Saint-Emilion was the first vineyard landscape in the world to be inscribed on the World Heritage list
Wine has been made here ever since the Romans established the province of Aquitania in the first century. Traces of ancient villas are found scattered around in this landscape. Château Ausone, one of many top wineries in Saint-Emilion, is believed to have been built on the foundations of a villa that belonged to the 4th century Roman statesman and poet Ausonius.
In the eight century a monk by the name of Emilion (Emilian) arrived in the village from Brittany (Bretagne) in northern France. He settled down, and here he lived a hermit-like life in a cave house in the limestone cliff right in the middle of the village. Being deeply religious he was also something of a miracle worker, or so the legend says. From the late 11th to the early 12 century, the start of prosperous time for the village of Saint-Emilion, a huge “cave church” was dug out and created inside the same limestone cliff, just across the square from Emilion’s little underground dwelling. This is the largest monolithic church in Europe and one of the main tourist attractions in Saint-Emilion.
The bell tower – the village’s landmark – was built over the cave between the 11th and 16th century. The monks in the village produced wine as part of the service to a steady stream of pilgrims arriving here, one of many stops on the route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain further south.
In 1884, local producers established the first wine-growers association in France called the Syndicat Viticole, the present day Conseil des Vins de Saint-Emilion. Wines from Saint-Emilion were now being recognized as exceptional and the distribution of the wines internationally was made easier with the opening of the new railway line from Bordeaux to Paris in 1853.
The wines and vintages from this district are basically classified either as a Saint-Emilion or a Saint-Emilion Grand Cru. The main grape varieties used to produce a typical Saint-Emilion wine are Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Expertly blended they make a robust wine that age well. They can be stored for 5-25 years depending on typical factors such as soil quality, weather and harvest in a given year etc.
World Heritage Vineyard Landscape
As the first vineyard landscape in the world, the Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1999 for being: “…an outstanding example of an historic vineyard landscape that has survived intact and in activity to the present day; and, where the intensive cultivation of grapes for wine production in a precisely defined region and the resulting landscape is illustrated in an exceptional way by the historic Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion”. (UNESCO)
All photos by Asgeir Pedersen, IN Editions
This is a revised version of the article, first published 4 April 2015.