France's historic Loire Valley, one of the country's top wine-growing regions, was awarded the status of World Heritage site on Thursday by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The Paris-based organization cited the Loire as "an outstanding cultural landscape of great beauty, illustrating to an exceptional degree the ideals of the Renaissance." UNESCO's World Heritage list includes 691 sites of "outstanding universal value" in 122 countries.
"This is a tribute to the Loire as the cornerstone of French history," said Jacques Couly, vice-president of Inter-Loire, a local winegrowers association. "It is also an opportunity to make our wines better known around the world."
He said that Loire vintners should now take advantage of the honor bestowed upon their region and "live up to our image and our heritage."
Known as the "garden of France" because of the richness of its soil, the Loire Valley produces top Sauvignon Blancs, such as Sancerre and Pouilly-FumH, as well as wines from Vouvray, Montlouis, Chinon, Bourgueil, St.-Nicolas and Saumur. In an average year, the region's more than 180,000 acres of vines produce about 400 million liters of wine.
Last year, UNESCO did not include the Loire on its World Heritage list because of two nuclear stations in the area. The nuclear sites were removed from the designated World Heritage area, clearing the way for the 160-mile area between the towns of Sully and Chalonnes to be added to the list.
The Loire is France's second winegrowing region to be awarded World Heritage status, following the Bordeaux city of St.-Emilion. In 1981, the chteau of Chambord, the medieval castle in the Loire Valley, was added to the list.