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The vineyards of Côtes d'Auvergne

The Côtes d'Auvergne wine is produced exclusively in the Puy-de-Dôme department of France, on the hillsides bordering the Limagne plain. The boundaries of the vineyard extend over sixty kilometers from just north of the city of Clermont-Ferrand to south of the city of Issoire. On November 16, 2010, the Côtes d'Auvergne wine was awarded the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée  label (AOC), certifying the quality of the regional wine.

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The Wines

·        The appellations

The Côtes d'Auvergne appellation

Since 1977, the generic appellation “Cotes d'Auvergne” can be followed by one of the five local appellations, presented here from north to south

Madargue – Châteaygay – Chanturgue – Corent – Boudes

On November 16, 2010, the Côtes d'Auvergne wine obtained the AOC label, protecting the appellation, which is now recognized at both the national and European level.

·        The varietals

Red varietals cover 90% of the vineyard surface, the majority being of the gamay varietal

The old vines are planted with gamay d'Auvergne, a varietal often composed of large winged clusters.  Over the last thirty years, the plantations have mostly been a “beaujolais” gamay, from the Val de Loire department. This varietal is known for its attractive phenological characteristics such as its light weight and early harvest.

Pinot noir, which made up a large percentage of the vineyard several centuries ago, today accounts for around 20% of the vines.

Chardonnay, a recent addition to the vineyard, is well adapted to our land and is the only varietal authorized for use in the white wines of the Côtes d'Auvergne appellation.

·        Gourmet Ideas

The red wines are mostly made from the gamay varietal in combination with pinot noir.  There are two different types of red wines: those meant to be enjoyed young, which are fresh, fruity, and light; and those to be left to age, which are more structured, rich, powerful, and full of tannins.

The rosé wines are also mainly of the gamay varietal.  The direct pressing of the grapes results in a mild pink-salmon color with fruity and floral aromas full of finesse.  These wines are fresh, round and fruity.  These pleasant wines are a specialty from the heart of the vineyard, the Corent area, and are particularly well adapted for enjoying in the summer or with friends.

The white wines made from the chardonnay varietal also have two different facets.  The dry white wines are firstly developed in tanks and quickly bottled, leaving them with great finesse and minerality. The fruity, rich white wines are fermented at length in barrels on wine dregs similar to their Bourguignon counterparts.

Wine pairings...

The terroir

·        The Land

The vine from north to south

The vineyard in the Puy-de-Dôme department covers over 800 hectares spread over 53 towns. 

Four hundred hectares belong to professionals, with 350 hectares having the AOC label and 50 hectares of vin de pays.

The vineyard is divided into five appellations on a traditional north to south layout, covering an area 70 km wide and 30 km long.

Distribution of the appellations

Five appellations, from north to south:

·         Madargue: the northernmost appellation, near Riom and Châtelguyon, was longtime considered the “elite core” of the vineyard (Cf. L. Levadoux).

·         Châteaugay: ten kilometers north of Clermont-Ferrand, this appellation is found in a charming city of the same name. This large vineyard accounts for 37% of the production of Côtes d'Auvergne.

·         Chanturgue: the smallest and most unique appellation, is surrounded by the fast growing city of Clermont-Ferrand.

·         Corent: twenty kilometers south of Clermont-Ferrand, this appellation is known for its light and pleasant rosé wine.

·         Boudes: Near the city of Issoire, this southernmost appellation has a drier climate and a landscape with significant slopes.

A volcanic legacy

The wines of the Puy-de-Dôme benefit from the quality of the soil linked to the ancient volcanic activity of the Châine des Puys mountain range.  To the east of the mountain range, the impact on the land can be seen in a mosaic of land formations, giving the Auvergne vineyard a remarkable geological uniqueness.

Volcanic formations and the fertile Limagne plain

Basalt lava flows from the Chaîne des Puys forged the specificity of the landscapes and brings a defined character to the wines of this volcanic soil.  The volcanoes and hills of the region, as well as the presence of peperite sedimentary rock and others (arkose, pozzolana) bring a specificity to our wines.

At the center of the vineyard, the Limagne plain is a rift valley.  From west to east the plain contains limestone, volcanic and sandy hills. It is the richest region of the vineyard, with an ancient deposit of alluvium and "black earth". This foundation, largely composed of clay and limestone, has differentiated layers of rocks testifying to early geological activities.

