It is only since the mid-20th century, and the creation of a protected Sancerre appellation, that the town’s name has been so strongly associated with white wines. Prior to this, the district was better known for its light-bodied reds. Today, red Sancerre Rouge – made exclusively from Pinot Noir – accounts for less than 20% of the district’s annual production.
Until phylloxera wiped out vast tracts of vineyard in the 1860s, the vineyards here were planted mostly with red-wine varieties such as Gamay and Pinot Noir. White wines were in the minority, and were made not from Sauvignon but from Chasselas. When the solution to the phylloxera epidemic was identified (grafting European vines onto American rootstocks) Sauvignon Blanc vines proved more responsive than these other varieties. Thus Sauvignon came to be Sancerre’s most widely planted variety – a development without which the district and its wines would probably not be as famous as they are today. Small quantities of Chasselas are still grown in the area, mostly on the opposite side of the Loire, around Pouilly-sur-Loire.