The vineyards of the Rhône Valley enjoy a privileged location between the Mediterranean and Northern Europe. When the ancient Greeks settled here, they brought with them a culture of vine and wine, which continued to thrive under the rule of the Romans who arrived in 125 BC. Avignon, the capital of the Côtes du Rhône, is noted for being the seat of the papacy from the 14th century. For more than 100 years, nine Popes were resident here, from Clement V to Benedict XIII and made their mark on the development of the vineyards.
Today, no visit to Southern France is complete without a visit to a vineyard or two – the wines flow through the landscape of every tourist route, indeed there are now several noted Vignobles et Découvertes routes criss-crossing the region. This is France’s second largest AOC wine growing area for conventional and organic wines, both by size and volume. In 2016, Côtes du Rhône and Rhône Valley wines represented 70,000 hectares and 5,300 wine growing enterprises; harvest of 3 million hectolitres; 1.5 billion euros in turnover and 46,000 jobs both direct and indirect making the wine industry the Rhône Valley’s leading employer. For more information about the Côtes du Rhône own wine trails, visit vins-rhone.com.
Organic viticulture in the Rhône Valley
In 2015, the Rhône Valley registered 7,300 hectares of certified organic vineyard, yielding a harvest of 305,000 hl making the area one of France’s key producers of organic wines. Respect for the environment remains a core value for all those involved in wine production in the Rhône and the winegrowers were among the trailblazers in this field. 178 Côtes du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Village producers have full organic accreditation.
Did you know? The Vigne des Papes is the only AOC vineyard located within city limits.
Take wine tasting to a whole new level
When it comes to chasing the grape in the Ardèche, wine tourists with a sense of adventure are richly rewarded with subterranean tastings, hiking on the Cornas slopes or taking to two wheels with a Segway tour of the St Joseph vineyards.
Enjoy a subterranean tasting: Combine the caverns of St Marcel d’Ardèche with a tasting of the famous ‘cave wines’ which are aged in this extraordinary naturally formed grotto from €48 from more information visit www.escale-ardeche.com.
Hiking through the vineyards: Walking is fun but walking amongst the vines is better, especially along the Cornas Slopes where the vine growers across the centuries have terraced the granite hills. For more information visit www.rhone-crussol-tourisme.com.
Segway through the vines: After a little practice round the streets of Tournon, intrepid wine lovers will learn a little history while taking in the scenery on this unique tour of the St Joseph vineyards For more information visit www.vin-et-sens.com.
Did you know? Côtes du Rhône and Rhône Valley wines represent this region’s chief economic activity. 372 million bottles were sold across 200 countries in 2016.
See the vines by two wheels or 20 – with a little chocolate on the side
The Drôme is a paradise for wine enthusiasts who like a more relaxed pace of life, from touring vineyards on electric bikes or by train to sitting back relaxing and enjoying Valrhona chocolate wine tasting.
Electric Dreams: Imagine yourself riding through the vines of Pays de l’Hermitage on a electric bike – less peddle power, more flower power – with a complete GPS guide and tasting at the end. Fabien Louis, sommelier at Tain-i’Hermitage is the brains behind this environmentally friendly project and can also host a guided tour. For more information visit www.baladesviticoles.com.
Choo-choo: The Le Petit Train departs daily (not Saturday mornings) from April to October and takes wine trippers on a tour of the Hermitage vineyards. For more information visit www.petit-train-des-vignes.com
Wine and chocolate: what’s not to like: For the ultimate indulgent experience combine a tasting session with Valrhona chocolate – need we say more? For more information visit: www.vin-et-sens.com.
Did you know? The Rhône Valley AOC vineyard area is among the largest involved in organic production in France?
With a spring in your step
Springtime marks the beginning of the winemaking year in The Gard with good food and gastronomic walks amongst the vines. The wines of The Gard have enjoyed recognition and reputation since the Middle Ages and were served at the tables of the rich and powerful. Indeed the 17th century dramatist, Jean-Baptiste Racine said, when visiting Uzès, that the wine produced in The Gard was the best in the kingdom.
