This magnificent and tantalizing wine cellar can be found underneath the grand Château de Valençay, in Valençay, Indre Department in north-central France. The chateau was the traditional home of the D’Étampes-Valençay family, who began building the castle in 1540 and kept constructing it on and off for the next two centuries. Where the chateau really got its history, though, was during the reign of Napoleon. He thought his foreign minister, Talleyrand, should have a grand estate worthy of a French Empire diplomat, so he told Talleyrand to buy it. This wine cellar was probably used long before Talleyrand took up residence there in the first decade of the 19th century, but this may be restored to what it looked like in Napoleonic times. Then again it’s difficult to tell: European wine bottle styles and shapes changed very little between the Middle Ages and the era of mass production in the 20th century. There’s no telling how old some of the dusty bottles in the niches are–perhaps some even date back to Talleyrand’s era!
For as long as humans have been making wine, they’ve been storing it underground. Wine cellars are among the most common and unchanging interiors in viticultural regions, especially among those with the disposable income to be able to afford a lot of wine that needs stashing underground. Many wine cellars are entirely or partially built out of caves. I don’t think this one is, but it’s obviously one of the most important rooms in a lavish French chateau of the period. Servants probably saw this room far more often than the nobles who lived upstairs, but one can easily imagine them popping down here to sample some of the wine or to purloin a bottle that might otherwise be served to some snooty dignitary. Such was the life of European upper crust at the time.