Producing incredible Syrah or Shiraz as well as Marsanne and Roussanne white wines, the vineyards in the Rhône Valley follow the Rhône River, travelling 250km through six different French departments and 250 towns. It is the second biggest appellation controlled vineyard in France. The region has 27 different appellations and 27 grape varietals.
History of the Rhône Valley
Three hundred million years ago the Rhône Valley was born from an incredible geological clash of the Massif Central and the French Alps. The valley was then flooded by the Mediterranean. Due to the volcanic activity in the Massif Central, granite was distributed throughout northern Rhône. Contrastingly, the south was filled with calcareous marine sediment and layers of fluvial limestone.
Aficionados of the Tour de France will recognise the Rhône for some brutal stages, including the infamous climb to the summit of the lunar-like Mont Ventoux. The same geology that makes Ventoux so striking, also permeates the region below the surface- granite, limestone, clay and sandy silica all dominate.
The Rhône Valley started growing grapes in the first century AD under the mighty and libatious Roman Empire. The region continues to unearth ancient artefacts from the period, including locally produced sandstone and clay amphorae made for transporting liquids – testament to the minerality of the soils and the thirstiness of the people!
When the Romans discovered the Gallic town of Vienne in approximately 50 BCE, they turned it into an outpost and began growing vines. The quality of the resultant wines earned recognition throughout the Empire. They pioneered the region’s hillside terracing to improve their production efficiency and accommodate the flourishing demand on their wines.
Varietals of the Rhône Valley
Much later, in the 14th century, the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon. Several Popes commissioned and planted vineyards around the city to sate their egos and their appetites. Benedict XII, third of the seven Avignon popes, ordered the building of the Palais des Papes in Chateauneuf du Pape – today, virtually every available inch of arable land in the surrounding town is occupied by vines.
The Rhône Valley grows many different grape varietals because of its size and flexibility. The most common grape varietals used for the region’s white wines are Marsanne in the south and Viognier in the north. Syrah is the most common red varietal in the north and Grenache and Mourvèdre in the south. At least twenty two other grape varietals are common place in the Rhône’s regional portfolio of wines.
From Côte Rotie, Condrieu, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, and the historic Chateauneuf du Pape, the Rhône Valley creates memorable and diverse wines.