As France’s oldest wine region, Provence is infinitely important to the global history of viticulture. The region was settled by the Phocaeans around 600 BC, and it’s believed that the Greeks were responsible for the dawn of winemaking and grape growing in ancient Provence. These early wines were pale, made in a free-run fashion with a flash maceration.
Provence History and Appellations
By the 2nd century BC, an alliance was formed with the Romans, and evidence of their influence is still felt in modern-day Provence. The Romans began crafting red wines, but rosé still held sway and white and rosé wines were reserved for the aristocracy and clergy.
Rosé is still closely associated with Provence, yet many consumers connect it to a lifestyle of holiday and free-wheeling. This is far from the cultural relevance of Provençal rosé and many consumers, even those that drink rosé regularly, have much to experience to understand the full picture of this meaningful drink.
If you have a bottle or two of Provençal rosé, look for the appellation. Chances are it’s from Côtes de Provence (CdP), the largest AOP in the region spanning more than 20,000 hectares through 84 communes. The broad CdP appellation is segmented further into four sub-appellations: Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire, Côtes de Provence Fréjus, Côtes de Provence La Londe and Côtes de Provence Pierrefeu.
Alongside CdP, Provence is home to Côteaux d’Aix-en-Provence, Les Baux-de-Provence, Cîteaux Varois-en-Provence, Palette, Cassis, Bandol, Bellet and Pierrevert. Each of these has distinct terroir and methods, influenced by the soil, mountain formations, the wind and ancient agricultural influences that were often maintained from commune to commune when this region was decidedly rural.
Like any other wine region, simply covering “Provence” isn’t adequate. To remedy this blanket thinking, we’ll dive into a very unique appellation: Bellet.
Bellet was one of the first in Provence to receive AOP status, in 1941. This was just prior to the revival of viticulture in the region, which was diminished by phylloxera and the world wars. In times when winemaking prosperity was scarce, the farmers of the area turned to the cultivation of carnations, but that industry has faded into the past though flowers are still a product of Provence.
Comprising a mere 60-70 planted hectares, Bellet vineyards are situated in around Nice, France’s only urban appellation. Though vines do grow in other cities, namely Paris, the composition of Bellet within Nice is entirely distinct and Île de France (Paris) wines are seeking IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) status, not AOP classification.
Some small vineyard holdings are even woven into spaces between greenhouses and suburban residences. Many vineyards are precarious, terraced or so small that machine harvest is out of the question.
Because it is a flourishing city environment, vignérons belletan compete with commerce for land. Demand has lifted the price of real estate and vineyards in Bellet are some of the most expensive in France, ahead even of spots such as Saint-Emilion in Bordeaux and Pouilly-Fuissé in Bourgogne. If your bottle of Ballet stretches your pocketbook, this helps to explain the price tag.
Nice sits at the mouth of the Var River, where it empties into the Mediterranean sea—the flow of the river has deposited gravel, clay, sand and smooth stones called galets (you’ve seen them in Lirac and other Southern Rhône vineyards). All of this earth has been pressed and woven together with ribbons of clay to form a material known as poudingue.
In Bellet, vineyards receive more than a fair share of wind and rain, which work together to keep the vines healthy and dry. Mistral and Tramontane combine with cool Maritime Alps breezes to chill the vineyards after the sun sets.
Braquet and Folle Noire are dominant for red and rosé Bellet and Rolle is dominant for white Bellet. One of the most interesting things about Bellet is the broadly unusual mix of varieties that are allowed in the AOP charter. Bordeaux varieties are strictly prohibited, yet Chardonnay is permitted (it is banned elsewhere in Provence).
White, rosé and red wines are produced in equilibrium. Bellet rosé and white wines are released no sooner March 1 following harvest and red wines are released on February 15, two years after harvest, and will experience some oak aging.
More on Provence
I cover Provence regularly and hold a Provence Master Level accreditation from the Wine Scholar Guild. If you’d like to read more, I invite you to take a look at this link for my Provence archives on L’Occasion. I also suggest taking a peek at my Provence WineZine and USA Today coverage.
These Organic Wines From Provence Are Ideal For Earth Day and more over at Forbes.
The French Winophiles
Join us on Saturday, February 16, 2019, at 10am central for a chat about the wines of Provence. Look for our hashtag #Winophiles on Twitter and join in the conversation.
This month’s French Winophiles is supported by Blue Vase Book Exchange. They provided some of our members with a copy of “A Year in Provence” by Peter Mayle. You can find Blue Vase Book Exchange on Amazon and on Facebook.
Here’s what our group of writers covered this month:
“A Book, An Inspired Braise, and A (Surprise!) Bottle of Red from Provençe” by Culinary Adventures with Camilla.
“At Last! A Provencal Rouge-2006 Domaine La Bastide Blanche Bandol” by Enofylz Wine Blog
“Beef Daube Provençal with Bandol Red Wine” by Cooking Chat
“Bellet: Provence’s Urban Appellation” by L’Occasion
“Blanc de Bellet: Like a Bouquet of Spring Flowers!” by Keep the Peas
“Curled up with a Bandol and a book.” by Crushed Grape Chronicles
“Dreaming of Provence with a Rabbit Lasagna and a Clos Cibbone” by A Day in the Life on the Farm
“Halibut with Meyer Lemon Olive Salsa and Bandol Blanc” by Always Ravenous
“Lamb Shanks Provençal with Les Baux de Provence and Cassis” by Food Wine Click
“Pissaladiere and a Provence Red” by Our Good Life
“Provence: Beyond Rosé” by Kate’s Recipe Box
“Provence: Viewing the World Through Rose Wine Glasses” by Side Hustle Wino
“Say Oui to a Glass of Provence Rose and Succulent Seafood” by Chinese Food & Wine Pairings
“With Love From Provence. A Biodynamic Red and a Kosher Rose with Tritip, Quiche, Soup, Salad” by Wine Predator