The Gard celebrates the vines from spring to the autumn, combining them with good food and gastronomic walks amongst the vines in springtime, aperitif evenings at the heart of the summer and gourmet strolls through the heart of the Roman city of Nîmes – the Nîmes Toquée – as autumn moves into winter.
In Roman times, Nîmes was an important administrative centre and two marvellously preserved buildings remain – the amphitheatre (one of the largest in Europe) and the Maison Carrée, the only ancient temple to be completely preserved. It is said that the Maison Carrée inspired the design of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.
Nîmes relied on its water supply via the 50-km Nîmes aqueduct which carried water from a spring in Uzès to the citizens of Nîmes. Where the aqueduct crosses the Garden River near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard in Southern France, it is known as the Pont du Gard, one of the most elevated and best preserved of Roman aqueducts. What is little known however is that there is a wine connection nearby.
The Domaine de Poulvarel at Sernhac is a 40-hectare family-run vineyard of several generations which produces an AOC controlled Costières de Nîmes. Visitors to the Domaine are invited for a wine tasting with a difference because deep in the vineyards, lies two parts of the tunnel system which formed the Nîmes aqueduct transporting the water to Nîmes. For just €7 per person, visitors may explore the tunnels, spotting the hand-tooled marks dating from when the tunnels were constructed and spotting the chimneys and recesses where the lamps were hung as the tunnels were dug out by hand. To honour the history on their land, their most prestigious vintages are named after the two tunnels known as Perrotte and Cantarelles.
Did you know? The Rhône Valley is a major tourist destination attracting 14 million visitors to the vineyards every year.
Journée sans vin, journée sans soleil
The old adage goes, a day without wine is a day without sunshine but have no fears on either account in the Vaucluse – both are amply on offer.
Blending your own vintage: At the Château Maucoil in Orange, the Maucoil-Lavau winery offers an original way to discover what is so typical about the Southern Côtes du Rhône, i.e. the blending of several varieties which gives the wine its balance. Armed with an apron, a tasting glass and test tubes, each participant will discover the typical varieties of the Rhône Valley and may create their own ideal wine. For more information, www.maucoil.eu.
Learn more about Rhône Valley wines: Stay with Linda Field and her husband and leave with a greater understanding of the wines of the Rhône Valley. With a diploma from the Wines & Spirit Education Trust, Linda left England to live in the heart of the wine making region, running wine workshops at her guesthouse to help initiate more people into the ways of wine. For more information, www.aubergeduvin.com.
Vintage Ventoux: Head out along the vineyards of the foothills of Mont Ventoux on a E-solex moped with Cave TerraVentoux – the sustainable version of the noisy original. Follow the information signs for a scenic route through vines and villages with two wine-tasting pauses until you reach the last stop where a picnic lunch has been prepared by the winegrower under the shade of a fig tree. Two people, reservations must be made 48 hours in advance with departures from the cellar at 9.30 am, returning at 1.30pm. For more information, www.terraventoux.fr.
Did you know? There are 380 tourist events every year with 120 in summer alone with the next one being the Millévin, the celebration of the new vintage on Thursday 16th November 2017 in Avignon.
Photo credit thanks to: Sue Lowry / Magellan / Drôme Tourisme / Le petit train des vignes de l’Hermitage / L.Clara / Grotte de saint-marcel d’Ardèche / Ardèche Tourism / Christophe Grilhé / Inter Rhône / Roberto Petronio
Notes to Editors: Southern France is an umbrella association promoting the Ardèche, Drôme, Gard, Vaucluse Provence, Vallée du Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Wines. The four departments run across three different regions (Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur – Auvergne Rhône Alpes – Occitanie Midi Pyrénées), their collaboration enables visitors to discover a coherent geographic area along the Rhône Valley. Strong common themes are authentic and perched villages, great natural or architectural sites, outdoor activities and, of course, Rhône Valley vineyards. So think sunshine, authenticity, heritage, nature and the art of living which is of course – food and wine!