Provence, its outstanding wines and must-visit locations
By Jean-Paul Burias – Photographs: Courtesy of the estates, posted on 17 July 2023
Provence is a mecca for tourists with a wide range of scenery from the Southern Alps to the Mediterranean coastline. It enhances its vineyard-clad rolling hills and olive gloves by offering a choice of wine tourism solutions in an enchanting setting. We take a closer look at the most beautiful spots in Provence, which also happen to produce excellent wines…
The magnificent Château Roubine.
The first image is a picture-postcard scene where nature works its magic. Nestled perfectly between the Alps and the Mediterranean, the vineyards of Provence offer a fascinating stage for radiant vines basking in sunshine and dotted amidst olive groves. Set near quintessential villages, beautiful wineries sit comfortably in the landscape, offering must-visit locations extending an invitation out to visitors. The wines of Provence beguile with their fruitiness and their freshness across all three colours, even though rosés have become a benchmark and renowned endorsement of quality worldwide. In a region to which visitors flock in summer and winter alike, direct-to-consumer sales account for a high percentage of the business activity of its wineries. This offers the opportunity to reach out to a captive audience and with visitors keen to travel to the region on holiday, it has prompted wineries to develop wine tourism activities that combine discovery with tastings. Wonderful holidays accommodate both visual pleasure and taste-fuelled experiences driven by a wide variety of enjoyable, appealing wines that exude the heady perfumes of Mediterranean vineyards, garrigue and sunshine.
Valérie Rousselle, the owner of Château Roubine.
The vineyards at Château Roubine.
Château Roubine: a unique setting
Situated between the Verdon gorges and the Mediterranean Sea, Château Roubine offers a fusion of vineyards, olive groves and lavender. Edged by an amphitheatre of pines and oak trees, its 130 hectares – including 72 planted to vineyards – illustrate an incredible variety of landscapes. Such a special location inevitably promotes the production of high quality wines with the added bonus of natural drainage, or a ‘roubine’, which means stream in Provencal. The history of Château Roubine is interwoven with that of Provence.
The Rousselle family with Valérie, the winery’s owner, on the right.
Well-known since the 14th century, it was owned by the Order of the Knights Templar before being passed on to the Knights Hospitaller then to a number of Provence families. “Our estate is one of Provence’s 18 historic Crus Classés”, explains the winery’s owner Valérie Rousselle. “We have the good fortune of being able to offer our visitors a unique setting of 72 hectares of unbroken vineyards which form a natural amphitheatre lined by pine trees and cork oak. Our wines have always displayed unique features stemming both from the use of old Provencal grape varieties and sensitive winemaking methods where temperatures are kept under control”.
The cellar at Château Roubine.
The programme of wine tourism activities is varied and robust, recounting the history, the varietal range and the unique aspects of the chateau from the terrace of the cellar door shop with its sweeping views out over the vineyards. Visitors then take a deep dive into the world of wine production as they enter the private doors to the winery. They discover the secrets of how Crus Classés wines are crafted, following the journey of grapes from the vineyards to their arrival at the winery, through the winemaking process and up to bottling. A vineyard trail takes them on an educational and historical walk to learn about the winery’s unique terroir with a thirteen-point itinerary that mirrors its thirteen grape varieties. “Increasingly, our customers are looking for authentic experiences”, continues Rousselle. “We are lucky in that we are one of the largest production facilities owned by a Provencal family, which is one of our strong points. We try and capitalise on sustainability as much as possible and on aspects of nature which are strengths at the winery. We have been practitioners of biodynamic farming for several years and also plan to build an eco-friendly hotel as well as a restaurant that favours local products served in the heart of our vineyards”.
The beautiful drive at Domaine des Féraud.
Domaine des Féraud: nature as a backdrop
At Domaine des Féraud, savouring elegantly-crafted wines is not the only pleasure. The winery has developed a range of enjoyable experiences to include wine tourism activities all year round. Since 2011, this charming location has belonged to Markus Conrad and his wife Annerose, who were anything but obvious candidates for taking over a winery and becoming winegrowers. Trumpet player and company executive Markus Conrad was 50 when he ventured into winegrowing territory, aiming to turn his new line of business into an art form expressing harmony and offering food for the heart. In the middle of the magnificent Maures plain, dubbed ‘little Africa’, Domaine des Féraud’s trail invites visitors to take some time out to stroll amidst this superb unspoilt location which offers a home to outstanding biodiversity.
