Fronsadais is the name given to the area at the confluence of the Isle and the Dordogne in the Bordeaux region of France, 25 miles (40 kilometres) northeast of the city of Bordeaux, on the right bank of the Bordeaux region, just to the west of and separated from Libourne by the Valley of the Isle river, which forms the region’s western boundary. In a purely wine sense and since 1976 the Fronsadais comprises the red wine-only Canon-Fronsac AOC and Fronsac AOC regions, encompassing the communes of Fronsac, Galgon, La Rivière, Saillans, Saint-Aignan, Saint-Germain-la-Rivière, and Saint-Michel de Fronsac. The region runs from the commune of Fronsac, on the banks of the Dordogne, into a range of pretty, wooded limestone hills with plenty of handsome country villas, often with vineyards to match. Until 1976 other communes in the Fronsadais as a whole–namely Cadillac (en Fronsadais), Villegouge, Vérac, Lugon, Asques, Saint-Romain-La-Virvée, Lalande de Fronsac, Galgon, and Tarnès et Mouillac–could add their name to the Côtes de Fronsac name, the latter subsequently shortened to Fronsac AOC or Canon Fronsac AOC.
Terroir: The majority of the Fronsac and Canon-Fronsac vineyards are on hill slopes, a ‘district of hilly, partly wooded country, a giant bluff overlooking the Dordogne says David Peppercorn MW (1991, p.551). The upper third with lighter clay-limestone soils comprises the Canon-Fronsac AOC, and is less prone to frost (eg. in 1956). The lower, more clay-rich two-thirds of the Fronsac region is given the Fronsac AOC.
Soils: The soils of Fronsac and Canon Fronsac are mainly limestone and clay-limestone on the plateaus and on the hillside, and mainly clay-siliceous at the foot of the slopes. Starfish limestone predominates on the ‘tertre’ and the plateaus. Molasse du Fronsadais marks the coasts and valleys. This typicality of the terroirs is accentuated by the relief. The soil structure is mainly clay and limestone on a bedrock of limestone-clay-sandstone known as molasse de Fronsadais. It is the quality of these soils, supplied with water on a regular basis and without stress, which gives Fronsac AOC and Canon Fronsac AOC wines their richness and complexity. Professor Henri Enjalbert described this terroir, as ‘the historic cradle of the Libournais region, the region’s sacred hill.’
History: At the tip of the appellation, the Tertre de Fronsac offers an exceptional view of the two rivers (Isle and Dordogne). A strategic position used by the Gauls who held an important market there. The Romans built an altar there, then, around the year 770, Charlemagne built a fortress, camping in Fronsac at the time of the construction of this “castrum”. What is now Fronsac was then called “Fronciacus” is the words of Charlemagne’s chronicler Eginhard. From the 8th century, the region, placed on one of the major axes of pilgrimage to Saint-Jacques de Compostelle, saw the flourishing of an intense religious life, giving birth in particular to the city of Saint-Emilion and to hospitals which cultivate vines, as there are still traces of it today in Fronsac (Lariveau). Later, during the three centuries of English occupation, Fronsac wines were widely exported to England. Until the reign of Louis XIII (1610 to 1643), an enormous castle crowned the mound of Fronsac, occupying the entire summit. In 1663, the Duke of Richelieu decided to acquire the lands of the Duchy of Fronsac for his family. And it will be on the ruins of the old fortress that his grand-nephew, Marshal Arnaud du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu, had a “madness” built, the scene of gallant festivals whose echo spread to the court of Louis XIV. From then on, the notoriety of Fronsac wines continued to expand. In the 18th century, the qualitative revolution of Libournais wines took its roots here and the rise of world maritime trade would largely contribute to establishing the Fronsac vineyard among the noblest of the Bordeaux vineyards.
Wine style: It was in Canon-Fronsac, the heart of the Fronsac district, from which the first wines of note were made in the 18th-century, from around 1730 (David Peppercorn MW: 1991, p.551), when the concept of “cru” or site-specific wine appears for the first time in the Libournais. The (red) wines were historically used as ‘vins de médecin’ (medicine wines) due to their generous level of both colour and alcohol, and they were more highly regarded than those of nearby Pomerol (the tables have since dramatically turned). Gilles Pauquet is quoted by Bernard Ginestet (1994, p.9-10) as saying that most of the best sites in the Fronsadais comprise clay-limestone, giving wines which, being somewhat austere when young need bottle age and benefit from the addition of Merlot, for its soft, melting tannins. In a similar vein Michel Rolland is quoted by Bernard Ginestet (1994, p.9-10) as saying that Merlot is the variety best adapted to the Fronsadais terroir, whose soils are mainly clayey, rather cool, with high levels of humidity and a tendency for rusticity. Merlot’s tender, supple nature counter-balances this, says Rolland, especially with barrel ageing which suits Fronsadais reds which are pre-disposed to ageing.