A vineyard of géological diversity

The five appellations of the Puy-de-Dôme department are in an inverted relief landscape. This type of land owes its specificity to the basalt flows that have protected the original clay and limestone base. The areas not covered by the basalt were uncovered by the process of erosion and can now be seen on the slopes in the region. (see diagram below). This type of landscape is noticeable in Chanturgue, Châteaugay and Boudes, with slopes of clay-marl and limestone. Madargue stands out with a more siliceous soil. Finally, the soil of Corent and Boudes are constituted of calcareous sedimentary deposits, but also clay marl and sand. Corent, situated on a volcano, has a greater variety of rocks (pépérites, pozzolana)due to its geological location.

An ideal climate

Rainfall is limited by the Châine des Puys mountain range that serves as a filter of ocean winds and humidity. The prevailing wind from the Atlantic Ocean is driven over the Puys and down the eastern side after the wind has been stripped of its water vapor (Foehn effect). The precipitation in the vineyard similar to the south of France, with a maximum of 550 mm per year. While a relatively small amount, the rainfall is favorable to wine growing, as the vines require little water. Temperatures are high in the summer with cool nights, which help the proper ripening of the vine.

The vineyard benefits from a cumulative average sunshine of almost 1900 hours per year, which, for comparison is close to that of the Bordeaux region. The southern area of the department, including Boudes has an even drier and sunnier climate.

Wine Country

The vine in the department tells a story through its specificity. The new identity of the vineyard relies on the quality of its landscapes.

·         Boudes

This town is covered with over forty hectares of vines, and has preserved some terraced vineyards  with old stone walls, part of the uniqueness of the appellation. The steep slopes of the vineyards complete its rich geological landscape.

·         Corent

The Corent appellation is spread over 4 towns and is known for its location: on the hillside of one of the last active volcanoes of the Auvergne region. The vines face both north and south, although the best producing are those facing, north or north-east. Corent is the only wine devoted almost exclusively to the production of rosé. The Puy is currently being excavated, following the discovery of an oppidum major in the center of the plateau. Learn more

·         Chanturgue

Historically well-known, Chanturgue fell from more than 120 hectares in the late 19th century to six hectares today. Its landscapes are characterized by an urban proximity, which does not affect the quality of the wine. This small appellation attests to a history and traditions influenced by the evolution of the city of Clermont-Ferrand.

·         Châteaugay

Just outside Clermont-Ferrand, the town of Chateaugay, established on an ancient fortified oppidum, is known for its large tower and beautiful hillside vineyards. The appellation, present in the town and the surrounding areas, represents the largest surface area of the Côtes dAuvergne. The old village has retained its charm and the vineyards were thus able to withstand the approaching urban sprawl. Learn more

·         Madargue

This northernmost appellation of the Côtes d'Auvergne is known for its thin vines spread over two hills with summits full of vegetation (similar to the garrigue landscape). The area is considered to be one of the oldest locations of vines in Auvergne and possesses a certain heritage, with its hillsides covered with wine-making huts.

 

History

·        Antiquity: The birth of the vineyards in a mythological context

Imported to France by the Greeks in the 6th century B.C. and then by the Romans in Narbonese Gaul (second century B.C.), wine arrived in Auvergne at the time of Caesar's conquests (52 to 50 B.C.). The Puy de Corent or the famous Gergovie plateau was home to two major merchant and military oppidums in which hundreds of artifacts were discovered. Imported throughout the Gallo-Roman period, wine was then made on site. The hills were perfectly oriented for wine-making in this “mythological landscape”. Traces of temples can be found today on the sacred peaks (most famously, the temple of Mercury on the Puy de Dome).

The writings of Sidoine Apollinaire, bishop of Clermont, certify the presence of vines beginning in the 5th century A.D. From then on, the vineyard continued to expand.

·        The Medieval Warm Period

During the High Middle Ages (from the 5th to 10th century), the vine in the region continued to expand, benefiting from the Medieval Warm Period: a rise in temperatures from 800 to 1300. This lead growers to plant up to an altitude of 1000m at the beginning of the Late Middle Ages. Archives show that the vineyard had an estimated 10,000 hectares of vines in the 11th century. The Plague of 1347 and the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) limited, as elsewhere, expansion and production.