Markus Conrad, propriétaire du Domaine des Féraud.
The mosaic of colours and diversity of natural habitats epitomise an environment that welcomes remarkable heritage species like Hermann’s tortoise. The former winery has been entirely revamped to house the cellar door facilities and now offers a contemporary area for tasting the organic wines, several of them with no added sulphites. This warm and inspirational setting even has a patio area beside the pool. “The aim is to connect the quality of the wines with that of the location”, stresses Conrad. “Provence is a land of tourism and direct-to-consumer sales are often very important for wineries. We produce fresh, fruity, dry and elegant wines that encapsulate the Provencal lifestyle”. Direct sales account for 60% of the winery’s revenue, mainly due to a skilful combination of the quality of the wines available and that of the hospitality. These two fundamental aspects help generate customer loyalty.
An evening scene at Domaine des Féraud.
Château Margüi: a legendary vineyard site
In the very centre of Provence, Château Margüi is suffused with a truly magical feel. Since April 2017, it has belonged to Skywalker Vineyards, whose main shareholder is the American film producer and director George Lucas.
For thousands of years, three natural springs have nurtured this fertile land that has been passionately farmed by men and women. In front of the farmhouse, a statue of Ondine symbolises this pure, precious water in a land home to sunshine and the Mistral wind. The clay-limestone soils and rolling woodlands create a unique setting for the vineyards planted on hillsides. “Our wines come under the Coteaux Varois en Provence appellation”, explains winery director Yann Jouët. “The woodlands, hillsides and natural springs lend them inherent freshness. In 2021, we officially opened a new 80m2 store at the entrance to the winery, the idea being to welcome customers in a relaxed setting where the estate’s first vineyards start. The tastings are free or can be privatised with a capacity of 100 people for the largest events”. The cellar door shop was designed to host groups with a large car park, different spaces and sensitively chosen furniture. These features allow it to generate 15% of the winery’s revenue and the outlook is particularly bright given the potential for tourists to visit. “The chateau is a commercial bonus due to a good mix of several factors”, adds Jouët. “The shop supplements its income as part of a network of sales – the domestic market for the trade, exports to distributors and direct-to-consumer sales”.
The vineyards at Château Margüi.
Yann Jouet, managing director at Château Margüi.
Domaine la Grande Bauquière: undeniable charm
At the foot of the Sainte-Victoire mountain, this 18th century farmhouse displays a modern spirit yet also retains a distinctive Provencal aspect, set within a unique ecosystem. A wide drive lined by cypress trees and oleanders leads visitors to a sun-filled interlude amidst magical vistas which were long a source of inspiration for Cézanne and other Impressionist artists. The white lime walls echo the hues of the nearby mountain. The ceilings are tinged with the vibrant colours of Provence with the green of the olive trees in the entrance hall, the blue of the sky in the lounge and the yellow of the wheat fields in the kitchen. Over an 80-hectare expanse, Grande Bauquière shares a passionate relationship with the landscape and an outstanding vineyard site with an array of wines showing unique characters that act as vehicles for emotions. “Our 11 grape varieties enable us to make some great blends, both for the rosés and the whites, mirroring an artist’s palette of colours”, points out Dorothée Salat who bought the estate with her husband Alain in 2012. “The finesse of a terroir richly endowed with aromatic freshness and a sensitively curated choice of grape varieties create the style and unique features of our wines. Our reception area deliberately aims for simplicity, elegance and a poetic complicity with nature”. The wine tourism solutions on offer allow visitors to discover the estate’s history and expertise through its elaborate décor, encyclopaedia plates, vineyard tools and maps of the vineyards drawn by the visual artist Jean Oddes. “We have created an outdoor space to welcome our customers surrounded by views of the Sainte-Victoire”, adds Salat. “Recently, we began selling wine at the estate so history is just beginning for us. Since lockdown, customers have grown accustomed to going to their local wine merchants. But now many enjoy coming here for the beautiful scenery and the quality of the wines, with great balance between the two”.
Dorothée Salat, who bought Château la Grande Bauquière with her husband Alain in 2012.
