The Loire Valley is France's second largest agricultural region. Food production and processing represent the largest sector of the area's economy, with meat, dairy and fish among the primary products -- alongside wine. The valley's farms are notable for their emphasis on gourmet production and environmentally sustainable methods. Loire Valley is France's leader in organic agriculture, with more than 143,000 acres (60,000 hectares) organically cultivated [source: Pays de la Loire].
The success of the Loire Valley wine industry owes much to the idea of terroir. This word refers to the combination of factors lending character to the wines grown in a specific location -- qualities like the mineral composition of the soil, climate conditions, altitude and the angle of the sun, plus the varietals grown and harvesting techniques used. Researchers at the National Institute of Agronomical Research, near Angers, have proven that the same species of vines, planted in neighboring fields, produce markedly different wines year after year, solely because of subtle differences in terroir [source: Kunzig]. This boosts the validity of all those AOCs.
A glance at any of the region's AOCs reveals terroir at work. In the Nantes area, for example, the coastal breezes bring warmth to the sandy soils, which is especially beneficial to the Muscadet grape [source: Daskal]. In Centre Loire, lie the two adjacent regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire. The soils of Sancerre contain limestone, lending a chalky quality to Sancerre white wines, made from Sauvignon Blanc. The flinty soils of Pouilly, on the other hand, give the Sauvignon Blanc vines a smoked (fumé) flavor, which is why that region's white is called Pouilly-Fumé [source: Comiskey]. Strong mineral notes, reflecting the geological footprint of their origin, are a hallmark of Loire Valley wines. And speaking of those wines, there are many to choose from. Read on for a summary of the most famous Loire Valley labels.