La Rochelle

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

La Rochelle, port on the Atlantic coast about 160 km/100 miles north of bordeaux in the département of Charente-Maritime. In the Middle Ages, La Rochelle was a New Town, having been founded in 1130, in an age of economic expansion. The climate at La Rochelle is hot and dry enough for the winning of sea salt, and salt was initially the basis of La Rochelle’s economy. Merchants came from the north to buy salt, but they also wanted wine, and it was in response to that demand that the people of La Rochelle turned to viticulture. Because of its favourable climate, Poitou was a more reliable producer than the Seine basin (see paris), Rheims (see champagne), burgundy, or the rhine. Hence the English and the Flemish turned more readily to the wines of Poitou, all the more so because these wines were less acidic than those of Rheims and Paris. La Rochelle also exported its wines to Normandy, Scotland, Ireland, and even Denmark and Norway. In 1199, Poitou was the wine the royal household bought most of, with the wines of anjou and the Île-de-France coming second and third. But in 1224, when La Rochelle fell to the French, it had to cede its position as leading wine supplier to Bordeaux, although the wines of La Rochelle remained popular with the English in the 14th and 15th centuries.