·        The Ancien Régime: royal recognition and the road to Paris

Royal recognition

The vineyard grew throughout the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but the period is poorly documented. The Auvergne vineyard was acknowledged by the nobility in the early 16th century when King Henry IV (1589-1610) praised the quality and character of the wines. Later, Louis XIV (1661-1715) also made clear his affinity for Auvergne wines. The end of the 17th century was certainly a golden period, with the introduction of popular grape varieties (Pinot, damask) and famous appellations (Chanturgue, Chateaugay, Corent). The massive introduction of Gamay from Lyon increased production and consumption but at the expense of the quality. The old vines became a minority.

 

Navigation

In the 17th and 18th centuries, wine gradually began to spread outside of the traditional distribution channels. The Auvergne wine and other goods arrived in Paris by water by way of the Allier, the Loire, the Briare canal and the Seine.

Very quickly, the ports on the Allier such as Dallet, Mezel, and Pont du Château, became well-known. Pont du Château was an important center of river trade on the Allier, and served as the port of Clermont-Ferrand for the export of wood, coal, Volvic stone, hemp, cheese, paper, straw, and of course wine. The town is home to a shipping museum, a testament to this great period of trade.

Saint Verny

The 17th century saw the arrival of the worship of Saint Verny in the region. Of Germanic origin, the saint was chosen by the winemakers of Auvergne, while in other regions the winemakers chose the famous Saint Vincent. The cult of Saint Verny remains an important local tradition.

Yields, surface area and fermentation

In 1750, the yield of the vineyard was 20 hectoliters per hectare, and 17,600 hectares were planted with vines (22 times more than today). In the late 18th century (between 1770 and 1780), Auvergne experienced a serious wine crisis, with a period of overproduction and loss in quality. The local population living in the vineyard paid a tough price (insecurity, poverty, emergence of bistros and cabarets, alcoholism).

·        The third largest vineyard in France (1789-1895)

From 1789 to 1850

The number of plots devoted to wine growing was multiplied by four between the land redistribution of 1789 and the beginning of the Napoleonic Empire in 1804. From 1789 to 1850, the vineyard increased from 21,000 to 34,000 hectares, more than a 60% increase! Wine storage, which represented a real problem in the 18th century seemed to be resolved by the rapid construction of wine cellars throughout the area. Today, several towns in the region are known for their extensive network of caves, including Aubière, with over 900.

From 1850 to the late 19th century

When phylloxera (the antarctic locus fly) arrived in France in the 1870s, Auvergne seemed to have  been spared, unlike the other vineyards in France. The vines were not affected, presenting an opportunity to increase sales, and the vineyard experienced a "planting frenzy". The Puy-de-Dôme became the third largest wine growing department of France. In 1890, it comprised 43,575 hectares of vines. Sources mention an outstanding performance in 1865 in terms of yields: 1.630 million hectoliters and 992,130 hectoliters in 1890. Moreover, an author mentions more than 68,000 hectares of vines planted in the vineyard before phylloxera. A figure which is unfortunately unverifiable but gives some idea of the magnitude of the vine at this time.

·        From decline to great revival (1895-present)

The crisis and the end of mass production (from 1895 to 1940)

Phylloxera eventually affected nearly all the vineyards in 1895. The winemakers began to uproot the plants or cross them with American vines, but it was too late to stem the decline. In 20 years, the size of the vineyard was reduced by half. In 1910, the vineyard was victim to a downy mildew (an epidemic disease caused by microscopic parasites) and production dropped to 6,000 hectoliters (100 times less than in 1890). While the vineyards and winemakers slowly begin to recover from the devastation, World War I broke out, dealing a fatal blow to the reconstruction of the vineyard.

Following the war, the rural population left their land to look for jobs with Michelin, which employed 10,000 people in Clermont-Ferrand in 1927. The plots were abandoned, the cellars were deserted or given new uses (as garages, warehouses, or for Saint-Nectaire cheese in Aubière in 1930). The other French regions experienced phylloxera earlier and were able to rebuild their vineyards. This was not the case of the Auvergne region in the early twentieth century. World War II was not a time of renewal despite the traditionalist and agricultural policies of the Vichy Regime. The wine became synonymous with a local product of poor quality and the decline of a vineyard.

