Wine & Provence

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Wine & Provence, a long histroy

With the agreement of its author Isabelle Bono, we have chosen and translated this article published in 2019 to illustrate the history of Provence wine:

" Provence, the roots of rosé wine...

...We still sometimes hear the myth that rosé is a blend of white and red wine. Yet this method is forbidden, except in Champagne for their magnificent rosé sparkling wines. By plunging us into the history of wine, we discover that red wine did not exist in the past! In Provence as elsewhere, only white and rosé wines were produced.

Indeed, in ancient times, the juice was extracted as soon as the crushing was finished and there was no time to be coloured by the skins of the black grapes before being stored in amphoras. For thousands of years, the wine therefore did not go beyond the rosé colour. The history of the vine is linked to that of the Mediterranean basin, where it was already growing more than a million years ago. Trade and invasion then spread the knowledge of "clear" wine all around the Mediterranean. As early as 600 B.C., the Phocaeans brought the culture of it in their holds when they founded Marseille. Later, at the beginning of the Christian era, the extension of the Roman Empire would spread winegrowing in Gaul, Spain and as far north as the northern regions. A wine will remain rosé for a long time. Even the archives of Bordeaux show that 87% of the wine produced in the Middle Ages was "claret", compared to barely 13% of red and anecdotal white. Red wines only developed in the Bordeaux region from the end of the 17th century onwards. The other wine-growing regions will follow to meet the desires of the European aristocracy and supply the workers, believing that the darker the wine, the more nourishing it is and the stronger it will give them!

The only terroir to resist and remain faithful to its original rosé wines will be our beautiful Provence. Exporting them little, the revolution of paid holidays in 1936 will change the destiny of its wines. The great summer migrations of holidaymakers to the Mediterranean coast immediately associated rosé wine with festive summers, relaxation and pleasure. Since then, rosé has earned its letters of nobility by improving a little more each year with the unique know-how of its passionate winegrowers.

History has also built up an exceptional terroir. First crossed by the mountains of the Hercynian massif, of which the Maures massif is one of the vestiges, the sea invaded Provence 300 million years ago. It deposited there these thick limestone layers made of plankton and shells of the time, which are so much to the liking of today's vines. It was then, 100 million years ago, that the African and Eurasian tectonic plates raised mountains, from the Alps to the Pyrenees. The sea then freed Provence from its waters. These limestone mountains and bars create microclimates and sculpt the landscape which the wine growers have tamed in dry stone terraces since Antiquity. Since then, vines have never stopped growing in Provence...and the rosé wine has never stopped flowing."

Côtes de Provence

L'Appellation Côtes de Provence

The wine-growing region of Côtes de Provence, declared a region of “Appellation d’Origine Côntrolée “ on 24th October 1977, is by far the largest area of origin in southeast France. Approximately 20 000 hectares are entitled to an AOC label; the area extends throughout the Var, the Alpes-Maritimes and the Bouches-du-Rhône. The majority of the vineyards are to be found in the Var: on the Mediterranean coast and north of the Massif des Maures. Here, in the heart of the Provence near Vidauban, you will find Domaine des Féraud. Adjacent, in the West, you will find the Appellations of Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, Coteaux Varois en Provence and Palette; at the Mediterranean coast, east of Marseille, the small Appellations of Cassis and Bandol; near Nice, the Appellation of Bellet.

80% of the Côte de Provence production is rosé wine. With approximately 150 million bottles, Provence is by far the largest producer of rosé wines in France, accounting for 40% of French production and 6% of worldwide production. Good 10% of the wine production in the Provence is for red wines and about 5% for white wines.

Of a total of 24 high-quality classified wines (“Crus”) of Provence, 14 of them today are situated in the wine growing area of Côte de Provence (“Crus Côtes-de-Provence”).

Climate and Soil

Wine growing in the Côtes de Provence area directly benefits from the mild climate near the sea. The fierce mistral, which blows 150 days a year, regularly provides dry air coming from inland. The resulting low humidity favours good health of the vines and helps keep away diseases. The mistral also blows the clouds away thus allowing the sun to shine for more than 3,000 hours a year - that's a French record! The generally stony soils of the wine region are able to store this heat optimally.

The average monthly rainfall of 600 mm distributed over autumn and spring ensures for good recovery of the vineyards in winter and plant growth in the spring. The vines benefit from early flowering and the hot summer which ensures full ripening of the berries. This is why the harvest already starts in late August / early September. Chaptalisation (sugaring) the must is therefore not only forbidden, for the winemakers of Provence it is a foreign word.

The vines of the Appellation Côtes de Provence generally grow on very lean, well-drained, stony soils – by and large ideal conditions for good wines. Although that said, two fundamentally different soil types do occur in the Provence. Clay-limestone soils in the north and very old massifs of shale rock in the south, near the sea.

With regard to the geological and geographical conditions there are quite different types of areas within the Appellation Côtes de Provence. Calcareous soils on the slopes of the highlands and in the 'Bassin du Beausset'; red stone, clay and sandy soils from the Palaeozoic (80-60 million years ago) in the outback’s of the crystalline Massif des Maures; granite and slate ground from the rock massif “des Maures” up to the coast and rocky, clay soils in the production zone of the massif St. Victoire.

Rules and regulations of the appellation Côtes de Provence

Rosé and red wines of Côtes de Provence - both subject to the same regulations - are in principle “Cuvées” (blends). This means that different grape varieties are either pressed or fermented together or that the final product from different varieties is blended together. The composition of the blends (“Cuve” = fermenter) is called “assemblage” in France. This relatively rare procedure in Germany, Austria and Switzerland is used in warm wine growing regions, blending varieties with different characteristics and properties to produce diverse and high quality wines. An optimal “Cuvée” will taste better than each individual variety on its own. Wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux, Tuscany or the Rioja region are, like wines from Provence, also usually blends or “Cuvées”. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape is even produced from up to 13 different grape varieties.

A wide variety of grape varieties are permitted for rosé and red wines of the “Appellation Côtes de Provence”. The so-called "cépages principaux" (main varieties) are Cinsault, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Tibouren. At least two of these varieties must always be used. Since 2005, the share of the main varieties in the blend must be at least 70% and as of 2015 this must be at least 80%. The share of a single main variety should not be more than 90%. The following varieties approved for use as “cépages secondaires” (secondary varieties) with a maximum share in the blend of 40% are Barbaroux, Calitor, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon. The grape varieties Barbaroux and Calitor have, however, not been planted since 1995 and are gradually being replaced by superior varieties.

A further maximum 10% of white grape varieties are permitted in rosé and red wines and which are also used for the white wines of the Côtes de Provence: Clairette, Sémillion, Ugni Blanc and Rolle (Vermentino).

Yields are limited to a maximum of 55 hectoliters per hectare. Calculated from the area of land required per vine – maximum 2.5 square meters – there are a maximum of 4000 vines per hectare.

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