Cotes de Provence, South of France

Now as I’m sure you’re all aware, the 3rd Friday of September (today) is International Grenache Day, and to celebrate this, I’ll be focusing my piece on this amazingly diverse grape variety- often the unsung hero in many wines, and on one of the traditional homes of the grape, where it really comes into its element; the South of France, and more specifically, the Cotes de Provence appellation.

The Cotes de Provence is located in the very south-east of France, all along the Mediterranean coast from the regional capital of Marseille to the border of northern Italy. This appellation is the largest in the Provençal region, spread across a massive 20,000 hectares of vines. Across such a large expanse of land there are many variations in soil type and climate (there are 84 different communes within this region), but as a general rule, the region is classified as Mediterranean; long, warm, sunny summers, mild winters and stormy autumn and spring. The region receives about 3000 hours of sunshine per year, so ripening fruit is never a problem- as a quick comparison; Burgundy receives 1910 hours per year. The proximity to the Mediterranean sea provides cooling afternoon breezes however, which ensure the region does not get too hot. The main issue the region faces in this warm, sunny climate is a lack of water. Rainfall in the Cotes de Provence is an average of less than 700mm/annum, and irrigation in this region is forbidden, except during prolonged periods of drought- even then it is still government regulated!
Click map to enlarge…

One other issue in the Cotes de Provence region is the powerful Mistral wind, which blows all year-round down the valleys of the Rhone, bringing cold air from central and northern Europe. This wind can be both a curse and a blessing, as the breeze is effective in keeping humidity low, meaning there is significantly reduced risk of fungal diseases in the vineyard, but can also severely upset a delicate time in the flowering process of the vine known as ‘fruit set’. The grape vine self-fertilises you see, and if the wind hits at the wrong time, self-pollination doesn’t occur, meaning there is no fruit, and no crop for that year. Thankfully, the trusty workhorse variety of the region is well-adapted to warm, windy climates, and requires less water than most vines- I am speaking of course of the wonderful Grenache vine.

A variety so good they gave it its own day! And so they should- as mentioned above, Grenache is oft-forgotten, and plays a supporting role in some of the best wines in the world; from the dark, heavy reds of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Priorat in Spain, to light, crisp Rosé from Provence, to the sweet wines of Banyuls, and let’s not forget how important old vine Grenache is in our own backyard of the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale- Grenache is as versatile as it is delicious! Whilst the vine is thought to be native to Corsica, it is the second-most grown red variety in Spain (after the native Tempranillo of course), and forms the backbone of many dry reds in this country, as well as being a major constituent in many of the wines throughout the entire of the south of France. Interestingly enough, it also is finding new homes around the globe in fledgling wine industries such as China, Mexico and Israel, where is adapts quickly to the heat and gives winemakers many options in terms of what style of wine they wish to make.

But enough of that, and back to our region! 80-85% of Cotes de Provence’s production (depending on the harvest) is dry, crisp Rosé. Rosé has had a home in this region for a long time- in fact it was only up the road in Tavel where records show the first ever Rosé was made, almost 200 years ago! Rosé is the answer to the ultimate winemaking oxymoron; in hot growing regions, where all you would want to drink is something light, fresh and dry, the majority of wines produced are highly alcoholic, hot, heavy wines, whereas in cool regions, where you feel like a hearty, heavy wine, all that can be produced are light, fresh low-alcohol wines. Rosé from Cotes de Provence bucks this trend by providing the perfect crisp, dry and thirst-quenching wine to locals and visitors to the region, made from a variety usually known for big, heavy and jammy reds. Rosé sales over the last 5-10 years have seen massive growth worldwide, and an interesting trend has emerged; before this, Rosé sales were only good in the spring/summer months, falling off over autumn/winter, however now Rosé sales persist throughout the year. Maybe people are trying to bring back the memory of summer in those colder months. There is nothing quite like a Cotes de Provence Rosé, and you can almost picture the calm, blue Mediterranean and feel the gentle baking sun when you open a bottle. Or maybe that’s just me and my wishful thinking…

Mark Faber
Wine Sales Manager