Everything You Want to Know About France and More...

Provence, the First Wine Region of France

Wine has been made in Provence for a very long time. Grapevines were first planted in 600 B.C. by the Greeks who founded the city of Marseille. Later, the Romans planted vines in practically every corner of France—along the Rhône Valley, in Burgundy, in Bordeaux, and elsewhere. But it all started in Provence.

Provençal winemaking boomed during the Middle Ages, led by monks in abbeys like Saint-Victor in Marseille and Le Thoronet near Draguignan. And the medieval seer Nostradamus included wine in a spooky prophesy, proclaiming that one day “the seas will cover the earth and will stop at the stele of Mas de la Dame,” a winery near the town of St-Rémy-de-Provence.

In the Pink

Today Provence is best known for rosé wines, which make up a majority of its wine production. Pale in color, and made primarily from Grenache and Cinsault grapes, they are popular the world over. So much so that celebrities like Brad Pitt, Jon Bon Jovi, and John Legend have gotten into the act, making rosés under their own labels.

As you might expect in sunny Provence, the region also produces robust reds, made from classic southern French grapes like Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre—the same grapes you’ll find in the famous wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. One of these grapes, Mourvedre, normally gets second or third billing in a wine, if it is even mentioned at all. But, unusually in France, it plays a starring role in Bandol, where rich, long-lived wines are produced in the hills around this charming coastal town.

Further west, nearly all the winemakers of Les Baux-de-Provence use strict organic methods to make their well-regarded red wines. A number even go full biodynamic, making Les Baux a hotspot of this rather odd agricultural process (burying a cow horn, anyone?) But however the winemakers produce their wines, they are quite tasty.

Fighting Over a Name

And let’s not forget the white wines! In Provence you’ll find grapes like Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc and Clairette, the latter used in a delicious sparkling wine called Clairette de Die.

More controversial is the grape known in Provence as either Vermentino or Rolle. It originated in Italy, where it is known exclusively as Vermentino, and one day the Italian winemakers got snippy and decided they didn’t want anyone else to use their name! They petitioned the European Union, who sided with them. So now the French will only be allowed to call it Rolle.

Whatever their grapes are called, the wines of France’s oldest wine-growing region are delicious and worth seeking out, for any occasion.

Keith and Val Van Sickle live part of the year in St-Rémy-de-Provence and have traveled widely throughout the region. Keith is the author of An Insider’s Guide to Provence (read our review).  

More on Provence

Explore Provence without a car

Seriously gorgeous gardens in Provence

Antiquing in Provence

Scroll to Top