Vignobles Ghigo Domaine de Château Vert: an approachable winery
This estate certainly warrants its name. The chateau at Vignobles Ghigo is nestled amidst a quintessential Provence pine forest covering several hectares and epitomises unspoilt countryside. Mentioned in land registry records dating back to the 17th century, it is among the oldest in the Côtes-de-Provence-La Londe appellation area.
Robert Ghigo tasting wines.
Owned by the Ghigo family since 2010, the 40-hectare site – including 30 planted to organically farmed vines – has been set the challenge of making biodynamic farming its priority. “The winery has a fairly unusual location beside the sea and due to urban sprawl, in a town”, says Camille Ghigo, the daughter of Robert Ghigo. “Our terroir, the quality of wines – our fresh, perfumed rosés, our delicate, appetising whites and our fine, harmonious reds – are at the crux of our communications, as is the fact that we are an approachable, family-run winery. We can sense a desire among people to get back to basics. Our regular customers and holidaymakers increasingly look for these values and a story, in addition to the quality of the wines”. Creating outdoor spaces and cellar door facilities has optimised conditions for welcoming visitors. The emblem featured in the courtyard piques people’s curiosity and invites them to come in. Direct-to-consumer sales account for a significant chunk of sales, whilst also offering an opportunity to share a strong passion for making wine.
Camille Ghigo, the daughter of Robert Ghigo.
Robert Ghigo, who passed on his love of the land and wine to his children and his granddaughters.
Maison Meï – Domaine Saint-Jean: an outstanding location
Created in 2019, Maison Meï is primarily a family affair led by two keen wine enthusiasts, Benjamin Meï and his cousin Bernard Meï. Domaine Saint-Jean is one of the foundation stones of the brand, with its outstanding location and a historic farmhouse situated between the Luberon mountain range, the Durance valley and the Mediterranean Sea as centrepieces. The Mediterranean climate characterised by hot, dry summers and mild, damp winters and the strong, dry Mistral wind promote healthy vines where diseases are kept effortlessly at bay.
Vineyards at Domaine Saint-Jean.
The estate has blazed the trail for implementing new concepts like agro-forestry, permaculture, agro-ecology and cover crops which limit tillage and retain the natural coolness in the mornings. The wines are highly aromatic with distinctive freshness, yet at the same time show respect for the inherent expression of their vineyard sites. Plans for development include building a 1,700m2 winery boasting a total winemaking capacity of 10,000 hectolitres. It includes small-batch winemaking facilities with amphorae and barrels. Turning the farmhouse into cellar door facilities goes hand in hand with the creation of an events venue and accommodation, designed to consolidate the wine tourism business. “We are on the outskirts of the Luberon national park, one of the most visited parts of the South of France”, explains Benjamin Meï. “Our location 25 minutes from Aix-en-Provence and 40 minutes from Marseilles international airport makes us easy to access. Construction of a new winery will be followed by enhanced wine tourism activities at the end of 2024. The aim is play a pivotal role in showcasing Luberon wines”. Wine tourism is viewed as a driver of growth and the strategy is paying off with 15% of sales in France and 85% in export markets. The recent purchase of Château La Gavède complements the desire for growth.
Benjamin Meï and his cousin Bernard Meï, owners of Domaine Saint-Jean.
Benjamin Meï, of Domaine Saint-Jean.
Château Paquette: surrounded by pine groves
The history of Château Paquette is linked to a family that became spellbound by this unique location in 1952. Hidden amongst the pine groves, the vineyards look as if they have been perched on the volcanic rocks of the Estérel mountains, nurtured by the gentle spray of the sea. The winery welcomes visitors so that they can take a natural dive into its vineyards. Then, once back at the cellar door shop, they can enjoy a tasting of the wines curated by its staff and indulge in a moment of sheer pleasure and conviviality.
The Paquette family.
Jérôme Paquette and his daughter Claire.
