ORIGINS dating back to the GALLO-ROMAN ERA
The Pouilly Vineyard seems to have appeared initially as the Pauliacum super fluvium ligerim as early as the 5th century. It was a Gallo-Roman estate dating back to the early days of the Empire. It is formed from the Latin name Paulium and the Gaul suffix accus (Paulus Domaine). Around the year 680, Bishop Vigile left his Pouilly estate - Pauliaca villa - "with its vines" to Notre-Dame-d'Auxerre abbey. Traces of the Roman Road can still be seen in Pouilly (the old route passing through Genabum (Orléans), Novacium (Neuvy/Loire), Pauliacum (Pouilly/Loire), Noviodunum (Nevers), then turning towards Bibracte and progressing into the site of St-Père-sous-Vézelay).
EXPANSION under MONASTIC SETTLEMENTS
The Pouilly/Loire wine-producing area expanded significantly under the religious settlements, particularly the Benedictines. This was not a coincidence, the explanation is simple: wine growing is only profitable after long years of operating at a loss and any profits are always hazardous. Only the monks, unhampered by personal or family commitments, were able to achieve this profitability at a distance. On one of the sloping vineyards overlooking the Loire, an area of about 4 hectares has retained the appellation Loge aux Moines (Monks' Lodgings). Note also that there once existed here a house welcoming passing pilgrims. They were lodged free of charge and the house, served by members of a religious order, acquired its resources from gifts to the religious foundation. One of these donations served to provide the pilgrims with wine made from a vine located in the Lodges, hence the name Loge aux Moines.
FEUDALISM and WINE-GROWING PRACTICES
The feudal system became firmly established in the 10th century; its practices remained rife for many years in the Nièvre region, unlike other regions not attached to the Crown. The wine grower had a far from enviable life during this period: besides an ever-increasing number of tasks due to the lord of the manor, he also had to abide by the law. Thus, the Lord set the "banns" for the grape harvests, reserving the best period for himself with the wine growers only harvesting only after him and dependent on the availability of the Lord's press as the only person authorised to possess one, as he was the only person able to build an oven or a mill.
The Pouilly vineyards pass into the ownership of the BENEDICTINE MONKS
Many lords living at the end of the 11th century left for the wars in the Holy Land and sold their assets to finance their crusades: thus the fiefdom of Pouilly was sold to the Benedictins de La Charité for the sum of "3,100 sous and a silver mark". Lastly, another monastic influence - the Carthusian monks of Bellary installed in 1209.
From the 13th Century onwards POUILLY wines were APPRECIATED by the KINGS
Pouilly wine was already renowned during the 12th century. A fable entitled La bataille des vins (Battle of the wines) boasted the best crus in France and particularly those of Pouilly, which already enjoyed tremendous popularity. From 1356, the Pouillyssois, along with the rest of the kingdom, suffered from the torments of the Hundred Years War. These decades of war and their epidemics laid waste to the region. The wine-growing tradition nevertheless remained firmly fixed on our slopes and Pouilly became well-known as far afield as Flanders, then a fiefdom of the Counts of Nevers, so that barrels of Pouilly were offered during every royal or princely visit to the Nivernais
Louis XI sent especially for Pouilly wines for his château at Plessis-les-Tours, much to the distress of the local wine growers.
WINE-PRODUCING CUSTOMS were established from the 16th Century onwards.
Information on the laws and customs in the Nevers area in the 16th century have been provided by the writings of Guy Coquille. At this time, wine growers already avoided digging round the vines when the April winds were blowing from the North, leaving them exposed to unfortunate Spring frosts. Adjoining vines had to be hoed twice in Summer.
Vines were cultivated by COMMUNITIES OF WINEGROWERS
More recently, acts drawn up by notaries prior to the Revolution mention several Communities of Winegrowers. On the eve of the Revolution, wine growers did not generally operate in communities. After 1789, the peasants became owners of the national assets and lands possessed by the nobles and the clergy. Various grapes were cultivated - Melon, Blanc Meslier, Chasselas, etc.
WINE-TRADING in Pouilly is boosted by the LOIRE
Wine has been transported on the Loire since the 16th century, despite occasional difficulties with the river freezing and thawing and water levels rising and falling. The opening of the Briare canal in 1642 firmly directed trade towards Paris . The bills of lading testify that Pouilly wine was transported to Montargis, Fontainebleau, Paris and Versailles at the end of the 17th century and throughout the 18th century.
The clientele was more often than not aristocrats, men of the Church and the rich middle-classes, as well as the occasional Pouilly-born merchant living in Paris but who still had interests in the area. Pouilly wines even reached England, having been traded in the markets at Rouen.
The CHASSELAS is sold as a DESSERT GRAPE.
II around 1860-1862, dessert grapes sent to the capital in baskets represented a large market. Production of Fontainebleau dessert grapes and from the espaliered vines of Thomery was not enough to supply the Paris markets and the agents turned towards a nearby vineyard, already a producer of Chasselas, and more importantly, served by the railway (which reached Pouilly in 1861).
Three agents settled in Pouilly and encouraged the wine growers to abandon the vinification process and devote themselves to producing dessert grapes. As the proposed prices were more lucrative, the Chasselas vines expanded very quickly, with the largest owner of the day alone planting over a hundred hectares of Doré de Fontainebleau between 1862 and 1890. The wine-growing communes then experienced widespread prosperity, despite some seasons where bad weather, particularly hail, forced conversion of the grapes into wine as they were totally unpresentable as they were.
PROLIFERATION of MILDEW in 1888
In 1888, mildew invaded the vineyards, with not one single basket of grapes leaving the stations of Mesves, Pouilly or Tracy, whereas previously Pouilly station alone despatched up to three thousand tonnes in a good year. A special train left every day at 4 p.m. from the end of September onwards to transport the precious baskets to the Halles (the French Covent Garden) before midnight.
PHYLLOXERA TAKES OVER FROM MILDEW
THE CHASSELAS GRAPE is ONCE MORE TURNED INTO WINE
With significant quantities of Chasselas grapes once more available at the beginning of the 20th century, Parisian demand for wine had in the meantime concentrated on Southern France. Dessert grape production was soon abandoned in favour of vinification. Contrary to a widely-held belief, the production of Chasselas is not at the origin of the Pouilly vineyards: it was undoubtedly a very significant interlude, but over a relatively short period of time if you consider the history of the vineyard in its entirety.
GRANTING OF THE TWO Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) of PUILLY-SUR LOIRE and POUILLY FUME in 1937
The delimitation of the production area was decided in 1929. The Pouilly crus quickly regained their previous reputation and their quality was confirmed by the granting of two AOC labels in 1937:
The term "fumé" or "smoked" has two implications: one linked to the grape, the other to the land...