The beginning of a progression in quality (1932-1977)

In the 1930s, certain wines from the region were known for their quality, such as Châteaugay, Dallet, Aubière, Romagnat, Mezel, Lempdes, Corent and Boudes. The appellation "Wines of Auvergne" began to be used for 171 municipalities of the department in 1932 following a judgment by the court of Riom. The winemakers also began to organize to cope with the crisis, establishing a cooperative winery in 1935, La Clermontoise, and in 1937, an agricultural and viticultural Union.

The decree of May 17, 1951 awarded the label Appellation d'Origine Vin délimité de Qualité supérieure (AOVDQS) and defined the “Côtes d'Auvergne” in four towns: Châteaugay, Clermont-Ferrand (Chanturgue),Corent, et Riom (Madargue).

On January 23, 1953, a second AOVDQS "Wines of Auvergne", including 40 towns, was established.

In 1977, the appellation received the label AOVDQS “Côtes d'Auvergne”, replacing the two older  VDQS labels. This decree applied to 53 municipalities and defined the area of the generic “Côtes d'Auvergne” as well as the five local appellations still recognized today: Madargue, Chateaugay, Chanturgue, Corent and Boudes. The decree also required the vineyard to use only three grape varietals: gamay, pinot and chardonnay.

The revival achievement (1977-1991)

 Since 1977, the winery has continued to grow in terms of quality. The five local appellations have distinguished themselves by their geological and historical characteristics. The vineyard currently represents 800 hectares, including 400 operated by professionals. 350 hectares have the label AOVDQS, 40% of which is planted in the local appellations. The Vins de Pays makes up the other 50 hectares. About half of the vineyards are owned by winegrowers that provide grapes to the Saint Verny cooperative, the successor of the “Cave des Côtes d’Auvergne.” The Cave Saint Verny, based in Veyre-Monton has over 100 members, and has been operating under the Limagrain group since 1991. Around forty independent winemakers also produce in the vineyard, most of which belong to the group “Caves des vignerons indépendants”.

Since 1987, our Puy-de-Dôme Wine Federation unites, structures and organizes the representatives of the vineyard: cooperative and independent winemakers, wine merchants, restaurant owners, and local governments. The Federation's mission is to promote our wines while encouraging local residents and tourists to discover the rich heritage of our land.

The path to AOC (1989-2011)

Following it's creation, the Federation began to take the necessary steps to obtain the AOC label. A union later took over the process. In 2008, a new decree tightened the conditions of production and fixed the AOVDQS boundaries. On November 16, 2010, the AOC label was granted to the entire AOVDQS area including the five local appellations. The quality put forward by the winemakers and the rich, unique volcanic soil are the major advantages of this vineyard. The 2011 vintage, the first with the AOC label, validates the tremendous efforts in quality undertaken by this small wine region and the quality and unique character of its wines.

 

The wine tourism

·        Discovering the vineyard's heritage

What to visit?

A winemaker's heritage

·         Towns and villages: The old wine villages blended into their respective environments using local materials, resulting in a great diversity in the buildings (see photos of winegrowers houses below). In addition, several municipalities in the vineyard have the label "Cities and countries of art and history" by virtue of their cultural and historical appeal (Riom, Clermont-Ferrand, Boudes ...). Finally, don't miss the medieval elements on the different puys and hills of the vineyard where you will often find a tower overlooking the Limagne plain (very visible from Montpeyroux and Crest). Old fortifications are still visible from Prompsat, Sauvetat and Montpeyroux. Read more (Heritage of Auvergne, towns, villages and castles)

·         The cellars: Many municipalities have undergrounds resembling Swiss cheese. In the 18th century, numerous cellars for storing wine were created underneath local towns. Today, the most visible and impressive remnants of these cellars can be seen in the towns of Aubière and Sauvetat. The cellars of Pont du Château and the Castle Chaldieu are also well-known.

·         Saint Verny: While discovering the many wine villages, you will certainly come across Saint Verny, the patron saint of winemakers.  In Auvergne, his cult dates back to the 17th century. Several murals and numerous statues found in churches attest to this local tradition.