Five Fast Facts about Saint-Pourçain

Saint-Pourçain—one of the five AOCs often described as the appellations of Central France—is an obscure appellation located in the Allier Department. Even though its wines are not typically found outside of Western Europe—the area is planted to a mere 1,480 acres/600 ha of vines—the region holds a fascination all its own. Read on for some interesting tidbits about the little-known Saint- Pourçain AOC.

#1—Saint-Pourçain is considered one of the oldest vineyards in France. Like many regions in France, the wines of Saint-Pourçain are well-documented from the start of the Middle Ages and are known to have received some notoriety in pre-revolutionary France. However, viticulture in Saint-Pourçain and throughout the (present-day) Allier Department can be traced back to the time of the Romans. Some people even believe that viticulture in the area dates as far back as the Phoenicians (pre-BCE), who founded the colony of Cantilia in the present-day commune of Chantelle.

Statue of Saint Pourcain in the Église de Monestier via Wikimedia Commons

#2—There was an actual Saint. Saint Pourçain—also known as Portianus—lived in the area sometime in the sixth century. A former slave—freed from a brutal master during the Roman occupation of Gaul—he lived as a hermit and founded a monastery on the banks of the Sioule River. He is credited with performing many miracles that benefited the inhabitants of the area—including restoring the sight of his blind owner, which led to his freedom. Another miracle involved giant serpents emerging from an amphora of wine and the subsequent release of a group of prisoners. It is said that Portianus/Pourçain was so beloved that at the time of his death (circa 532) the people of the area changed the name of their town from Mirendense to Saint Pourçain.

#3—The appellation is named after the town of Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule. Located near the geographic center of France, Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule lies just to the west of the Allier River. The Sioule River (a left tributary of the Allier) flows—from its source in the Massif Central—north/northeasterly directly through the town; it joins the Allier about 10 km/6 miles beyond its northern edge.

#4—Saint-Pourçain is sometimes considered a “lost vineyard of Burgundy.” In many reference books, the appellations of Central France—including the Saint- Pourçain AOC—are grouped with the other appellations of the Loire (Sancerre and the other appellations of the Eastern Loire are located about 75 miles/120 km to the north). However, it can be argued that the only true connection between the appellations of Central France and those of the Loire Valley is the river itself. On the other hand, in terms of landscape, architecture, terroir, and even the wines themselves, Saint- Pourçain has more in common with Burgundy. The topography—in terms of rolling hills punctuated by valleys and plateaus as well as south/south-east facing slopes—is similar, as is the latitude. Saint-Pourçain sits at 46°N, the same parallel as the southern Burgundy town of Mâcon, located about 73 miles/117 miles to the east.

Map of the Saint Pourcain AOC via the INAO

#5—Like Burgundy, the Saint-Pourçain AOC produces red, white, and rosé. Like most of the wines produced in Burgundy, the wines of Saint-Pourçain are required to be dry and tranquille (still/non-sparkling).  The grape varieties—based around Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Gamay—are Burgundy-esque as well. For the record, the encépagement (plantings) allowed for use in the wines of the Saint-Pourçain AOC are as follows:

  • Rouge/Red: 25% to 60% Pinot Noir; 40% to 75% Gamay
  • Blanc/White: 50% to 80% Chardonnay; 20% to 40% Tressalier (known in Burgundy as Sacy); up to 10% Sauvignon Blanc
  • Rosé: 100% Gamay

 There are currently about 20 wineries in the Saint-Pourçain AOC; noted producers include Domaine des Berioles and Domaine Nebout. The local co-op, Cave de Saint-Pourçain, is the majority producer.

References/for more information:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

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