Visions and Heresy: Joan of Arc’s Wine Trail

Joan of Arc lived a short, eventful, and ultimately tragic life in the 15th century AD. She was famous for her piety, her seemingly brilliant military strategy, and the witty repartee she exhibited at her heresy trial. She is also famous for her death, which came at the tender age of 19, when she was burned at the stake. She was declared a martyr, beatified, cannonized, and is a patron saint of France. We’ll follow her history as we always do… circuitously, and with wine.

1. Joan and Saint Michael

First, a short intro

History, as they say, does not exist in a vacuum. France of the 15th century — into which Joan was born — was run ragged by war, intrigue, and death. Toward the middle of the 14th century, France and England began the so-called 100 Years War; in essence, the kings of France and England fought over sovereignty and succession of France. The English Kings were from the House of Plantagenet, which originated in the French lands of Anjou. They lost most of their “French” lands — excluding Gascogne — in the Norman conquest of William the Conqueror. The French Kings — of the House of Valois — ruled over a decentralized and fragmented Kingdom of France, and were hampered in their quest for monarchic succession by numerous female-only progeny lines, to whom they did not grant rights of succession. And, as if war was not enough, the Bubonic Plaque erupted, which killed about a third of the human population in Europe.

Following decades of death, uncertainty, and political machinations, the House of Valois ruled over little land, few people, and had England knocking on (and breaking down) most of its doors. To add insult to injury, some 75 years into this war the House of Valois produced Charles VI, who went insane. His wife, Queen Isabeau, made matters worse by agreeing to the Treaty of Troyes, which effectively granted monarchic succession over French lands to the Plantagenet Kings. This plan was thrown into chaos when both Kings died, leaving only the now-illegitimate child Charles VII and the infant Henry VI. Thus, the battles were renewed between the young Kings’ regents and proxies. This was problematic for Charles VII, as his rival regents included the Armagnac supporters of Valois succession (e.g. the Duke of Orléans), as well as Burgundian allies to the Plantagenet.

As their fighting continued into the 3rd decade of the 15th century, Dauphin Charles — no longer a child but not yet crowned King in the traditional city of Rheims — retreated to his castle in Chinon, and the relative safety of the Loire Valley. But, the English were laying siege to the important Loire-town of Orléans; its fall would grant the English access to the remaining French lands.

Jehanne of Domrémy

Joan (the anglicized form of “Jeanne”, itself the modernized form of “Jehanne”) was born ca. 1412 in northeastern France in the town of Domrémy (which sounds suspiciously like the 1st 3 notes of the major musical scale…), in the modern region of Lorraine. Domrémy was part of the Duchy of Bar, which was on France’s border with the Holy Roman Empire and otherwise surrounded by Burgundian lands and sympathies. Nonetheless, Bar remained staunchly in support of the Valois Kings.

While Dauphin Charles was holed up in Chinon, Joan began having “visions” that led her to believe that she could save France and get Charles to his coronation in Rheims — thus making him the legitimate King. After some initial balks, Joan succeeded in gaining an escort from the local military command that would take her to Chinon and an audience with the Dauphin. Joan donned men’s garb (uh oh, foreshadowing..!) and made the journey southwest through “enemy” territory of the Burgundians.

2. From the Duchy of Bar to Chinon

During Joan’s life, Domrémy belonged to the Duchy of Bar, while the Duchy of Lorraine lay directly to the east in the Germanic Holy Roman Empire. This portion of France (specifically, modern Alsace and Lorraine) has often been divided between competing claims, kingdoms, and countries — particularly between France and Germany, the roots of which were established by the division of the Carolingian Empire in 843 AD via the Treaty of Verdun. That treaty divided the Empire into 3 parts: a western portion that would become France, an eastern portion that would become Germany, and a middle portion that separated the other two — whose lands contained Alsace and Lorraine. Today, Alsace and Lorraine together form France’s border with Germany, and German is still spoken among some of the inhabitants (or Alsatian, which has Germanic roots).

Old habits die hard, and the German connection remains quite prominent in Alsatian wines — in the names of producers and towns, the grapes used (notably Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Sylvaner), and the bottle shapes; the tall, narrow, largely-German, Rhein bottle predominates. But, Alsace certainly retains its French characteristics in its wine, with Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Auxerrois among the common grapes, and a style of production that is much rounder than the austere German style. They also label wines by varietal (e.g. Riesling), as opposed to the more common French practice of labeling wine by appellation (e.g. Cotes du Rhone).

