The Wine Roads of Provence

The Wine Roads of Provence

» Featured Columnists | By Steve Winston | February 15, 2013 8:30 AM ET

Of all the regions of France, Provence may be the most beautiful of all.
It has mountains and coast, lush river valleys, meadows verdant with lavender, and Mediterranean bays with steep limestone cliffs. It has ancient villages with red-tile rooftops and church steeples and cobblestoned streets, on which small boys and old ladies still carry loaves of aromatic French bread home for dinner that night. It has colorful marketplaces filled with sharp cheeses and fresh produce.
It has some of France's best wines and wineries...including some of the best roses in the world. And it has some of France's most incredible roads on which to drive to these wineries...ranging from cliff-top thrill rides to winding country lanes lined with picturesque old cottages with the occupants gathered at a table outside for lunch. 
Provence was first made famous by the Impressionist artists Van Gogh, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso, and, more recently, by Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. This sun-drenched region occupies the southeastern corner of France, along the Mediterranean Sea. It stretches for 150 miles, from the Côte d'Azur along the Italian border in the east to the Rhone River valley in the west. Geographically, it encompasses the French Riviera, and the cities of Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Avignon, Marseille, Nice, Cannes, and Saint-Tropez. And, historically, it encompasses the ancients.
The Romans were here, as evidenced by the numerous aqueducts and amphitheaters you'll pass as you drive around. The Greeks were here, too, and they left something just as precious - the gift of the vine. It was the Greeks who introduced grapes, wine, and winemaking to the region. 
Today, Provence is one of Europe's leading wine regions, and a drive though the countryside will take you past scenic wineries with excellent tasting rooms. (In addition, the province is also known for its fruits, vegetables, herbs, olives, olive oil, and seafood.)
The region's clear, sapphire skies are a gift of the prevailing winds here, called the "mistral." Provençal farmhouses are built with their doors facing south, away from the wind, and village bell towers are designed to let the winds pass through. One benefit of these winds: the dry air they produce helps keep the grapevines healthy.
Provence's main wine regions are called appellations. And they're dotted with scenic country roads lined with old wineries whose owners will be happy to discuss their wines with you.  
In the Bouches-du-Rhone region, in the southwestern part of the province, you'll find the nine vineyards of the Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence. Here you'll find the Chateau de Calavon, with a tasting room where you can sample the distinctive red and rosé wines like Grenache, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, and whites like Vermentino and Clairette.
In the region called Var and the Iles d'Hyères - with a stunning coastline of red cliffs - the winding country roads will take you to the vineyards of Chateau Henri Bonnaud, owned by the fourth generation of the same family, and known for its prized reds and roses. Also here is the Abbaye Saint Hilaire, named after a Fourth-Century Bishop, and also known for its reds and roses.
In the Cotes de Provence region, the road will take you to the Chateau De Jasson, one of the oldest wineries in France. In fact, the Greeks cultivated vines here as far back as 600 B.C.! And while there's no one left today who can vouch for the quality of their wines, there are plenty of wine experts and critics who can vouch for the Cuvée Eléonore Rosé and the Cuvée Jeanne White produced at Chateau De Jasson.
The light is different in Provence. The air is different. The land is different. That's why so many great artists came here to paint.
And it's why so many visitors come here to sample the fruit of the vine. 

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