A leafy terrace guarantees ideal conditions for savouring an appetising choice of nibbles served with a glass of wine. “Everything I do focuses on creating what I feel is the finest site-expressiveness with an impactful range of environmental commitments”, believes Jérôme Paquette. “To fulfil my objective, I try and stay as hands off as possible and let the fruit speak for itself. I like vintages to be different because they offer variation. I view my role as a craft winegrower”. The cellar has remain unchanged and encapsulates three generations of history. “The most important thing is the quality of our hospitality”, adds Paquette. “Each visitor can spend time tasting our wines by sitting beneath the plane trees, just as they would in a village square. We like to welcome them with a small bunch of everlasting flowers, especially when they have travelled long distances by plane and cannot take any bottles back with them. At least they can keep a souvenir and a lasting memento of our winery”.
Vineyards set in the heart of Provence’s pine groves.
The cellar door at Château Paquette.
Château Paradis: an authentic welcome
Visitors to Château Paradis are immediately grasped by the significance of history here. The first vine plantings on its land date back to 600 BC when the Phocaeans settled in Marseilles. Subsequently, the Romans built Villa Regina and a farm with a grape press. The chateau’s land has been sold to a number of owners over time but it has always retained its strong bond with the culture of wine. Since they bought it in 2011, Xavier and Odile Thieblin, who value their Provence origins, have aimed to enhance the winery and create terroir-driven wines with genuine character.
Château Paradis located north of the Sainte Victoire mountain which can be seen in the background.
Xavier and Odile Thieblin, the owners of Château Paradis.
A signposted vineyard trail with picturesque views out over the Luberon and curated tastings all add to the winery’s appeal. “Our richly aromatic, fresh, elegant wines offer a mirror to our terroir and our expertise”, comments Odile Thieblin. Christine Pautut, head of wine tourism, expounds further: “Our wines are promoted through our unspoilt natural surroundings and cellar door facilities with floor to ceiling windows opposite the vineyards. These are all part of the quality customer experience enhanced by authentic hospitality that echoes our inherent spirit. A lot of foreigners who have a particular soft spot for Porvence and France’s gourmet food and wine heritage also pay us a visit. They come for the quality of the wine, and for our hospitality. This marketing bonus is a complementary resource for promoting our wines”.
Jérémie Peckre, the director of Château Paradis, is involved in every aspect of the winery on a daily basis.
Maturing the most premium wines at Château Paradis.
Château de Fonscolombe: guaranteed enjoyment
Located in a splendid setting, Château de Fonscolombe offers an unrivalled experience combining great facilities, accommodation in a luxury hotel and a tour of a winery renowned for its excellence. The hotel is designed as a spacious house where every different part comes together to foster a family spirit, whilst also ensuring everyone’s privacy. The benchmark vineyards are rooted in Roman times.
The outstanding castle at Château de Fonscolombe.
The very minerally soils and climate suffuse the wines with a fine, fruity nose, across all three colours. “The cellar door shop is very well situated in the Durance valley and we have publicised this aspect of the winery”, stresses Sylvie Hanicotte, head of the winery. “Building work is afoot with a new winery and cellar door facilities. Visitors come for the quality of the wines and their price tags. Sixty percent of the wines are sold direct-to-consumers and there is no let-up in sales”.
Sylvie Hanicotte, head of the winery at Château de Fonscolombe.
An aerial view of Château de Fonscolombe.
The appeal of the region and its wines is hypnotising
France’s oldest wine region is now extremely popular. With export volumes booming, Provence has established a reputation for itself as the world’s leading producer of rosé wines, whilst also offering great potential for reds and whites. Wineries have skilfully developed production with some true terroir-driven vinous treasures from low-cropping vines, made using very elaborate winemaking techniques where temperature control is a constant. The vineyards seem to be magnetised by all these different aspects and from their ancient, hardy rocky mountain sites, they live in harmony with the Mediterranean climate. Production of balanced, elegant wines with tight-knit tannins is a major attraction at the core of a virtuous circle that increasingly includes year-round tourism. “We don’t need to rely on anything contrived to develop hospitality”, concludes Jérôme Paquette from Château Paquette. “Many wineries are experiencing good growth in their wine tourism business, partly due to the fact that the pandemic forced us to reinvent ourselves. I don’t know of any good wines that are produced in ugly vineyards, which is why I am proud to offer people my wines – which I hope are good – in an endearing location which I hope is memorable”. This fusion between beautiful scenery, wineries and enjoyable wines is undeniably an extremely valuable asset to have.
Château de Fonscolombe, in the heart of Provence.
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