Les Saveurs in a “Rhein” bottle

Domaine Audrey et Christian Binner, located in Ammerschwihr in Alsace, certainly has the German-sounding names, and also the characteristic mix of French and German wine features. Les Saveurs is a blend of organically-grown Riesling, Sylvaner, Gewurztraminer, Auxerrois, and Pinot Gris. It is lovingly crafted, aged sur lie, and bottled in eine Flasche Rhein. Fragrant and feminine, with orange blossoms, roses, pepper, and light citrus, pepper, all held in an elegant structure.

Joan in Orléans

After leaving the Duchy of Bar, Joan wasn’t in friendly territory until she crossed the Loire River, probably at the bridge at Gien, upstream of Orléans and still controlled by the French. From there she trekked to Chinon and the Forteresse Royale. Following some tomfoolery (Dauphin Charles apparently switched costumes with a member of the court), Charles met Joan who persuaded him to avail her of an army to save the sieged city of Orléans, the Kingdom, and Valois succession.

Armagnac Orléans was the English lynchpin to complete control over France and, in 1428, the city was completely surrounded by English and Burgundian troops and holds. Fortunately for the French, a door opened in the east after a perceived English slight to the Burgundians; it was from the East that Joan of Arc first arrived in Orléans with a supplies convoy and a regiment of soldiers.

Joan had the ears of the militias — if not exactly those of the military officials; her ability to inspire had much to do with rumors that an armored young woman from Lorraine would lead the French to victory. Her plans and actions led to a series of unexpected, unorthodox, and successful sorties against the English, and the siege was broken within nine days of Joan’s arrival.

Victory at Orléans was parlayed into success across the Loire and to Paris. Two and a half months following Joan’s arrival in Orléans, Dauphin Charles was coronated King Charles VII in Rheims.

3. Loire Valley Wine Map

Joan’s Loire journey took her across several wine appellations: through Touraine ending, of course, in Chinon. In Touraine, she started from Chinon, joined the supply party at Blois, and reconvened with Dauphin Charles at Tours after breaking the siege. She was in the Orléanais whilst in Orléans, and passed through the Coteaux du Giennois while making use of the bridge at Gien. Contiguous to the Giennois to its south is Pouilly-Fumé, which — like its neighbor Sancerre — is renowned for white wines made from Sauvignon Blanc. It is the characteristic “gun flint” flavor for which the Pouilly-Fumé wines are known, as well as the “smoke” (grey bloom) that appears on the mature grapes that gives the region the Fumé part of its name — not any connection to Joan or her demise.

Domaine Chauveau grows grapes on the Right Bank of the Loire at St Andelain. Their 100% Sauvignon Blanc Croqueloups 2015 has a supple body with white fruits and citrus notes of nectarine and kaffir lime. Yes, it does have hints of gun flint! The wine is complex, the finish is long.

Joan at the Stake

Joan’s plan to save the kingdom and legitimize Dauphin Charles was going swimmingly, until the Spring of 1430 that is. It was in May of that year that she was captured in battle by the Burgundians, who later sold her to the English. Thus we have no Burgundian wines in this tasting. Harumpf.

4. Captured!

The English, of course, detested Joan and put her on trial for heresy. She acquitted herself well in the Kangaroo court, interacting with such wit and poise as to have the proceedings closed to the public. That she would receive a death sentence was a given, but the all-English/Burgundian proceedings needed to at least seem to follow standard conventions. Since death-sentences were severe punishments, they could only be granted following second offenses. Joan had only been accused of heresy once, and thus could not be put to death for that offense. However, she repeated her donning of men’s clothing whilst in prison, and thus gained the required second offense. She was executed in Rouen on May 30, 1431.

Joan was neither the first nor the last “heretic” to be burned at the stake, nor were such events limited to France. Certainly the English were prolific in this regard, and public burnings also occurred in Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy. In the city of Florence, Cecco d’Ascoli (aka Francesco degli Stabili) was a polar opposite to Joan. He was a learned, university professor. His religious writings were philosophical and unorthodox. He was burned for a repeat offense of heresy at the age of 70.

