It was a rainy October morning when I met with a group of ladies representing the women of les Vignerons des Baux-de-Provence, in the Alpilles. The damp weather provided a moment of reprieve for this group with the grape harvest completed, fermentation underway, and it was too wet to pick olives.
The land surrounding the Alpilles, Provence’s small Alps, is fabulous terroir for both grape vines and olive trees, a reality that likely pre-dated the Greeks and Romans. The business of agriculture and trade became decidedly more structured under the Romans as their objective was to feed hungry troops to continue their territorial expansion. Fiefdoms dominated the Middle Ages including the House of Les Baux. The Baux family ruled over a large swath of land in Provence including 79 towns, directing agricultural practices in the Alpilles and well beyond.
Mas de la Dame claims to be the first wine and olive-growing estate in the valley of Les Baux. I wondered how they could make that claim given the historical grape trail described above. Co-owner Caroline Missoffe confirmed that her family’s winery had been the first to produce their wine on property, when other vineyards were still sending their grapes to local cooperatives.
Béatrice Joyce and her English husband Neil purchased Domaine Dalmeran in 2006. Mme Joyce is poetic in her description of their property, which borders the Roman Via Domitia – a road that once led from Rome to Spain. She describes their estate as one filled with history as evidenced by the ancient ruins and 16th-century château. Domaine Dalmeran is barely visible from the road, offering no hint of the stunning landscape that Joyce describes as having an opening onto the Alpilles.
Manager, Marlène Pezet at Domaine de la Vallongue says the proprietors of Domaine de la Vallongue this 35-hectare (86 acres) property began practising organic farming in 1985, one of the first in the area to do so. The name of this vineyard pays homage to the long road from Italy – Vallongue – the long valley.
The Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP) Les Baux de Provence was established in 1995. Caroline Missoffe and her sister Anne Poniatowski assumed the reins at Mas de la Dame the same year. The Joyce family arrived when the AOP was heading into its teenage years, and Marlène witnessed the evolution of wine growing in the Alpilles from the AOP’s concept stage.
Anne Poniatowski (co-owner Mas de la Dame) describes the area as unique a place where high-quality red wines are cultivated, similar in style to those of the Southern Rhone and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Béatrice Joyce pointed out that each vineyard within the AOP is a small universe of wine with its particular terroir and aspect on the Alpilles. Unlike other wine-growing areas in France, such as Burgundy and Bordeaux the vineyards do not touch in the Alpilles. Each producer is independent, yet stronger under the brand of the AOP.
All the ladies were adamant that le Parc naturel régional des Alpilles strengthens the cache of their wine. Within the park, there is limited expansion permitted for planted vines (or olives) and any hard construction for built structures involves a microscopic review process by the authorities. Despite the limitations, they all feel that the park is vital for the quality of wine they produce.
Oenotourism in Provence
Wine tourism plays a role at each vineyard and many others within the AOP have boutiques. The ladies confirmed that having a pleasant space where customers can come to learn about the vineyard, understand the wine production and sample the end product is essential.Special events are part of regular business at Domaine de Vallongue with annual art exhibits, fashion shows and Les Nuits Lyriques (musical evenings) – all aimed to make visitors enjoy the ambience, the wine and leave feeling refreshed.
By Carolyne Kauser-Abbott writes a travel blog for foodies, and manages a digital magazine on all things Perfectly Provence