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I do have to admit to my ignorance of the fine art of wine-making!

My knowledge has previously begun and ended with a nice glass(or two) shared with family and friends.

Yes, I understand, that you began with grapes which were crushed, then to the juice you added yeast. Or was it sugar! Then, somehow, the wine was magically created over time.

I never before quite understood the total passion and devotion that so many seem to dedicate to this humble beverage.J.B. Clair - A family business!

However, I recently visited one of our local, long-established, wine producers in the Côte Roannaise, and was suitably enthralled with not only the production processes involved, but also with the family history, dating back to 1536.Maison J.B.Clair, Renaison, Roannais

Maison J.B. Clair was established in 1896 in its current form. Before this date, however, a certain Anthoine ‘Clerc’ (whose surname later evolved into the family name of ‘Clair’), travelled to the Roannais region, along with many others, for the construction of ‘The Barrage’ (large water dam), high in the Monts de la Madeleine, above the village of Renaison.

His descendants thrived, and liked the region so much that they decided to stay, and bought a vineyard at La Croix Saint-Paul, Renaison, where, in 1896, Jean-Baptiste Clair began to develop his effervescent wine, (which in those days he was able to call it ‘Champagne’).

This same wine is still in production, and it necessitated the construction of 4 large vaulted caves that are in full use today.J.B.Clair - vaulted wine caves

If, like us, you visit the J.B. Clair caves you will probably be guided through the detailed, and stringent production process by Claudine Clair’s husband, Guido D’Antonio.  Of Italian descent, Guido speaks excellent English, as well as French, and, of course, Italian.Guido d'Antonio finishing his wine tour!

He explains, beautifully, how important the transportation of the grapes from the vineyard’s growing fields is, and how the use of small caskets ensures that the grapes are not crushed or damaged unduly before the actual pressing takes place.

The care and attention which each bottle receives during its fermentation processes is amazing – its ‘turning’, ‘angling’, and finally the stoppering before being labeled and packaged for sale.

The vaulted ceilings create a ‘classic’ wine cellar atmosphere. Many of the wines are cleverly, stacked in a traditionally way (a disappearing art , in fact!), and all turned by hand.Bottle stacks

The wines are kept at a consistent temperature which is extremely important to the distinct quality of the J.B.Clair’s wines.

This also limits production, and in doing so ensures that this small producer of exceptional wines remains a reputable family business with the emphasis on quality, and not quantity!Wine display!

Maison J.B.Clair, 42370 Renaison,

Tel: 0033 (0) 477 64 40 01

e-mail:  or

The Cote Roannaise is a great place to visit, and not only just for the discovery of its excellent wines, and small, well-run vineyards. Visit for much more information on, and opportunities in, the Roannais region, Rhône-Alpes.