Châteaumeillant is an appellation with thousands of years of grape growing history that specializes in rosé wine known as vin gris, as well as red wines made from Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes.
In the center of France, Châteaumeillant, lies in the Indre and Cher departments, and spans across seven villages: Châteaumeillant, St-Maur, Vesdun, Champillet, Feusines, Néret and Urciers. The appellation’s 82 hectares (202 acres) is predominantly comprised of sandy or clayey-sandy siliceous soils.
Vineyards in Châteaumeillant are traced to the 5th century. As the Melyan of the Biturigians, Châteaumeillant was home to the Biturican vines. The area was also an important road junction between Rome and Gaul, where wine was stored in amphorae. The first confirmed existence of wine in Châteaumeillant came from Gregory of Tours in Historiae Francorum in 582.
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Between 1220 and 1275, a series of charters were issued relating to the means of production. Labor in the vineyards was under feudal rule and known as corvée, which was forced labor by the lord in lieu of taxes. Among the governing principles established under these charters was the principle of ban des vendages, or rules regulating the official start of harvesting, which still exists today.
In 1773, new vine stocks were brought from Lyon, and by 1830, Gamay, which is native of Beaujolais, was the most widely planted variety on the area. Châteaumeillant is renowned for its vin gris (grey wine), which is produced by pressing Gamay grapes immediately after harvesting. Châteaumeillant wines were awarded V.D.Q.S. (Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure) status in 1965, and finally A.O.C. status in 2010.
The Vendanges (grape harvest) in Centre-Loire begin between the last week of September and the first week of October, ending the last two weeks of October with Châteaumeillant, which normally completes the harvest season. Some grapes are still harvested by hand, particularly red grapes, though most are picked with mechanical grape harvesters. The grapes are sent to the modern wine storehouses for processing. In the Centre-Loire, two winemaking methods are employed.
After the stems from the ripe grapes are partially or completely removed, the fruit passes through a crusher, then placed into maceration and fermentation tanks. The maceration allows contact with the grape juice and skins, which contain the coloring pigments. Temperatures of 77 °F to 86 °F must be reached in order to fully extract the color. Should there be a cooler-than-normal autumn, the grapes are heated in order to trigger the fermentation process.
To ensure homogeneity and optimum contact of the grape juice and skins, pumping and treading of the must is performed once or twice per day. When the desired color and body have been obtained, the must is drawn off and pressed. The press and free-run juices are then put into tanks or barrels. Once the alcoholic fermentation is complete, the malolactic fermentation begins, which results in a natural loss of acidity. At this point, a first racking is made. Maturing begins, with additional several rackings occurring during the various phases of clarification. The first wines are bottled in spring, while wines matured in oak barrels wait one year before bottling.
Rosé wines are created using a method is known as rosé de pressée. It consists of pressing of the grapes as soon as they are harvested, just as for white wines. There is a short time of contact between the grape juice and the skin, and as a result, the color is lighter. The methods of maturing, stabilization and clarification are the same as those used for white wines.