The Entre Deux Mers

The Entre Deux Mers takes its name from the Latin “inter duo maria” (“between two tidal rivers”) and is a triangle of land sandwiched between the tidal waters of the Rivers Dordogne and Garonne.

The Dordogne rises on the flanks of Puy de Sancy in the mountains of Auvergne and flows west through the Limousin and Périgord regions before flowing into the Gironde, its common estuary with the Garonne, at the “Ambès beak”, in the north of the city of Bordeaux.

The Garonne rises in the Spanish central Pyrenees, its waters coming from two glaciers situated at elevations of more than 10,000 feet. It flows north through mountain passes and descends to flow east across France through Toulouse and then to Bordeaux.

Both these rivers have tidal bores, famous waves known as the Mascaret, caused by the rising tide.

For millennia these two rivers have deposited sands and gravels in the Entre Deux Mers which have built up on a sub rock of limestone. The soils are very varied because of this and the whole region is made up of gently rolling uplands cut by numerous rivers and streams.

The landscape is fertile and green and is full of historical forts and 14th century Medieval châteaux, mills, churches and monasteries.

The Entre Deux Mers AOC covers dry white wines and the predominant grape variety is Sauvignon Blanc but Semillon and Muscadelle are sometimes used to add structure and depth.

The Sauvignon Blanc gives a sharp keen wine with strong aromas. It brings to the nose very fresh citrus fruit smells, like grapefruit but is underlined by those other wild plants such as acacia flower, gorse and boxwood.

The Semillon offers notes of spring flowers, pears, peaches and a smooth roundness in the mouth.

The Muscadelle, floral and fruity too, contributes to the aromatic complexity of the Entre Deux Mers wines with perfumes of acacia blossom, flowers, raisins and its honeyed sweet flavour.

Wine production in the Entre Deux Mers dates back to Gallo Roman times but it was the Benedictine Monks in the Middle Ages who helped to create the reputation of this region and its wines.

The requirement of wine for the Mass led to the development of the vineyards of the Entre Deux Mers. In 1079, Saint Gerard de Corbie (c. 1025 – 1095) founded the Abbey of La Sauve Majeure when Duke William VIII of Aquitaine gave him a huge tract of forest.

The Abbey took its name from the Latin granda silva meaning “large forest”. The Benedictine monks cleared the forest and planted vines and the Abbey developed into a powerful community, accommodating around 300 monks.

With the support of the Duke, the Pope and a large number of generous benefactors and protectors, including the Kings of England, its patrons, and France, the Abbey prospered and grew rapidly.

It is sited on the route to Santiago de Compostela and served as a local point of departure for pilgrims.

This pilgrimage was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times and is also known as the “Way of Saint James”.

The remains of the apostle Saint James are buried at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in north western Spain.

The route to Santiago de Compostela was a Roman trade route, nicknamed the Milky Way by travellers, as according to a common medieval legend, the Milky Way was formed from the dust raised by travelling pilgrims.

It was the road under the stars and the pale arm of the Milky Way stretched out and pointed the way to the edge of the known world: to Cape Finisterre. Compostela itself means “field of stars”.

A century after its foundation the Abbey had 76 Priories under its control, including at Burwell in England. Eleanor of Aquitaine stayed there often. In wealth and power it rivalled the urban centre of Bordeaux.

The wine making tradition that the Order of Saint Benedict left in the Entre Deux Mers was only a fragment of their legacy.

Benedictine monasteries went on to make considerable contributions not only to the monastic and the spiritual life of the West, but also to economics, education, and government, so that the years from 550 to 1150 may be called the “Benedictine Centuries”.

In April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI discussed the influence St Benedict had on Western Europe and said that “with his life and work St Benedict exercised a fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture” and helped Europe to emerge from the “dark night of history” that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.

The ruins of Abbey of La Sauve Majeure are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and the Maison des Vins des Entre Deux Mers lies at its entrance.

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