The Loire Valley has played a major role in French history since ancient times, and wine has always been an important part of the culture and life of the region. Viticulture in the valley dates back to its invasion by the ancient Romans, although vines and vineyards may already have existed there before then. Local lore has it that the first Loire Valley vintner was Saint Martin, bishop of Tours, around the year A.D. 380 [source: Places In France]. After the Roman Empire fell, monastic orders such as the Benedictines preserved the vineyards and winemaking practices. In medieval times, the Loire River was an important means of transport; vineyards sprung up along the riverbanks for ease of trade. Eventually, Loire Valley wines were shipped out from Nantes for export to the British Isles, Flanders and elsewhere in northern Europe [source: Vins de Loire].
The first English King of the House of Plantagenet, Henry II, was born in the Loire Valley in 1133. His marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine gave him control of substantial French countrysides and vineyards. After he claimed the English throne, he ordered that Anjou wines be served at court. Soon, everyone wanted to be like Henry II, and the royal tradition of drinking Loire Valley wine began [source: Vins de Loire].
During the Renaissance period, especially during the 15th and 16th centuries, the Loire Valley reached its peak as the playground of royalty and nobility. At this time, the magnificent castles (or châteaux) were constructed, and vineyards blossomed and prospered throughout the valley. The French Revolution led to the destruction of vineyards south of Nantes, in response to a peasant uprising in Vendée in 1793 [source: Vins de Loire]. A century later, the great phylloxera (grapevine insect) infestation decimated wine production for an entire generation. As the French recovered from the phylloxera, wine makers and drinkers alike wanted reassurance of quality. And so the AOC label was born.
Read on to learn about the rich agriculture of Loire Valley's wine region.