This past weekend was a dream. How can I possibly describe amazing wine, exquisite food and fantastic weather without sounding pretentious? Honestly…I can’t. It becomes even more challenging when I drop the words ‘Provence’ and ‘Côte d’Azur’ in a conversation. Images of the bluest Mediterranean waters brimming with millionaires’ super yachts, rolling hillsides planted with vineyards and lavender, and endless culinary delights tantalizing the senses are instantly conjured up. No wonder this region is so popular!
My main delight is exploring wines and Provence certainly did not disappoint. Fortunately, I was able to visit three wineries and sample their wines. My tour was led by Nanou from Azure Wine Tours. Along the way, she described how the area we were travelling into, Var, which is named after the river that flows through this region, is known as one of the most beautiful, environmentally purest parts of France. Honestly, the landscape was breathtaking. Rust coloured hillsides towered above lush agricultural land below and vineyards began popping up more frequently as we travelled deeper into the Côtes du Provence wine region.
Our first stop was Chateau de Saint-Martin. While navigating the long driveway, Nanou pointed out Roman ruins, recently discovered on the estate, that provided a glimpse into early viticulture and winemaking practices during the 2nd Century BC. She further explained that monks from Lerins looked after and farmed this site from the 10th to 18th centuries. Since 1740, the estate has been in the hands of the same French nobility. Pretty impressive history!
Upon arrival, I ventured down into the underground wine cellar that dates back to the middle ages. Instantly, I was greeted by an imposing row of large wine barrels.
Across from them stood a plastered wall scattered with little iron doors, that when opened, exposed dark, abyss-like tanks carved out of rock by the Lerins monks. These tanks have been resurfaced for modern vinification and are still being used to age a variety of the estate’s wines. These would have been early versions of our modern stainless steel wine tanks. Quite impressive!!
After the tour, I tasted six of the estate’s current wines (white, rosé and red) while also indulging in a typical Provincial lunch consisting of local cheeses, cured meats, courgette quiche, olive tapenade, artichoke cream, paté, fresh bread and a mixed salad. All of the wines were excellent but the following were the most memorable:
After a very filling lunch, our second stop was at Clos Cassivet. Upon arrival, the vineyard was definitely smaller and more rustic than our previous chateau. I soon discovered that the winemaker and vineyard owner, Gerard Delus, is a huge proponent and follower of the natural wine movement. Most of my wine expertise centres around conventional, sustainable, organic and biodynamic vineyards and winemaking practices. Naturally (wink), I was eager to understand where the natural wine movement fell on this spectrum. After a discussion with Nanou and Gerard, I learned that the ultimate goal of the natural wine community is to have as little human interference as possible in the vineyard and winemaking practices. Basically, let nature run its course! Sounds great, but I was wondering what the final product would be like.
Walking into Gerard?s cellar and tasting room was like stepping back in time. ?Shabby chic? best described the ambience. Nothing was pretentious or showy. Everything was in place to get the job done. Vineyard tools lay scattered amongst the winemaking supplies. Barrels covered with chalk drawings created by visitors were arranged throughout the cellar.
A small, unassuming wooden bar presented itself as the resting place for my glass of wine. Throughout my visit, Gerard continued working while also answering questions and bottling his wines. At one point, he was carrying large containers of wine from the barrels to the bottling area. Impressive multi-tasking skills!! I tried several wines, one of which was a barrel aged, chenin blanc from 2007, as well as a delightful red blend. I was pleasantly surprised by the clarity and smoothness of each wine. Towards the end of my visit, I decided to buy a white blend (chenin blanc, rolle and ugni blanc) that he was bottling and labelling right before my eyes!
Throughout my visit, I attempted to learn more about the natural wine movement, but Gerard was very busy and my inquisitive nature would have demanded a lot of his precious time. It was really was fantastic watching him in action. He is definitely passionate about his wine. I came away from this visit realising that the natural wine movement is something I need to explore further! It really made me question how much human interference should take place in order to create an amazing wine.
The final destination on my tour was Chateau Font du Broc, which is a well known organic vineyard estate that proudly sits in a picturesque hillside location. Known for its incredible beauty and award winning wines, a visit to this chateau will instantly cast a spell on you. You will experience the Provincial dream coming to life; indulging in lazy afternoons sipping wine with friends while watching butterflies dance among the lavender and grapevines. Oh, did I mention they host weddings here. Anyone up for a fairytale wedding? Apparently, the bride and groom receive a 50% discount for life on all wines from the estate! Not too bad!
The highlight of my tour was a visit to the underground wine cellar. The stone lined, passageway leading downward was sparsely lit, yet almost ethereal in its ambience. Once underground, I was awakened by a vast open cavern that resembled a medieval cathedral with a grandiose black iron chandelier hovering above our heads. Wine barrels lined the path throughout this hidden cavern. The entire space exuded peace and tranquility, which I can imagine must somehow (through osmosis) positively benefit the aging wine, as I was also feeling rather zen!
Back above ground, while relaxing under the most amazing grapevine trellis, I embarked on yet another excellent wine tasting. Two of their wines really stood out for me; the rosé (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Rolle) and red blend (Syrah, Mourvedre and Cabernet Sauvignon).
Sadly, as they say…All good things must end…
Do they really need to? Absolutely not!! That is probably why my carry-on exceeded the 10kg weight limit on the way home…clink…clink! Such a memorable weekend. I can definitely say that I had a Var-y good time in Provence!