Florence is in Italy’s Tuscany region, which is fortunately better known for its wine than capital punishment for heretics. The region between Florence and Sienna, to its south, is the home of the premium Chianti Classico. Castellina in Chianti, at the southern end of this zone, houses the Gagliole estate. Their “Rubiolo” Chianti Classico DOCG, Italy 2013 is a blend of organically-grown hand-picked Sangiovese and Merlot that has been “matured” in oak. It is also delicious. Sangiovese’s cherry notes are fresh and rich, and the Merlot adds its plummy charm and silky mouth-feel. Pepper and cedar add a nice contrast.


The French were appalled by Joan’s trial and death, and she was declared an innocent martyr in a “nullification” trial in 1456. She remained a popular figure in France, particularly in Orléans, where she received annual honors while not yet a saint. She was officially beatified in 1909, in essence, for her acts of heroic virtue. As a martyr, it was not necessary for Joan to be involved in any miracles, and she was canonized (made a Saint) in 1920.

5. Canonization before the Baldicchino

Canonization is done by the Pope, in this case Pope Benedict XV. Such ceremony is held at the Vatican in St. Peter’s Basilica, in the presence of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s spectacular Baldacchino. Bernini’s work can be found all over Rome, but certainly most monumentally in the Vatican where, in addition to the Baldacchino, is his saint-topped colonnaded oval of Piazza San Pietro. Another of Bernini’s works is the Fountain of the Triton in Piazza Barberini. This shouldn’t be confused with the Fountain of the Tritons near the Forum Boarium (the site of the first gladiatorial contest!). In Roman times, the Forum Boarium also had a temple to the goddess of the morning, Mater Matuta. Her most famous temple, however, was at Satricum, ca 50 kilometers south of Rome.

Just outside of Satricum is Casale del Giglio, a wine estate with origins dating to 1914, just a few years before Joan’s canonization. Casale del Giglio produces a wines named Satrico and Mater Matuta, but it is the Lazio-indigenous Bellone grape that caught my taste buds. The Bellone Lazio IGT 2014 is redolent of the estate’s setting by the sea: saline and mineral notes balance beautifully with the ripe, tropical fruits and green leaves of the wine.

Joan in America!

Joan enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the 19th century that eventually led to her beatification and her canonization. During that resurgence, the nation of France commissioned a statue of Joan of Arc from Emmanuel Frémiet. The statue was commissioned following the Franco-Prussian war, but not as a triumphal monument. Rather, it commemorated France’s loss, probably referencing Joan’s patronage of military personnel and solders. It was completed in 1874.

6. Joan of Arc in Portland

The city of Philadelphia has long had strong connections to France, not least as a result of our premier statesman, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin functioned as US Ambassador to France in the late-18th century, befriending such luminaries as Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI — both of whom were executed (like Joan) but via guillotine during the French Revolution. The Revolution began in 1789, and French in Philadelphia (the French Centennial Committee with the help of the Fairmount Art Commission) purchased a slightly larger “improvement” of the original from Frémiet.

The city of New Orleans also has a Frémiet statute, that one gifted from the French to the city named after Orléans. But Joan’s statue is also found in a locale with seemingly no strong link to France: Portland, Oregon. Henry Waldo Coe was a physician, politician, and businessman, as well as a friend to Theordore Roosevelt. He arrived in Portland in 1890 and, after having seen the original Joan of Arc statue in Paris, purchased a copy for Portland in 1924.

In addition to being Oregon’s home for Joan of Arc, Portland is found in the Willamette Valley, which is America’s home for Pinot Noir. Left Coast Cellars in Rickreall (ca 55 miles southwest of Portland) grows its Pinot Noir sustainably. “Cali’s Cuvee” Pinot Noir 2013 is 100% Pinot Noir and features typically-Willamette ripe cranberry and cherry, with ample “forest floor” soil and pine needles, and clove to boot. Not too acidic, not too light.

Jill Weber is the Wining Archaeologist and the owner of Jet Wine Bar in Philadelphia. Read more of her wine and history adventures here.


1. Joan and Saint Michael: Eugene Thirion [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

2. From the Duchy of Bar to Chinon: By User:Aliesin [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0, or CC BY-SA 2.5–2.0–1.0], via Wikimedia Common

3. Loire Valley Wine Map: Schiller Wine

4. Captured!: By Giraudon (Panthéon) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

5. Canonization before the Baldicchino: Maison de la Bonne Presse 1922 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

6. Joan of Arc in Portland: By Steve Morgan (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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