transaction goes faster, but it's not as authentic as it was. The old-world charm is going out of it. I'm starting to wonder if we even will see Mme Aubert again, on a future visit.

1 comment:

  1. beautiful. i love these glimpses of real french people. thank you.


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